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China building new village on Bhutanese side in Doklam

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New satellite images emerged recently indicating the construction of a Chinese village East of the Doklam plateau on the Bhutanese side, a region that is considered important for India's strategic interest, according to NDTV. The Indian and Chinese armies were locked in a 73-day stand-off at the Doklam tri-junction after China tried to extend a road in the area that Bhutan claimed belonged to it.

The NDTV published images captured by MAXAR, a company that focuses on space technology and intelligence.

This village, which the Chinese have named Pangda, is said to lie "squarely" in Bhutanese territory. Satellite images show that the village is not only fully inhabited but most of the houses have cars parked in front of them. Also, close to Pangda is an "all-weather carriageway" which enters 10 km into Bhutan and is along the banks of the Amo Chu river.

The emergence of Pangda as a fully populated village is a throwback to the 2017 Doklam crisis when Indian and Chinese troops confronted each other for 72 days. At that time, the report said, Indian soldiers had prevented Chinese workers from accessing a strategic ridge - Jhamperi - adjacent to the Doklam plateau.

This ridge, the report indicates, would give an advantage to the PLA in that it would give it a "direct line-of-sight" to the Siliguri corridor or the 'Chicken's Neck' which connects the northeast to the rest of India. Besides, the Jhamperi ridge indicates that the Chinese PLA now seeks to go around Indian army defenses by using an alternate route to reach the feature.

The NDTV quoted Lieutenant General (retired) Praveen Bakshi, who was the Eastern Army Commander during the Doklam crisis, as saying: "Pangda village and the ones to its North and South are classic examples of the Chinese trying to establish their legitimacy over the Jhamperi ridge and the Doklam plateau". Lt Gen Bakshi goes on to say that raising villages along the border that the PLA disputes are "essentially a manner of giving legitimacy to its territorial claims".

The New Indian Express quoted Damien Symon, a geospatial intelligence researcher at The Intel Lab, as saying that "the speed and development of this remote area are noteworthy, underlining how China is extending its borders uncontested". Symon adds that "the road construction activity in this distant, isolated sector highlights efforts taken by China to ensure all-weather, uninterrupted connectivity to remote, new habitats across its frontier".

China has been ramping up border infrastructure in several sensitive locations, including along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh where the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has been locked in an over two-year standoff with the Indian Army, according to the Indian Express.

China-Bhutan agreement

In October last year, Bhutan and China signed an agreement on a "three-step roadmap" to expedite negotiations to resolve their festering boundary dispute.

Bhutan shares an over 400-km-long border with China and the two countries have held over 24 rounds of boundary talks in a bid to resolve the dispute. The two countries also held 10 rounds of negotiations at the 'Expert Group' level.

The Doklam tri-junction is considered important from the point of view of India's security interests. The India-China stand-off in the Doklam plateau in 2017 even triggered fears of a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. Bhutan said the area belonged to it and India supported the Bhutanese claim.

India had strongly opposed the construction of the road at the Doklam tri-junction as it would have impacted its overall security interests. The India-China face-off was resolved following several rounds of talks.

Bhutan is a satellite state of India. It has not established diplomatic relations with China or other permanent members of UN Security Council because India controls its foreign affairs. There are Indian troops inside Bhutan and there are reports that India went to Doklam a disputed territory between China and Bhutan without even informing Bhutan.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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