Two separate sets of satellite images released since Wednesday evening have shown that China has been setting up a cluster of buildings in Arunachal Pradesh and multiple villages in Bhutanese territory close to Doklam in Sikkim.
The Doklam plateau, near the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction, was the site of a 74-day-long standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in 2017.
As for the purported constructions in Arunachal Pradesh, the Indian Army has claimed that they had been built in Chinese territory, north of the Line of Actual Control.
Photos posted by a satellite imagery expert on Twitter on Wednesday showed that China is constructing multiple villages spread out over 100 square kilometres (over 24,700 acres) in Bhutan.
“Disputed land between Bhutan and China near Doklam shows construction activity between 2020-’21, multiple new villages spread through an area roughly 100 km² now dot the landscape, is this part of a new agreement or enforcement of China’s territorial claims?” tweeted a researcher with The Intel Lab, a global organisation that provides intelligence analysis.
Four villages were built between May 2020 and November 2021 and construction work in the area is ongoing, according to NDTV.
During this period, China and Bhutan had signed a memorandum of understanding in October on a three-step road map for settlement of the border dispute between them, according to think tank Observer Research Foundation.
China claims three areas in western Bhutan, including Doklam, three regions in the country’s northern part, and a large chunk of its eastern region.
While Doklam does not hold any strategic importance for Bhutan, it is significant for India as it gives China a commanding view of the Siliguri corridor, which is strategically crucial for New Delhi, according to the Observer Research Foundation.
The Siliguri corridor, commonly known as the “chicken’s neck”, is a stretch of about 22 kilometres that connects the northeastern states with the rest of the country through West Bengal’s Siliguri city.
Soon after New Delhi and Beijing agreed to disengage in Doklam in 2017, China had started building a military complex that can accommodate its troops and helipads. Beijing also began to build a village near the Mo Chhu river and a road leading to India from Bhutanese territory.
In January 2018, India had dismissed news reports claiming that Chinese forces were still present in the region and were building a military complex there.
A separate set of satellite images accessed by NDTV on Thursday showed that China has constructed a cluster of at least 60 buildings in Arunachal Pradesh.
The news channel reported that older satellite images of the area from 2019 did not show any such buildings, but the enclave could be seen in the new photos.
The buildings are located about 6 kilometres within India in the region between the Line of Actual Control and the International Boundary, according to NDTV.
However, the Army has refuted this claim saying: “The location corresponding to the coordinates mentioned in your [NDTV] query lies to the North of LAC [Line of Actual Control] in Chinese territory.”
The new enclave is about 93 kilometres east of a village that China had reportedly constructed earlier. The Union foreign ministry had then said: “India has neither accepted such illegal occupation of our territory nor has it accepted the unjustified Chinese claims.”
The images of the new enclave accessed on Thursday was obtained from two satellite imagery providers, Maxar Technologies and Planet Labs, reported NDTV. The images show dozens of buildings, including a structure with the flag of China painted on the rooftop that was large enough to be spotted by satellite imaging.
Chinese-run news agency Xinhua had also published a photograph of the enclave in June soon after President Xi Jinping visited the area to inspect a new railway line along the Arunachal border, according to NDTV.
“The new village shows how, bite by bite, China is eating away at India’s Himalayan borderlands,” said strategic analyst Brahma Chellaney. “The pictures of the sparkling new village vividly show its artificial nature.”
Congress questions PM Narendra Modi’s silence
Meanwhile, Congress questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the purported incursion by China in Bhutan. At a press conference on Thursday, party spokesperson Gourav Vallabh said that the construction was “a blow to our national security”.
Vallabh asked when the Modi government will respond to China’s “verbal, geographic, military and strategic aggression”. “Why are we tolerating all-round aggression from China and doing absolutely nothing about it?” he questioned.