PM Narendra Modi is likely to visit Bhutan in the next few weeks to inaugurate a satellite tracking centre India is building there in response to an advanced facility that China built in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Modi will visit Thimphu on an invitation from his Bhutanese counterpart Lotay Tshering. He is also likely to pledge India’s assistance in building a multi-speciality hospital in Bhutan, in addition to reviewing progress in the works of the hydro-power projects that New Delhi is funding in the neighbouring country.

One of the highlights of Modi’s Bhutan visit might be the inauguration of the satellite tracking and data reception centre. The “ground station” of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is likely to double up as “a strategic asset” for New Delhi, given its location between India and China.

Though the ISRO officially maintains that its ground station in Bhutan is intended to help the tiny nation take advantage of the South Asia Satellite it launched in 2017, sources in New Delhi told DH that it was part of India’s countermeasures to China’s advanced satellite tracking station in Tibet.

China has 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), which serves as a de facto border between India and the communist country in the absence of a settled boundary.

Modi, who visited the Maldives on June 8, inaugurated a new network of radar systems that New Delhi recently installed in the islands of the Indian Ocean archipelago. The system gave India more eyes to keep watch on the warships of China in the region, apart from serving the stated purpose of helping the Maldives safeguard its sovereignty in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The ISRO’s ground station in Thimphu is thus going to be New Delhi’s second “strategic asset” inaugurated by Modi in the neighbourhood after taking over as prime minister for the second consecutive term.

The ISRO launched the South Asia Satellite on May 5, 2017. New Delhi bore the entire expenses for building and launching the satellite. The prime minister himself had in 2014 mooted the idea of having a satellite for all the members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) so that India could share the benefits of its advances in space technology with its neighbours in South Asia. Pakistan stayed away from it although all other SAARC nations joined India in the project.

New Delhi and Thimphu officially maintain that the ISRO’s ground station will help Bhutan reap the benefits of the South Asia Satellite — particularly in the fields of weather information, tele-medicine and disaster relief. Sources, however, told DH it would help New Delhi track “any hostile move” along the eastern frontier.

Thimphu stood firmly with New Delhi during the 72-day face-off between the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army at Doklam Plateau in western Bhutan in June-August, 2017.