Satellite images show China steps up construction along disputed Bhutan border

WION Web Team
NEW DELHI Published: Jan 13, 2022, 04:16 PM(IST)

File photo: Flag of China. Photograph:( Others )

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China has accelerated settlement-building along its disputed border with Bhutan, with more than 200 structures, including two-storey buildings, under construction in six locations, according to satellite image analysis conducted for Reuters.

According to satellite image analysis, China has escalated settlement-building along its disputed border with Bhutan, with more than 200 structures, including two-story buildings, under construction in six areas.

Images and analysis provided to Reuters by HawkEye 360, a US data analytics firm that employs satellites to gather intelligence on ground-level activity, and vetted by two additional specialists, provide a detailed insight into China's recent building along its border with Bhutan. 

Construction-related activity in some of the locations along Bhutan's western border has been under way since early 2020, with China initially building tracks and clearing out areas, based on material provided by satellite imagery firms Capella Space and Planet Labs, said Chris Biggers, the mission applications director at HawkEye 360.

Images show the work speeding up in 2021. Biggers said that smaller structures were erected first—possibly to house equipment and supplies—followed by the laying of foundations and then the construction of buildings.

"To me, 2021 was the period for acceleration," Biggers said.

All six settlements appear to be in territory disputed by China and Bhutan –– including a contested tract of roughly 110 square kilometres — with little in the way of resources or native population, according to two other experts who studied the locations of the new construction and recent satellite images taken by Capella Space. 

India and China have a 3,500-kilometer boundary that is yet unresolved.

Both countries' troops are still stationed near each other in the Ladakh region, roughly 1,100 kilometres from Doklam, where they battled in hand-to-hand fighting in 2020.

According to an Indian security insider who declined to be identified due to the delicacy of the topic, India has been closely monitoring Chinese construction around its borders.

According to Biggers, satellite imagery reveals that neither India nor Bhutan have replied to China's development efforts on the ground.

Countering the Chinese building would be difficult for India and Bhutan, according to Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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