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China built 4 new villages inside Bhutan: Why India should be worried and act now

China's motive is to control the perennial water bodies in those regions, Maj Gen Sudhakar Jee tells Asianet Newsable.

China built 4 new villages inside Bhutan: Why India should be worried and act now
New Delhi, First Published Nov 18, 2021, 11:44 AM IST
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China has constructed four villages in Bhutanese territory near the Doklam plateau in the last year, new satellite images have revealed. The Doklam plateau was in the limelight in 2017 when Indian and Chinese armies were locked in a standoff for over 70 days. The Chinese had to retreat from the area after the Indian troops contested the plateau. 

The latest satellite imagery reveals Chinese building infrastructure in the area that belong to Bhutan. India looks after the external defence of Bhutan. The area in contention is 100 sq km territory comprising a plateau and a valley at the trijunction between India, China and Bhutan. The plateau is circled by the Chumbi Valley of Tibet, Bhutan's Ha Valley and India's Sikkim. The images show that the Chinese People's Liberation Army has built some villages in about 100 sq km.  

In October, China and Bhutan signed a pact on a three-step roadmap to resolve their boundary disputes. India, in its response, had said, "It has noted the development." The negotiations were delayed for five years due to the Doklam standoff of 2017 and the Covid-19 pandemic. It is worrying for New Delhi as India advises Thimphu on foreign policy and defence. New Delhi and Beijing have been engaged in a border standoff in eastern Ladakh for over 18 months. 

Former Indian Army officer and strategic affairs expert Major General Sudhakar Jee, who had also served in the region, told Asianet Newsable, "China's new border laws that call upon the state not to cede an inch of the territory passed on by legacy, including the claimed areas, smack of settling the border issues with India and Bhutan unilaterally and not mutually."

The new construction is part of a significant drive by Chinese President Xi Jinping since 2017 to fortify the Tibetan borderlands, a dramatic escalation in Beijing's long-running efforts to outmanoeuvre India and its neighbours along their Himalayan frontiers, he said.

The satellite image also revealed that the villages were constructed between May 2020 and November 2021. The construction process started at the same time when China's PLA was ingressed into Indian territory at multiple locations in the eastern Ladakh and Sikkim sector. 

In this case, "China does not need the land it is settling in Bhutan. It aims to force the Bhutanese government to cede territory that China wants elsewhere in Bhutan to give Beijing a military advantage in its struggle with New Delhi," Maj Gen Sudhakar Jee said. 

He further stated that Gyalaphug is one of the few new villages created by China. The village has 66 miles of new roads, a small hydropower station, two Communist Party administrative centres, a communications base, a disaster relief warehouse, five military or police outposts, and installation that is believed to be a significant signal tower, a satellite receiving station and a military base. China claims that the villages are parts of Lhodrak in the Tibet Autonomous Region but are, in fact, in the far north of Bhutan.

Maj Gen Sudhakar Jee believes that China's motive is to control the perennial water bodies in those regions.

"It may be recalled that China has claimed four areas in the west of Bhutan, three in the north, and Sakteng in the east. The areas it actively claims in the north are the Beyul Khenpajong and the Menchuma Valley, though official Chinese maps also show the Chagdzom area as part of China. Since 1990, China has been offering to give up 495 square kilometres of its claims in the north if Bhutan yields 269 square kilometres of its territory in the west (includes parts of Doklam 89 sq km,  Charithang, Sinchulungpa, Dramana, and Shakhatoe) to China. Bhutan relinquished its claim to the Kula Khari area (often written as Kulha Kangri) in the 1980s or soon after, attributing its earlier claim to a cartographic error. Hence, it may be seen that China is going all out to extend its claim right up to Geymochen, meaning Dokala, including Jhamperi Ridge, unilaterally. India and Bhutan, therefore, will be left with no option but to look for other alternatives to settle the matter," Maj Gen Sudhakar Jee said.

The satellite imagery, released by Twitter from the handle of Detresfa, claimed that disputed land between Bhutan and China near Doklam shows construction activity between 2020-21 and that multiple new villages spread through an area roughly 100 square km now dot the landscape.

Sources in the defence establishment said that the villages can be used for dual purposes like settlement of its population along with the border areas and can also be used to store arms, ammunition and stocks.

Defence expert and former Indian Army officer Col Danvir Singh said, "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, a new revelation comes up. They (villages) have come up after an understanding between Bhutanese and Chinese."

"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," Col Singh added.

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