According to US-based satellite operator Maxar Technologies, the images, dated October 28, 2020, show “there has clearly been significant construction activity this year all along the Torsa River valley area.” In a statement, Maxar added there had also been construction of “new military storage bunkers” near the Doklam area.
In a statement, Bhutan’s ambassador to India, Major General Vetsop Namgyel, said “there is no Chinese village inside Bhutan.”
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “China’s normal construction activities on its own territory are entirely within the scope of China’s sovereignty, and there is nothing wrong with it.” India’s Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
Just where the two countries draw their borders is highly disputed, however. The 2017 stand-off was sparked after Bhutan accused China of constructing a road inside its territory in “direct violation” of treaty obligations. China, which does not have formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan, denied the accusation, contending that the area is part of Chinese territory.
“They’re asserting their claim so they’re creating the facts on the ground so there’s the village, which is part of a larger policy,” said Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank. “After (2017), they realized, just like the Indian side, their border areas are very thinly populated so it becomes very difficult to patrol the area. Now, by creating these facts on the ground, by creating this village, you can say it was always there. In the style of the Chinese, you create the facts on ground and then you say it’s always been the case.”
“I think (Bhutan has) figured that we’ll live with it and not make a noise and just look the other way,” Joshi said, adding that without its neighbor complaining, there is little Delhi can do.
“As the crow flies, this point is over 11 kilometers from the Indian position so there’s nothing India can do unless Bhutan makes a public call for help. If you look at the Indo-Bhutanese Treaty, there’s no explicit defense clause. So, essentially the Bhutanese live with it, we look the other way and the Chinese create the facts on the ground.”
In particular, the rather tenuous nature of Pangda Village is reminiscent of the initial bases built on sandbars and tiny islets in the disputed waters. The high Himalayas are a hostile environment at the best of times, but as Nathan Ruser, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the new village appears built more for territorial bragging rights than longevity.
James Griffiths reported from Hong Kong. Manveena Suri reported from New Delhi.
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