17:44 GMT20 January 2021
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    The reports of a new Chinese village inside Bhutan at the Doklam Plateau surface as the Indian and Chinese armies are already engaged in a tense military face-off in Ladakh in the western section of their disputed border.

    Congress parliamentarian and key opposition figure Rahul Gandhi has slammed the Narendra Modi government over reports of a new Chinese village inside Bhutan at the Doklam Plateau, the site of a 2017 face-off between the Indian Army and the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA).

    ​The report by Indian news channel NDTV, based on satellite imagery, has claimed that not only has China built a new village two kilometres inside Bhutan on the eastern side of the Doklam Plateau, but also a road that now stretches 9 kilometres inside Bhutanese territory.

    The news report alleged that the road could provide Chinese forces with an "alternative route" to the Jhamperi Ridge, a strategic plot of land that is said to overlook India's "Chicken-Neck Corridor".

    The "Chicken-Neck Corridor" is a narrow strip of land connecting India's western states to the northeast. Indian forces crossed over into Bhutan from the bordering state of Sikkim in June 2017 and physically blocked Chinese workers from carrying out road construction near the Jhamperi Ridge, thus sparking a two-month face-off between the militaries of the two Asian powerhouses back then.

    As per the 1949 Treaty of Friendship between New Delhi and Thimpu, India is mandated to "guide" the Himalayan country in matters related to foreign policy and defence. China currently enjoys no formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan.

    The charge of Beijing having built a new village inside Bhutan was denied last week by Thimpu's envoy to New Delhi Major General Vetsop Namgyel. However, global experts have endorsed the claims by the Indian news website.

    Nathan Ruser, a satellite data expert at the Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), remarked that the development of the new Chinese village had been "conclusively" proven.

    ​"The high resolution imagery also shows how precarious of a village it is, being constructed on what is essentially a sandbank in the middle of a mountain river valley (where snowmelt and high cliffs make water flow unpredictable and flash floods common)", observed Ruser, a researcher at ASPI's International Cyber Policy Centre.

    "In that annotated imagery above, the pink outline shows areas of fallen trees, very possibly where the river has flooded and knocked them over. You can even see tree trunks in blue. Now the other side of those floods would be the village", he further explained.

    The satellite imagery expert reckoned that Chinese engineers had also possibly built a "retaining wall" to keep the flood water out of the village.

    Citing the news report by NDTV, another expert shared more satellite data visuals on Monday, indicating that since the resolution of the 2017 Doklam face-off, Beijing has been reinforcing its "territorial claims" via infrastructure construction.

    ​China's claims in Bhutan

    The disputed Doklam area is officially controlled by Bhutan but claimed by China.

    According to analysts, China has offered Bhutan some 300 square kilometres of territory in exchange for nearly 500 square kilometres of land currently controlled by Bhutan. The Doklam Plateau region is one of the disputed pieces of land that China wants as part of the proposed land swap deal.

    As per an understanding reached between China and India in 2012, territorial disputes involving third countries have to be solved through the consensus of all three parties. New Delhi claims that Bhutan wasn't consulted at the time of the Doklam crisis.

    In July of this year, China also reportedly laid claim to the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary located in eastern Bhutan on the border with China.


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