China builds new villages along disputed Bhutan border: What we know so far and why it worries India

Satellite imagery shows Beijing has constructed at least six settlements in the territory disputed by China and Bhutan, including a contested tract of roughly 110 square kilometres

Representational image. AFP

China’s expansionist and encroachment policy has once again been highlighted after satellite imagery showed that Beijing has constructed at least six settlements along its disputed border with Bhutan.

The satellite images put out by news agency Reuters shows more than 200 structures, including two-storey buildings, under construction at six locations in Bhutan.

Here’s what we know so far of these new constructions.

New villages in Bhutan

The images and analysis supplied to Reuters by US data analytics firm HawkEye 360 show all six settlements appear to be in the territory disputed by China and Bhutan, including a contested tract of roughly 110 square kilometres.

Damien Symon, a satellite images expert — who goes by his Twitter handle @_detresfa — had put out images of villages being constructed by China in November 2021, in an NDTV report said that this is “irrefutable evidence of ongoing construction and development activity in an area disputed by China and Bhutan.” The images show “multiple ‘chalet-like’ structures {which} are visible, with more under construction.”

When asked about the constructions, Bhutan’s foreign ministry responded to Reuters: “It is Bhutan’s policy not to talk about boundary issues in the public.”

Meanwhile, China’s foreign ministry said the construction is “entirely for the improvement of the working and living conditions of the local people”.

“It is within China’s sovereignty to carry out normal construction activities on its own territory,” the ministry was quoted as telling Reuters.

China-Bhutan border

Like the Sino-Indian border, the entire 477-km Bhutan-China border is also disputed.

Bhutan, which shares very frosted ties with China, has been negotiating with the Asian giant for almost four decades to settle their border issues.

Bhutan’s territorial integrity is not just a concern for the Himalayan kingdom, but also for India.

Worry for India

At a time when India and China are holding talks to resolve their border stand-off, the news of these new villages in Bhutan should be a concern for New Delhi.

Experts state that the settlements would allow China to better control and monitor far-flung areas, and potentially use them to establish security-focused installations.

Defence expert and former Indian Army officer Col Danvir Singh was quoted by Asianet as saying, “For India, it is more worrying because India generally advises Bhutan on its external affairs, especially concerning China. We have had a face-off in the Doklam region. However, the Chinese has bypassed our defences and carried out their activities.”

“Now what needs to be seen is that these constructions are a part of the contour of the agreement between the Chinese and the Bhutanese. I think for any strategic observer in India, this is a cause of concern and a cause of worry,” Singh added.

With inputs from agencies

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