China establishes villages on India and Bhutan borders, satellite images show
Satellite images have emerged of China establishing villages in hitherto uninhabited stretches on its disputed borders with India and Bhutan, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh, and experts say the move could be aimed at bolstering Beijing’s territorial claims.
Several villages have sprung up in the triple junction between India, Bhutan and China, and the move follows the upgrade and construction of Chinese military facilities, including helipads and missile bases, along the Royal Line of Control (LAC) after the 2017 showdown in Doklam.
Images shared by the open source intelligence analyst who goes by the name @detresfa on Twitter on Sunday showed what appeared to be five new border villages built near Bum La, the border crossing located between Cona County in the Autonomous Region of the Tibet and the district of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.
In a tweet, @detresfa said there is evidence of “new villages and accommodation similar to what was seen in the village of Pangda, Bhutan” in the vicinity of Bum La. The relocation of people to these villages “promises China better surveillance and border patrols through a network of herders,” the tweet read.
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NDTV cited satellite images from Planet Labs, a private American company, to show that at least three villages have sprung up in an area about five kilometers from Bum La. The images suggested the construction of these villages, which are on the Chinese side of LAC, had continued even as thousands of Indian and Chinese troops clashed in the Ladakh sector of LAC.
An image from Planet Labs dated February 17 showed just one village with about 20 structures in the area. A second image dated November 28 showed three additional towns in the same area with a total of around 50 structures. The villages are located about a kilometer from each other and connected by new roads.
Satellite images that emerged last month showed that China has built a village called Pangda about two kilometers within the territory claimed by Bhutan on the Doklam plateau. These images also showed that China has built a highway in the same region that runs for about nine kilometers within the territory of Bhutan. Pangda is about 10 km from the scene of the 2017 clash.
In August, Chinese state media reported on how the government has improved infrastructure in villages near the Arunachal Pradesh border. The state tabloid Global Times quoted authorities from Yadong County of the Tibet Autonomous Region as saying that 27 households with 124 people had “voluntarily moved from Yadong County to Pangda Town in September.”
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In 2017, President Xi Jinping had also written a letter to Tibetan herders living near the Arunachal Pradesh border to “put down roots” and safeguard “Chinese territory.”
Strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney pointed to the new villages near Bum La, saying that the construction of border villages to “strengthen claims and increase cross-border intrusions is an integral part of China’s territorial aggrandizement.”
Sim Tack, a Belgium-based security analyst for Force Analysis, said the new villages were clearly part of a strategy to “boost the Chinese presence and strengthen claims in disputed areas.”
“We have seen the relocation of civilian populations in border regions sparsely populated and disputed by other countries, for example, by Morocco in Western Sahara. The Chinese are doing the same, so they can infringe on the border and potentially build a case for their territorial claims, “he said.
A report published in September by Stratfor, a leading security and intelligence consultancy, said that China has more than doubled the number of air bases, air defense positions and helipads near LAC since 2017. China began building at least 13 new facilities military near LAC after the clash in Doklam, and work on four helipads began after the current tensions in Ladakh, according to the report.