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China Steps Up Construction on Disputed Bhutan Frontier

Images and analysis provide a detailed look into Beijing’s recent construction along its frontier with the landlocked kingdom

Buddhist monks look out from the Dzong fortress in Thimphu, Bhutan. Photo: Reuters


China has accelerated settlement-building along its disputed border with Bhutan, with more than 200 structures, including two-storey buildings, under construction in six locations, according to satellite image analysis.

Images and analysis supplied to Reuters by US data analytics firm HawkEye 360, which uses satellites to gather intelligence on ground-level activities, and vetted by two other experts, provide a detailed look into China’s recent construction along its frontier with Bhutan.

Construction-related activity in some of the locations along Bhutan’s western border has been under way since early 2020, with China initially building tracks and clearing out areas, said Chris Biggers, the mission applications director at HawkEye 360.

Images show the work speeded up in 2021. Smaller structures were erected – possibly to house equipment and supplies – followed by the laying of foundations and then the construction of buildings, Biggers said. “To me, 2021 was the period for acceleration,” he added.

“It is Bhutan’s policy not to talk about boundary issues in the public,” the landlocked country’s foreign ministry said in response to questions. The ministry declined to comment further.

China’s Foreign ministry said 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 on its own territory,” the ministry said. The ministry declined to comment further.

The construction suggests that China is bent on resolving its border claims by giving its ambitions concrete form, said the experts and one Indian defence source.


  • Reuters with additional editing by George Russell




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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.


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