In addition to setting up a village more than two kilometres within Bhutanese territory on the eastern periphery of the contested Doklam plateau, China has built a road in the same area that stretches approximately 9 kilometres inside Bhutanese territory, high-resolution satellite imagery indicates.
According to a report by a Delhi-based news organisation NDTV, it is believed that this road could ultimately give the Chinese forces an alternate route to the Zompelri ridge, which the Indian Army had “prevented” Chinese forces from accessing in 2017 when the two sides faced off on the Doklam plateau.
On that occasion, the report said, Chinese construction workers had attempted to access the ridge by extending their existing track near the Indian Army’s post at Doka La which lies on the boundary between Sikkim and Dokala.
The armed forces personnel belonging to India had then physically “blocked” Chinese road construction workers on grounds that access to the Zompelri ridgeline (which lies further south) was unacceptable since it would allow Chinese forces a clear sight of the “Chicken’s Neck”, the vulnerable sliver of land that links the northeast of India with the rest of the country, the report mentioned.
The construction workers have now, after three years, have built a new road along the banks of the Torsa river, which extends southwards from the border between China and Bhutan.
The area is situated less than 10 km from the site of the 2017 face-off between Indian and Chinese forces which lasted more than two months and was only resolved when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Xinping of China met in Wuhan in April 2018 where they agreed on de-escalating tensions.
The report quoting strategic affairs expert, Dr Brahma Chellaney, said: “Chinese have left untouched the 2017 stand-off site, which is located in one corner of Doklam.”
”But, step by step, they have been changing the status quo in the rest of Doklam, including by building permanent structures and roads and even setting up villages on a plateau that was uninhabited until three years ago,” he said.
On Thursday, the report said, clear evidence of Chinese road and village construction on the eastern periphery of the Doklam plateau emerged when Shen Shiwei, a senior producer with CGTN, China’s state-sponsored media, showcased several images of a village with several chalets by the side of a river.
He tweeted, ”Now, we have permanent residents living in the newly established Pangda village. It’s along the valley, 35 km south to Yadong country. Here is a map to show the location.”
The new images shown in this report are from space technology company Maxar which provides some of the most comprehensive satellite imagery commercially available.
”There has clearly been significant construction activity this year all along the Torsa River valley area with extensive road-building/construction activity underway as well as new military storage bunkers being built in China near the Doklam area,” mentions the Maxar report.
The lead image in this report contradicts a statement by the Bhutanese Ambassador to New Delhi, Major General Vetsop Namgyel.
On November 19, the report quoted Major General Namgyel in a statement saying: ”There is no Chinese village inside Bhutan”.
Asked whether Bhutan and China had reached any understanding on realigning the border in the contested area, the Ambassador said he ”does not comment on border matters.” He did, however, confirm that Bhutan and China were involved in border talks, NDTV reported.
Bhutan and China have been involved in border disputes for decades.
”Bhutan and China recognise the 269 sq km in the west and 495 sq km in north-central Bhutan as [being] disputed and so while there are maximalist claim lines from both sides, there is no mutually accepted international border there yet,” the report quoted Tenzing Lamsang, the Editor of The Bhutanese, as saying.