THE dictionary defines ‘agent provocateur’ as someone who is associated with suspected persons but pretends to be an innocent and harmless sympathiser/supporter with an ulterior aim to incite them to a violent/incriminating act. That’s exactly what was done by Communist Party of China (CPC) dictator Mao Zedong and his People’s Liberation Army (PLA) after the 1962 India-China war. The Northeast and, thereafter, Bengal were targeted. The charm offensive of the CPC-PLA duo exposed India’s vulnerability. The Dragon was painted as a friend and New Delhi became a perceived foe in the eyes of a section of India’s restive polity. China, thus, started playing the ‘Great Game’ in South Asia, rendering the Indian state fragile and fractious.
In this context, China’s ties with Bhutan have major implications for India. The Bhutan-India border adjoins the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Sikkim. Bhutan’s unique geographical location makes it an intrinsic and inalienable part of South Asia.
As the crow flies, the India-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction is 32 km uphill from Gangtok and 18 km to Yadong/Yatung (Tibet). Doklam to Nathu La is 23 km, and Doklam to Siliguri is 106 km. Yadong to Gangtok, as the crow flies, is 33.5 km. And don’t forget that on October 20, 1962, China invaded the remotest tri-junction of eastern Bhutan, India and Tibet in Arunachal Pradesh’s Kameng sector.
Bhutan, with a population of 8 lakh, is the smallest of 11 landlocked states of Asia (others being Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Laos, Mongolia and Nepal).
Considering the historical and geopolitical backdrop, the Bhutan Government should not allow China to open an embassy in Thimphu. That one act, however well-meaning and bona fide, may ruin sovereign Bhutan, like Tibet in 1950, and also cause a cartographic upheaval in India’s neighbourhood, thereby paving the way for the possible creation of ‘Greater Burma’, ‘Greater China’ and ‘Greater Nepal’ in the east and leading to more land loss in the north and northwest of India.
The CPC-PLA duo has a history of aggression and use of brute force and muscle-flexing, wherever and whenever it got the slightest opportunity to do so. Coming back to the Central Asian highland, one has to remember China’s brutal and bloody conquest of independent Tibet in 1950 and the ruthless suppression of Buddhism and the land of the lamas. Didn’t the independence of Tibet become a thing of the past? Something similar may happen with Bhutan, which is flourishing with all its grandeur, beauty, splendour, self-respect and honour.
Tiny Bhutan juts into the Indian heartland and yet has never had any issue with mighty India, unlike what Tibet experienced, and is still experiencing — the worst of CPC-PLA persecution. The enduring history, tradition, culture and civilisation of Buddhist Tibet are today on the verge of extinction and obliteration. Tibetans are aliens in their own land. Understandably, to Beijing, the eternal bond between Buddhism and India became an eyesore.
Regrettably, this implacable Chinese malice is the product of Maoist-Marxist ideology. Hence, wherever the CPC-PLA finds empty space, sparse population, a weak neighbour, a barren island, a desolate atoll, a resource-rich/poor state or a potential fault line, it goes for the jugular. Regarding India, Beijing has considered it an easily achievable target. Mao and his ilk felt confident of exploiting differences and disputes among the local populace. In 1971, Beijing showed utter contempt for the victim, East Pakistan. Yet, Beijing physically didn’t go forward to rescue West Pakistan, realising the futility of backing the wrong horse in the long run owing to the inevitability of the birth of a new nation on India’s eastern flank.
Thus, the CPC-PLA has been cunningly exploiting any tectonic geopolitical shift in the vicinity, especially when it sees an opportunity to spread its wings in South Asia, to the discomfiture of Delhi’s traditional regional pre-eminence. The Chinese idea is to jeopardise Indian interests in South Asia by penetrating Bhutan’s diplomatic portals.
Notably, a bipartisan resolution introduced in the US Senate on Thursday has condemned the expansion of Beijing’s territorial claims in Bhutan. It is time to tell Bhutan to be mindful of India’s troubled past and current turbulence wherein most of the border states/union territories have some divisive issues to contend with. As most of these frontier states have faced international or national divisions, things invariably aggravated rather than getting resolved. Hence, if a diplomatic mission of China comes up in Bhutan, the outcome is bound to be worse than what Russia is facing in its underbelly. Like the ongoing Moscow-Kyiv war, the century-old India-Bhutan brotherhood would be fatally shattered.
For the record, Bhutan and China had signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the Three-Step Roadmap for Expediting the Bhutan-China Boundary Negotiations in October 2021. This happened seven years after the then Bhutanese Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, ruled out the possibility of his government permitting China to open an embassy in Thimphu. The remark was aimed at reassuring India; a similar reassurance is needed now too.
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