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China steps up construction along disputed border, jeopardizing security in key Indian territory

China continues to take moves that threaten to heighten tensions with its neighbors, including India, as it expands its settlement construction projects along the disputed border with Bhutan.

China revealed plans in 2017 to build more than 600 villages in border areas of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and it has taken steps to consolidate its control over an area that would have implications for relations with the world. ‘India. Tensions erupted after Chinese teams began building a road on the Doklam Plateau, but China and India backed down after withdrawing their troops and engaging in talks.

FILE PHOTO: A security surveillance camera overlooking a street is pictured next to a Chinese flag waving nearby in Beijing, China November 25, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

But satellite images analyzed by Reuters indicate that China plans to escalate tensions by continuing to assert its claim by building settlements along the border with Bhutan.

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The image analysis, carried out by US data analysis company HawkEye 360, revealed more than 200 structures, including two-story buildings, under construction in six locations, all located in the disputed region.

Freshmen attend military training at Nantong Vocational University on November 3, 2021 in Nantong, China's Jiangsu Province.

Freshmen attend military training at Nantong Vocational University on November 3, 2021 in Nantong, China’s Jiangsu Province.
(Xu Peiqin/VCG via Getty Images)

Construction of the buildings began in early 2020 ahead of the last major clash between China and India, but construction accelerated in 2021. Initial plans showed construction tracks for a number of large buildings, but new, smaller structures were built, possibly to serve as storage for equipment or supplies, according to Chris Biggers, HawkEye 360 ​​mission applications manager.

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Bhutan’s foreign minister declined to comment publicly on “border issues”.

A large banner of King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and future Queen Jetsun Pema is seen on a shop window in the capital of Thimphu, Bhutan, Wednesday October 12, 2011. The 31-year-old reformist monarch of the tiny Himalayan kingdom will marry his commoner wife in a series of ceremonies scheduled for Thursday.

A large banner of King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and future Queen Jetsun Pema is seen on a shop window in the capital of Thimphu, Bhutan, Wednesday October 12, 2011. The 31-year-old reformist monarch of the tiny Himalayan kingdom will marry his commoner wife in a series of ceremonies scheduled for Thursday.

But the Chinese Foreign Ministry insisted that the construction is “entirely for the improvement of the working and living conditions of the local people”.

“It is within China’s sovereignty to carry out normal construction activities in its own territory,” the ministry said on the matter. China has used the construction to help assert claims in disputed areas, such as the man-made islands in the South China Sea. This dispute involves China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. Japan is not a direct claimant but has recently become involved, backing those who oppose China’s claims. Japan is one of the United States’ closest allies in the region.

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Images of construction along the Bhutan border show few practical resources or nearby populations. Construction activity is also occurring in areas where there was no previous construction.

Some experts also speculate that the location of the settlements could provide new bases of operations in more remote areas over which China wishes to retain control. The zone would give China greater access to the “Chicken’s Neck” area, a strategic strip of land that connects India to its northeastern region.

“The construction of a Chinese village across the claimed border with Bhutan appears to be designed to force Bhutan to give in to Chinese demands in its border negotiations, which are now in their 24th round after 37 years,” said Robert Barnett, associate research professor at SOAS University of London, who is an expert on Tibet and has studied the China-Bhutanese border closely.

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