More Evidence of Chinese Presence in the Doklam Area?

The Chinese post at Nathu La, on the border with the Indian state of Sikkim. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A new satellite image analysis from retired army intelligence officer Colonel Vinayak Bhat suggests China continues to fortify its presence in the Doklam area.

‘The new images show concrete posts, seven helipads, new trenches and several dozen armoured vehicles,’ in the area, Bhat wrote in ThePrint.

This blog has previously noted reports that China had spruced up a road within its territory in the Doklam area and continued to consolidate its presence.

On Wednesday, army chief general Bipin Rawat also told the press Chinese troops are still deployed not far from the site of the standoff. According to Rawat, the PLA’s ‘soldiers are there in a part of the area although not in numbers that we saw them in initially. They have carried out some infrastructure development which is mostly temporary in nature’.

However, Rawat downplayed concerns about a new crisis at the site.

‘I think the bonhomie (between India and China) has returned to what was prior to Doklam, so I don’t visualize a very serious trouble, but then one has to be prepared for it always,’ he said.

According to Bhat’s analysis of satellite imagery, PLA troops have kept or parked heavy-duty equipment for mechanized units in the area.

‘There is at least one complete mechanised regiment of possibly ZBL-09 IFVs  or infantry fighting vehicles. There is also a strong possibility of another mechanised regiment under camouflage nets,’ he wrote.

Bhat estimates that there are ‘in total, two regiments’ worth of tank transporters on the Doklam plateau,’ along with ‘more than a hundred large troop/equipment-carrying vehicles’ and seven helipads.

Bhat also appears to confirm earlier reporting that the Chinese had fortified positions in the area. These include ‘large number of fighting posts have been created on almost every hillock’ and a two-storey observation tower.

NDTV also followed up Bhat’s story, by publishing satellite imagery that showed among other things, possible artillery emplacements, though no actual artillery was visible.

Though Bhat’s analysis has generally been welcomed, a few have made minor objections. For instance, Srinath Raghavan of the Centre for Policy Research disputed Bhat’s conclusion that the two-storey tower allows the PLA to ‘observe the entire Gnathang Valley from Kupup to Zuluk.’ Instead, Raghavan argued on Twitter, that the lay of the land meant that ‘movement of troops beyond Kupup cannot be fully observed.’

More serious scepticism has come from author and former defence reporter Nitin Gokhale who has argued such reports are overhyped since the Chinese remain in their territory and have not encroached into areas claimed by Bhutan.

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