Images reveal China’s advance near Doklam

Foundation of several buildings in a new village being built by China (high res: here)

New Delhi:

New satellite images accessed by NDTV show that a Chinese village built 9km east of the Doklam Plateau where Indian and Chinese forces faced each other in 2017 is now fully inhabited, with cars parked on the doorstep of virtually every house.

Significantly, the village that Beijing calls Pangda is right on Bhutanese territory, which was first reported by NDTV in 2021.

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Cars parked next to houses in the Chinese village on Bhutanese territory (high res: here)

Next to Pangda is a neatly marked all-weather roadway, part of China’s sweeping land grab in Bhutan. This cuts 10 km into Bhutanese territory along the banks of the fast-flowing Amo Chu River.

For India, construction along the Amo Chu means Chinese forces could gain access to a strategic ridge in the adjacent Doklam Plateau. This would give them a direct line of sight to India’s sensitive Siliguri Corridor, the narrow strip of land connecting the northeastern states to the rest of the country.

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In 2017, Indian soldiers had physically prevented Chinese workers from getting to this ridge in Doklam called Jhamperi. There is now concern that China is attempting to bypass Indian defenses to the west by approaching the same ridge via this alternative axis.

“The village of Pangda and the villages to the north and south are a classic example of how the Chinese tried to establish their legitimacy over the Jhamperi ridge and the Doklam plateau,” says Lt. Gen. Praveen Bakshi (retired), who was then in charge of India eastern army commander was The Doklam confrontation took place in 2017. Widespread Chinese efforts to build villages along borders it disputes are “essentially a way of lending legitimacy to its territorial claims.”

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Satellite image shows the excavation site (high resolution: here)

Sources at Army Headquarters told NDTV, “The Army continuously and seamlessly monitors all activities along its borders, particularly those that affect the nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.” This requires the necessary mechanisms and protective measures to deal with all eventualities on the spot.”

The new satellite images, obtained by Maxar, show that a second village in the Amo Chu River valley is now practically complete, while China has pushed ahead with the construction of a third village or dwelling further south. A bridge was built over the Amo Chu at the site of this third village, with the excavation activities clearly visible. The foundations of six buildings here are visible.

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The bridge built by China where excavations are taking place (high res: here)

“The speed and development of this remote area is remarkable and underscores how China is undeniably expanding its borders,” said Damien Symon, geospatial intelligence researcher at The Intel Lab, who analyzed the latest images. “The road construction activity in this remote, isolated sector underscores China’s efforts to ensure an uninterrupted connection to remote new habitats beyond its border, whatever the weather,” he added.

Bhutan, a small landlocked country, has virtually no way of preventing China’s “salami slicing” of its territory. Bhutan’s Ambassador to New Delhi, Maj-Gen Vetsop Namgyal declined to comment on the status of Chinese construction work in the Amo Chu Valley, noting that Thimpu was embroiled in lengthy border talks. The Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also did not comment on the new developments.

China’s village and road-building activity in the Amo Chu River Valley is about 30 km south of Beijing’s largest land grab observed in the last year. Six settlements have been built in a previously uninhabited area on a 110 square kilometer piece of land disputed by Beijing. All these settlements put pressure on the Indian defenses in Sikkim.

“China is increasing the construction of villages, roads and security facilities on the territory belonging to Bhutan, thus strengthening its offensive military capabilities against India,” says Dr. Brahma Chellaney, one of India’s leading observers of China. “Through such a build-up, China is positioning itself militarily to threaten a particularly vulnerable stretch of the Indian border that overlooks a narrow corridor known as the ‘Chicken Neck,'” he says.

Developments on the Bhutan front come as India continues to try to persuade China to withdraw from positions it has held in Ladakh since May 2020. There have been 16 rounds of talks so far with no significant progress reported in the most recent round on Sunday.

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