Source: South China Morning Post
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  • Fresh satellite images appear to show newly-built Chinese military bunkers along the disputed border with India and Bhutan in the Himalayas
  • The border has been contested for decades, though both Chinese and Indian forces recently agreed to deescalate military activity in the area
  • The new satellite footage from Maxar Technologies, however, shows that China has been building storage bunkers near the Doklam region
  • This region is not contested by India and China but by China and Bhutan
  • Bhutan, however, has been a long-time military ally of India’s
  • The footage also shows the recently-built Chinese Pangda Village, which technically falls in Bhutan territory
  • Bhutan’s ambassador to India has denied that the Chinese village is in Bhutan

Fresh satellite images appear to show newly-built Chinese military bunkers along the disputed border with India and Bhutan in the Himalayas.

The border has been long-contested since the Sino-Indian War in 1962, with each bordering country claiming areas across the mountains as their own.

As part of a reluctant truce between the contesting nations, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has been drawn up as something of a hard border between the countries, though several areas of this line are still disputed.

Now, satellite images from U.S.-based Maxar Technologies seem to show that China is building up its power in a key part of the disputed region.

The Doklam standoff

In 2017, Indian and Chinese armed forces were locked in a standoff after Indian troops stood in the ways of Chinese road construction in Doklam.

China was trying to extend a road on the Doklam plateau, an area disputed not by China and India but by China and Bhutan. Bhutan, however, has been a long-time Indian ally.

When Indian armed forces arrived to stop the construction, what followed was a tense two-month military standoff between the nuclear-charged armies of the world’s two most populous nations.

The Doklam standoff came to an end rather abruptly and without bloodshed, with neither side providing a clear picture of what actually happened. Indian forces withdrew and China stopped building the road, claiming it would resume construction when the weather was right.

Now, according to Maxar, the new satellite images show there has been “significant construction activity” in the Doklam region all year long.

Comparable images from the same area in December 2019 show construction on the military bunkers had, at that point in time, not begun. The latest images, dated October 28, 2020, show that construction looks to be almost complete.

Deadly 2020 clash

Earlier this year, China and India went head-to-head in a deadly clash along a different part of the Sino-Indian border that left 20 soldiers dead.

Indian and Chinese forced brawled without weapons, with several soldiers thrown into the Galwan River to later died of hypothermia or succumb to their injuries before they could receive medical treatment.

This marked the first deaths along the disputed border since 1975.

After the bloody clash, both countries agreed to deescalate military activity in the area. Today’s satellite images, however, show that China is still reinforcing its position along the border.

Usual tactics

This echoes China’s activity along the South China Sea — another area hotly disputed by surrounding countries. The likes of China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia, among others, all claim ownership of certain parts of the South China Sea, but none so much as China, which claims to own almost the entire area.

Tensions have been escalating in recent years after it was discovered that China has been building up military fortifications on natural and artificial islands in the area.

It seems China is fortifying its military forces along the Sino-Indian border in a similar fashion.

A Chinese village in Bhutan

The Maxar satellite images also show the recently-constructed Chinese Pangdaa Village, which technically falls in Bhutan territory.

Despite the images, Bhutan’s Ambassador to India, Major General Vetsop Namgyel, has denied that the village is there.

According to a CNN report, Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Manoj Joshi said China is asserting its claim to the area by populating the border areas. ORF is a New Dehli-based thinktank.

“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 can create the facts on ground and then you can say it’s always been the case,” Manoj said.

“I think [Bhutan has] figured that we’ll live with it and not make a noise and just look the other way,” he continued.

He added that given the nature of the relationship between India and Bhutan, India can’t do anything about the village unless Bhutan makes a public cry for help.

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