President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping (Image: The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP)

In October 2015, China announced that a new village, called Gyalaphug in Tibetan or Jieluobu in Chinese, had been established in the south of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). In April 2020, the Communist Party secretary of the TAR, Wu Yingjie, travelled across two passes, both more than 14,000 feet high, on his way to visit the new village. There he told the residents — all of them Tibetans — to “put down roots like Kalsang flowers in the borderland of snows” and to “raise the bright five-star red flag high”.

Film of the visit was broadcast on local TV channels and plastered on the front pages of Tibetan newspapers. It was not reported outside China: hundreds of new villages are being built in Tibet, and this one seemed no different.

Gyalaphug is, however, different: it is in Bhutan. Wu and a retinue of officials, police, and journalists had crossed an international border. They were in a 232-square-mile area claimed by China since the early 1980s but internationally understood as part of Lhuntse district in northern Bhutan. The Chinese officials were visiting to celebrate their success, unnoticed by the world, in planting settlers, security personnel, and military infrastructure within territory internationally and historically understood to be Bhutanese.