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China slowly engulfing parts of Bhutan, wants strategic advantage against India: Report

China has been pushing Bhutan to open full relations with China that would allow it to have a diplomatic presence in Thimphu, which won't be a good move for India's influence in Bhutan.

As per a report in Foreign Policy, in 2015, China established a new village in the south of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and named it Gyalaphug in Tibetan or Jieluobu in Chinese. In April 2020, Wu Yingjie, Communist Party secretary of the TAR, travelled to the village and told the residents to raise the bright five-star red flag. The incident went unnoticed by the world media. Interestingly, Gyalaphug is not part of TAR or China, but it is a region in Bhutan that was claimed by China since the early 1980s. Originally it is part of the Lhuntse district in northern Bhutan.

China has been developing the 232-square-mile area with settlers, security personnel, and military infrastructure originally belonging to Bhutan. The new construction commenced under President Xi Jinping’s significant drive to out-maneuver India and its neighbors along Himalayan frontiers. The occupation of the land is aimed at pressuring the Bhutanese government to surrender territory that China wants elsewhere in Bhutan to gain military in the struggle with India.

So far, China has constructed 66 miles of new roads, a small hydropower station, two Communist Party administrative centers, a communications base, a disaster relief warehouse, five military or police outposts, and what is believed to be a major signals tower, a satellite receiving station, a military base, and up to six security sites and outposts that China has constructed. China says they are parts of Lhodrak in the TAR but which in fact are in the far north of Bhutan according to the report published by Foreign policy.

The satellite images of the area show how the construction work has progressed so far. In contrast, the reports about the region published in Chinese media do not talk about the development in the region at all. This is not the first time China has tried building roads inside Bhutan, the FP report says. In 2017, China tried to build a road across the Doklam plateau in southwestern Bhutan, next to the trijunction with India. It resulted in a 73-day face-off between Indian and Chinese troops. The project has now been abundant by the Chinese government.

The satellite images from 2003 and 2021 show how much construction has been done in Beyul region by Chinese government (Source: Google Earth/Foreign Policy)

In November 2020, it was reported that a village named Pangda had been built by the Chinese government in the subtropical forest just inside the southwestern border of Bhutan. The claim was, however, denied by the Chinese government.

Bhutanese areas claimed by China

As of now, China claims four regions in the west of Bhutan, three in the north, and Sakteng in the east. Since 1990, China has been offering to give up 191 square miles of its claims in the north of Bhutan if the Himalayan kingdom agrees to give up 104 square miles in the west that includes parts of Doklam.

China has been systematically removing Bhutanese control from some regions. For example, Bhutan’s border guards used to get posted in the Beyul, one of the regions China has claimed to be Chinese territory, to protect herders from their counterparts from Tibet. Since the 1990s, the encounters between Bhutanese and Tibetan herders became more aggressive resulting shift of Bhutanese herders to the south of the Beyul in 2005. The soldiers who were dependent on the herders for supplies moved to the south, leaving the region at the mercy of the Chinese. As a result, most of the Beyul is now under China’s control along with Menchuma valley. These two regions comprise 1% of the Bhutanese territories.

Map of Bhutan showing regions claimed by China (Source: Foreign Policy)

It has to be noted that China’s interest in Beyul is not because it wants to expand its territory by controlling the land of Bhutan, but it appears that China wants to use the land as a strategic location against India. China has been pushing Bhutan to open full relations with China that would allow it to have a diplomatic presence in Thimphu, which won’t be a good move for India’s influence in Bhutan. Notably, similar actions have been taken in Nepal as well, making it hard for India to have a diplomatic influence on the neighboring country.

China has been engulfing Nepal slowly

In September 2020, it was reported that China had constructed eight buildings in Nepalese territories. PLA troops were reportedly harassing locals. In October 2020, a Nepalese lawmaker who went to examine the region confirmed that the Chinese side had replaced Pillar 12 so that a large chunk of Nepal’s land is now under the control of China. He also claimed that the Chinese troops fired teargas towards them when they inspected the region from close. In July 2020, it was reported that the Rui village of Nepal was occupied by China and annexed in Tibet.

A detailed report on China’s invasion of Bhutan can be read here.

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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