US-based satellite operator Maxar Technologies, who photographed the series of aerial images, said they show ‘significant construction activity’ throughout 2020.
The operator charted the building works along the Torsa River Valley area, adding there had been ‘new military storage bunkers’ built near an area called Doklam.
In the images, Maxar pointed out a newly constructed village, named Pangda, on the Bhutanese side of the disputed border.
They also showed a supply depot in Chinese territory, which is close to the site of a tense flare-up between Indian and Chinese military in 2017.
Satellite images appear to show China developing area along disputed border with India and Bhutan
Satellite images provided by Maxar Technologies appears to show China developing an area along a disputed border with India and Bhutan
Bhutan’s ambassador to India Major General Vetsop Namgyel defiantly declared there ‘is no Chinese village in Bhutan’.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and India’s Ministry of External Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
The Doklam area, a thin strip of land bordering the three countries, is claimed by both China and Bhutan but also holds strategic significance for India because of its closeness to a vital artery which transports goods and people between the capital New Delhi and the country’s northeastern states.
‘The Siliguri Corridor is strategically important and highly sensitive territory, as it remains the only bridge between the eight north-eastern states of India and the rest of the country,’ analyst Syed Fazl-e-Haider wrote in an article published by The Lowy Institute .
‘By an advance of just 130 kilometers (80 miles), the Chinese military could cut off Bhutan, west Bengal and the north-eastern states of India. About 50 million people in north-east India would be separated from the country.’
Chinese state-run media have refuted claims that the village was built on the Bhutanese side of the border.
A satellite images shows the Chinese town of Pangda, which sits along an area disputed between India, Bhutan and China
The stand-off between Bhutan and China set off in 2017 after the former accused its powerhouse neighbour of building a road within its territory. This, Bhutan said, was a violation of previous treaty obligations.
China announced the area was part of its territory and refuted Bhutan’s allegations.
Bhutan and India are usually strong allies and Delhi provides training for the country’s armed forces and assists the country on its foreign policy.
According to CNN, the power dynamic has changed as the rivalry between Beijing and Delhi intensifies.
Earlier this year, India and China clashed along another disputed border in the mountainous region. Twenty soldiers were killed in the conflict, the highest death toll since the country battled over the same area during the 60s.
The satellite imagery published by Maxar shows China continuing to reinforce its position along the border despite both countries agreeing to deescalate.
Further projects this year are unlikely to go ahead due to the inhospitable climate of the Himalayan region at this time of year.
Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, told CNN that by setting up these villages in very thinly populated border areas, the Chinese are creating a false reality on the ground – where officials can say the buildings had always been there.
Bhutan, Joshi said, has decided to keep quiet and ‘look the other way’ as they will find it difficult to institute any changes without the support of India.