China accused of Bhutan land grab

Social Share

Stealthily but steadily, Beijing is reportedly building whole towns across internationally recognised borders in a new and dangerous global power play.

In early April, the Chinese welcomed a delegation of international visitors to the city of Kunming in Yunnan province.

The “expert group” was there to discuss China’s mountainous southern border, a tricky frontier to pin down due to it lying in uninhabited and wild terrain.

According to accounts from China’s press, the meeting between it and tiny Bhutan was exceptionally cordial.

“The expert group meeting held in-depth and fruitful discussions on the boundary issue in a warm and friendly atmosphere,” China’s foreign ministry stated, as reported by Communist (CPC) mouthpiece the Global Times.

Which was all the more surprising because according to new research, China has quietly been invading its Himalayan neighbour for years.

A paper published by journal Foreign Policy stated China has built an entire town, replete with roads, a power plant, two CPC buildings, a communications base, military and police outposts and a warehouse, almost 8 kilometres into Bhutan.

What Beijing has already done in the South China Sea – building outposts and claiming dubious sovereignty – is now also being done in the Himalayas, according to reports.

It was perhaps no surprise that the Kunming meeting was so friendly. With a population of just 800,000 compared to China’s 1.4 billion, “there is little Bhutan can do” but watch as Beijing takes large gulps of its territory, the paper states.

All smiles. The Bhutan-China expert group on border matters meeting in Kunming in April 2021. Picture: Global Times

All smiles. The Bhutan-China expert group on border matters meeting in Kunming in April 2021. Picture: Global TimesSource:Supplied

What’s worse for Bhutan is that it isn’t even the real target for Beijing. Rather, it’s become caught in a geopolitical sparring match.

“This involves a strategy that is more provocative than anything China has done on its land borders in the past,” wrote Robert Barnett inForeign Policy earlier this month.

“The settlement of an entire area within another country goes far beyond the forward patrolling and occasional road-building.”

Chinese town that appeared 8kms into Bhutan

The Kingdom of Bhutan lies entirely within the southern slopes of the Himalayas. To the south is the vast expanse of India and to the north, over the mountain peaks, the even vaster expanse of China.

The largely Buddhist Bhutanese have much in common with the people of Tibet which now lies within China. But diplomatically and economically, the government in Thimphu has closer links to India. Beijing doesn’t even have an embassy in Bhutan.

That Bhutan and China can’t agree where their 470km common border lies is nothing new. By some accounts Beijing claims 12 per cent of the territory governed by Thimphu. The recent meeting in Kunming was the 25th the two nations have held concerning the frontier.

China has long built roads into these disputed territories. But building a whole town within the internationally recognised territory of another nation, even if that territory is disputed, is striking.

Called Gyalaphug, or Jieluobu in Chinese, an administration block at its centre features a hammer and sickle. A nearby banner proclaims “Resolutely uphold the core position of General Secretary Xi Jinping!”

It’s estimated several hundred people, and even more yaks, could now live in Gyalaphug. That number is boosted by a rotation of construction workers, party cadres, police and soldiers.

“There is little that Bhutan can do,” said Mr Barnett, given China would know it’s clearly violating a 1998 agreement to leave the disputed areas be.

That point is echoed by Johns Hopkins University professor of international relations Hal Brands.

“It’s unclear whether the Bhutanese government realised that the People’s Liberation Army had effectively invaded a small, remote part of its territory, or if it knew but was powerless to respond,” he told Bloomberg.

“What is clear is that the Chinese presence isn’t going anywhere. Beijing has executed a fait accompli by creating facts on the ground.” Source: