“Raise the bright five-star red flag high.” This was the rally cry that Communist Party official Wu Yingjie gave to Chinese citizens during a visit last year to a town China has recently built high in the Himalayas called Gyalaphug. But there is a big problem with Wu’s order and the very existence of Gyalaphug: “While the Chinese claim that the town lies in China, it is actually well inside the nation of Bhutan.”
Based on satellite imagery and Chinese media reports, Robert Barnett broke the story of China’s illegal construction of Gyalaphug in Foreign Policy last month. Barnett noted that Gyalaphug is one of three villages China has built in Bhutan’s Beyul region since 2015. It has also constructed “66 miles of new roads, a small hydro-power station, two Communist Party administrative centers, a communications base, a disaster relief warehouse, five military or police outposts, and what are believed to be a major signals tower, a satellite receiving station, a military base, and up to six security sites and outposts.”
These developments mean almost all of the Beyul and the entirety of the nearby Menchuma Valley is under Chinese control. These regions together make up 1 percent of Bhutan’s total territory. Were the nation to lose this land, it would be comparable to the United States losing Indiana.
And China seems prepared to make Bhutan’s loss permanent. Official government rhetoric calls the citizens China has installed in these locations “soldiers without uniforms.” It orders them to make “every village a fortress and every household a watch post.”