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Focus: Settlement construction in disputed area with Bhutan, China Satellite imagery revealed | Reuters

[New Delhi, 12th Reuters]-China is accelerating the construction of settlements in the border area with Bhutan, where there is a dispute over sovereignty. Analysis of artificial satellite images by Reuters revealed that more than 200 structures, including two-story buildings, are under construction at six locations.

On January 12, China is accelerating the construction of settlements in the border area with Bhutan, where there is a dispute over sovereignty. The photo shows the Chinese flag and a surveillance camera. Taken in Beijing in November 2021 (2022 Reuters / Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Reuters received satellite images and their analysis results from Hawkeye 360, a US data analysis company that collects information on ground activities using satellites, and asked two other experts to verify them. The results provide details of China’s recent construction activities along the Bhutan border.

Construction-related activities at several locations along the border to western Bhutan have been underway since early 2020. According to Chris Biggers, director of Hawkeye 360, China will initially build and build roads based on materials provided by both satellite imagery specialists Capella Space and Planetlabs. It is said that it was proceeding.

Satellite images show that work accelerated in 2021. Biggers said the foundation of the building was laid and the construction of the building itself began, following the installation of small structures, perhaps residential equipment and materials.

“In my view, 2021 was a time of accelerated construction,” Biggers said.

Two other experts examined the location of the new construction site and recent satellite images taken by Capella Space, and all six settlements, including the approximately 110 square kilometers of territorial disputed areas. He points out that it appears to be being built in the border disputed area between China and Bhutan. Resources are scarce and few inhabitants live from the beginning.

In response to an inquiry from Reuters, the Bhutanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded that “it is Bhutan’s policy not to speak publicly about border issues.” The country’s foreign ministry said it would refrain from further comments.

Two experts and one Indian defense official suggest that these construction projects are determined by China to solve the border problem by giving concrete form to its claims. , Talk to.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China said, “(Construction projects) are aimed at improving the working and living conditions of local residents.” “It is within the scope of China’s sovereignty to carry out ordinary construction projects within its own territory. Is. ” I will refrain from further comments.

Two experts point out that the construction of the village in this way would bring considerable strategic value to the Chinese government. The new construction site is 9-27 kilometers from the Doklam Highlands, where the borders of India, Bhutan and China intersect. In 2017, troops from both China and India continued to glaring at Dokulam for more than two months.

One expert and Indian defense officials said the construction of the settlement could allow China to strengthen its control and surveillance of remote areas and could be used to develop security-focused facilities. I’m talking that there will be.

We also requested comments from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India, but did not receive a response.

Bhutan, with a population of less than 800,000, has been negotiating with the Chinese government for about 40 years to demarcate the 477-kilometer border with China. For the Kingdom of Bhutan, the issue is more than just securing territory, there are speculations about its potential security implications for India, a major ally and economic partner.

In the latest border negotiations with China in April 2021, the Bhutanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the two countries agreed to accelerate the process of resolving disagreements between the two countries. However, the details of the plan cannot be disclosed.

“Bhutan and China are discussing all issues within the framework of border negotiations,” Bhutan’s Foreign Ministry said.

“China’s construction of a village across the borders claimed by Bhutan seems to have been intended to bring Bhutan to its side’s demands in 24 border negotiations in 37 years. “. Robert Burnett, a Tibetan regional expert at SOAS University of London, who has focused on the China-Bhutan border issue, analyzed:

Burnett and M. Taylor Flavel, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Security Research Program, said the construction of the settlement was announced by China in 2017 in Tibet on the Chinese side of the disputed border. He points out that it seems to be part of a plan to build more than 600 villages along the border of the Autonomous Region (TAR).

Given these construction activities, Mr. Flavel says China is probably looking to strengthen control and improve infrastructure in border areas.

The Tibetan Autonomous Region under Chinese rule was established in 1965. Six years after the failure of the uprising to resist Chinese rule and the exile of the 14th Dalai Lama from Tibet.

Some villages near the border have been built in places where no structures previously existed. According to Burnett, the Chinese government is subsidizing residents to settle in these villages.

“All the border villages facing western Bhutan are located in areas where naturally formed villages could not be seen, because this area is not suitable for living,” Burnett points out.

Dominating the secluded Doklam gives China easier access to an adjacent area called the “Chicken Neck.” It is a strategically important region connecting the central region of India and the northeastern region.

The 3,500-kilometer border remains undefined between India and China. Another conflict has occurred in the Ladakh region, about 1,100 kilometers from the Dokulam, and the two armed forces are still deployed in close proximity to each other. In 2020, there will be a firearm-free brawl between the two armies.

India’s defense officials say India is watching China’s border-side construction efforts, hoping to remain anonymous because it is a sensitive issue.

According to Biggers, neither India nor Bhutan has taken any action on the ground for Chinese construction activities, as far as satellite imagery is concerned.

Nathan Loser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, explains that it will be difficult for both India and Bhutan to counter construction activities on the Chinese side.

“If you take any action on Chinese structures, you inevitably put civilians at risk,” Loser said. “There are limited ways for India and Bhutan to counter China’s invasion of the disputed area.”

(Devjyot Ghoshal, Anand Katakam, Translated by: Acrelen)

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