Indian PM Narendra Modi is expected to visit Bhutan in the next few weeks for the inauguration of an Indian satellite tracking centre. The satellite tracking centre in Bhutan in response to an advanced centre built in the Tibet Autonomous Region by China. The Indian Space Research Organisation insists that the satellite centre is intended to help Bhutan take advantage of the South Asia Satellite launched in 2017.
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China has set up an advanced satellite tracking centre and astronomical observatory at Ngari in the Tibet Autonomous Region — about 125 kilometres away from the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border between India and China in the absence of a settled boundary.
New Delhi and Thimphu officially maintain that the ISRO ground station will help Bhutan take advantage of the South Asia Satellite — particularly in the fields of weather data collection, telemedicine and disaster relief. But according to some sources, this would help India track Eastern movements.
India had floated the idea of a South Asia Satellite during a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting. ISRO, on May 5, 2017, launched the said satellite and is currently in orbit, the motive of this satellite is the shared usage of information between the SAARC nations. The entire cost of the mission was taken up by New Delhi.
Narendra Modi’s visit to Thimphu comes at the behest of an invitation from his Bhutanese counterpart Lotay Tshering. The visit is said to also involve confirmation about India’s assistance of Bhutan in building a multi-speciality hospital and review the progress of the hydro-electric power projects that India is funding in the region.
Bhutan has been a loyal ally to India as is evident by their support of the Indian cause during the 72-day Doklam stand-off. The involvement of Delhi in these projects of goodwill is a result of the strong allied partnership.
Though the Bhutan visit is about the inauguration of the satellite centre, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) might use this opportunity to use this as a “strategic asset” given the key location between India and China. This is India’s second strategic asset inaugurated in the Modi reign. He has previously inaugurated a radar system cluster in the Maldives to keep track of activities in the Indian Ocean including Chinese warship movements.