News and Views on Tibet

China expands border villages in Bhutan despite ongoing talks

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Illustration/The Diplomat

By Tsering Dhundup

DHARAMSHALA, Feb 21: China is reportedly proceeding with construction of border villages in the disputed territory with Bhutan, despite ongoing border talks between the two countries. 

According to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, at least three villages have been constructed in the mountainous region separating the two countries. The rapid expansion, which began as a poverty alleviation scheme, also serves as a dual national security role, as per statements from ruling Chinese Communist Party officials.

In a remote Himalayan village, located within a border zone that is disputed by China and Bhutan, 18 new Chinese residents were observed waiting to enter their newly constructed homes. Each of them was carrying a framed portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping, along with a bright red banner containing a welcoming message in both Chinese and Tibetan language. 

As per the statement released by the Tibet Federation of Industry and Commerce on its WeChat account, the first group of residents consisting of 38 households from the Tibetan city of Shigatse, moved into the newly expanded Tamalung village on December 28. The village is one of at least three villages built by China inside the disputed zone. Local governments in the so called Tibet Autonomous Region led a rapid expansion of border villages last year, with Tamalung doubling in size in the latter half of 2023.

According to the report, the expansion of the village is part of a larger project led by the local Chinese government of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The satellite imagery obtained from Maxar Technologies, a US-based company, revealed that the village has undergone significant growth with the construction of 147 new houses in its vicinity.

China is continuing to construct well-equipped villages along its contested borders, including those with India and Bhutan, despite the signing of a “Cooperation Agreement” between China and Bhutan in the previous year. The agreement laid out the responsibilities and functions of the Joint Technical Team on the Delimitation and Demarcation of the Bhutan-China Boundary. While China has unresolved issues with India and Bhutan, among other neighbours.

Tensions have arisen in the past between China and India regarding the Doklam plateau. In 2017, a standoff occurred when China attempted to build a road in the area, which India strongly opposed due to its strategic implications for the Siliguri Corridor. This corridor is a vital link that connects India with its north-eastern region. The standoff ended after Beijing dropped its plans for the road.

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