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According to the US satellite operator Maxar Technologies, the images, dated October 28, 2020, show that “clearly there has been significant construction activity this year throughout the Torsa River Valley area.”

Maxar said “new military storage bunkers” had also been built near the Doklam area.

Satellite images of the Chinese village of Pangda. Maxar Technologies claims that the village was built on the Bhutanese side of a disputed border with China. (Maxar Technologies)
Maxar said the images show the newly built Pangda village, on the Bhutanese side of the disputed borderas well as a supply depot on Chinese soil, near the point of a tense dispute between Indian and Chinese forces in 2017.

“There is no Chinese village inside Bhutan,” said Bhutan’s ambassador to India, Major General Vetsop Namgyel.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on the new images. India’s Foreign Ministry also did not immediately comment.

Indian broadcaster NDTV first reported the satellite images.

A thin strip of land bordering all three countries, the Doklam area is claimed by both China and Bhutan, but is also strategically important to India, due to its proximity to the Siliguri Corridor, a vital artery between New Delhi and its Northeastern states. .

“The Siliguri Corridor is a strategically important and highly sensitive territory, as it remains the only bridge between the eight northeastern states of India and the rest of the country,” wrote analyst Syed Fazl-e-Haider earlier this year. in a published article. by the Australian think tank, The Lowy Institute.

“With an advance of only 130 kilometers, the Chinese military could isolate Bhutan, West Bengal and the northeastern states of India.

“Approximately 50 million people in northeast India would be separated from the country.”

In an article published Monday in the state-run Global Times newspaper, Chinese experts were cited as refuting Maxar’s claims and Indian media reports that a village had been built on Bhutanese territory.

A wide view of the disputed area of ​​Doklam. (Maxar Technologies)

The 2017 standoff began after Bhutan accused China of building a highway within its territory in “direct violation” of treaty obligations.

China, which has no formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan, denied the accusation, claiming that the area is part of Chinese territory.

Bhutan is traditionally a strong ally of India, relying on Delhi to provide training for its armed forces and cooperate closely with India on foreign policy.

However, that appears to be changing, particularly as the rivalry between Beijing and Delhi intensifies.

In this image taken from a recent video broadcast by China's CCTV on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017 via AP Video, the Chinese military launches a rocket during a real fire drill in China's Tibet Autonomous Region, which borders China. India.  Beijing is stepping up its warnings for Indian troops to leave a disputed region high in the Himalayas, where China, India and Bhutan meet.
A rocket is launched during a live fire drill in 2017 by the Chinese military in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region bordering India, warning Indian troops to leave a disputed region high up in the Himalayas where they are China, India and Bhutan. (AP / CCTV)

Earlier this year, India and China engaged in a bloody confrontation along another disputed border in the Himalayas that left at least 20 soldiers dead, the worst conflict between the two countries since they fought a war over the same territory in 1962.

While both countries agreed to scale down, satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies has shown that China continues to strengthen its position along the border with India, although further construction is unlikely this time of year due to harsh winter conditions high up in the Himalayas.

The continued gradual strengthening of positions and angrily rejected accusations of encroachment have echoes of Beijing’s behavior in the South China Sea, where it has been built and Islets, reefs and militarized islands, which gives it effective control of large areas of the disputed region, a fishing and transportation area of ​​enormous importance over which six other governments claim sovereignty in part or in full.

“They are asserting their claim, so they are creating the facts on the ground, so there is the village, which is part of a larger politics,” Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank based in New Delhi. , said.

“After (2017), they realized, just like on the Indian side, that their border areas are very sparsely 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 that it was always there. Chinese style, you create the facts on the ground and then you say it has always been the case.

“I think (Bhutan) has realized that we will live with it and we will not make noise and we will just look the other way.

“In a straight line, this point is more than 11 kilometers from India’s position, so there is nothing India can do unless Bhutan makes a public appeal for help. If you look at the Indo-Bhutan Treaty, there is no explicit defense clause. “

An annotated satellite image of the China-Bhutan border in the disputed region of Doklam that appears to show a newly built village and a supply depot. (Maxar Technologies)

In particular, the rather subdued nature of Pangda Village is reminiscent of the initial foundations built on sandbanks and tiny islets in the disputed waters.

the high himalayas They are a hostile environment at best, but Nathan Ruser, an analyst at the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy, said the new village appears built more by territorial bragging rights than longevity.

“The high-resolution images also show just how precarious a town is, built on what is essentially a sandbar in the middle of a mountain river valley (where melting ice and high cliffs cause water to flow unpredictably and flash floods are common), “Ruser said. he said on Twitter in response to the new images.

“To combat this, Chinese engineers have built a small retaining wall, I suppose it was designed to keep flood water out of the village.

“I’m not sure I trust him when the only way to get in and out is a road that would flood before town.”

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