China charms Bhutan with an eye on India : The Tribune India

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China charms Bhutan with an eye on India

Xi is hell-bent on a Bhutan-China bilateral, bypassing India’s role as Thimphu’s ‘diplomatic navigator’.

China charms Bhutan with an eye on India

Bonhomie: Bhutan’s Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi recently. Twitter

Abhijit Bhattacharyya

Commentator and author

REMEMBER the Dhola military disaster and humbling of India by Chinese dictator Mao Zedong in October 1962? Dhola is virtually the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China-occupied Tibet. Remember the aggression of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) at Doklam in 2017? Doklam, too, is a tri-junction of India, Bhutan and Tibet. Remember the June 2020 slaughter of Indian soldiers by Chinese troops in the Galwan valley on President Xi Jinping’s birthday? Contextually, does India remember the first shots fired in Naxalbari (West Bengal) in May 1967 to kill cops, marking the beginning of Chinese-origin ‘people’s liberation war’ in India? Planned, masterminded and executed by the Communist Party of China (CPC)-PLA duo and fought by foot soldiers, didn’t it result in 20-year-long anarchy, claiming 50,000 lives and ruining every aspect of the polity, economy and society of the border state of Bengal?

Only a section of the Indian media followed the Bhutan-China confabulations last month. Before the start of the Bhutan King’s trip to India last week, the alarming ‘China tilt’ of Bhutan had been red-flagged by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. The latter even gave a veiled warning to India that the diplomatic act of Bhutan “may significantly change regional dynamics”. The daily was spot on. The fast-unfolding scenario should instantly set the alarm bells ringing and shake the Indian establishment to the core as one sees the ruthless, bloodthirsty Dragon’s footprint writ large — a reminder of the prelude to the 1950 conquest of independent Tibet. Seventy-three years have passed, but then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru is still regarded as the villain-in-chief for all Chinese evils and India’s perils owing to his apparent appeasement of China and his perceived inability to deter the Chinese defence forces and diplomatic corps from going on the rampage. India lost her land. India continues to lose land even today, thereby facing a fatal assault on her sovereignty.

In contrast to the alarming news about China-Bhutan bonhomie, India’s Ministry of External Affairs came out with a measured, matter-of-fact statement that harped on India and Bhutan enjoying “unique ties of friendship and cooperation, which are characterised by understanding and mutual trust”. That’s fine, but today, that very time-tested Delhi-Thimphu friendship and cooperation based on understanding and mutual trust are under grave threat of being irreversibly dismantled by Chinese machinations.

Xi is hell-bent on a direct Bhutan-China bilateral, bypassing India’s role as the sub-Himalayan Thimphu’s ‘diplomatic navigator’. In normal times, that couldn’t have been objected to. However, the Sino-Indian politico-diplomatic bilateral has never seen normal times, owing to the former’s inherent penchant for treachery, deceit, lies and aggression. China’s territorial expansion and forcible occupation/conquest at the cost of sovereign India and other neighbours are testimony to her intentions, which are universally known and acknowledged.

Direct contact between Beijing and Thimphu, therefore, can by no stretch of the imagination be considered normal diplomacy in accordance with a civilised nation’s code of conduct. It is inherently abnormal geopolitics and geoeconomics of aggression, invasion and suppression — a neighbourhood policy adopted by Xi that is solely directed at India. The Bhutan-China ‘direct line’ means that India faces an existential threat and inevitable loss of a huge swath of land.

Reportedly, during his Beijing trip, Bhutanese Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji achieved a ‘breakthrough’ on the boundary dispute after meeting Chinese Vice-President Han Zheng and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. He expressed Thimphu’s “willingness to work with China”. China reiterated its wish to open an embassy in Bhutan. India must emphatically oppose this move. For the sake of India’s existence, Beijing cannot make its presence felt in Bhutan.

Bhutan, as a matter of policy, doesn’t have diplomatic ties at the embassy level with any of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which includes China. Hence, giving diplomatic access to Beijing in Bhutan will open the doors for the other nations too. Sovereign Bhutan must remember that being located in a fragile ecological zone of the Himalayas, it cannot afford to open the floodgates to foreigners. China’s entry, followed by that of the other ‘Big Boys’, will prompt the ‘Son of Heaven’ (Xi Jinping) to turn Druk into a ‘den of hell’. Bhutan’s future lies in strengthening ties with Delhi, which has neither turned neighbours into bonded labour nor buried them under mountains of debt or forcibly usurped their land or resorted to ethnic cleansing. That way, the Indian policy has always been exemplary. Do the citizens of two landlocked neighbours — Nepal and Bhutan — need any passport/visa to visit India? Despite India occasionally being at the receiving end of criminal acts by the enemy nation’s citizens, Delhi cannot be substituted by the Dragon as a Druk asset.

India today needs to be very cautious owing to the existential threat it faces like never before. The Dragon is in overdrive. Xi cannot take it anymore that Delhi remains unsubjugated and can’t be brought to its knees, as is the case with weak, small, vulnerable and pliable BRI/CPEC cronies. Bhutan is the only Asian nation that has no diplomatic relations with China; this is tantamount to humiliation of the Chinese President. Druk must be taken under the Dragon’s wings and Delhi must be made to see the swallowing up of Thimphu — that’s the Chinese line of thinking.

China’s hegemony brooks no obstacle, however small or insignificant, in its vicinity. The land and sea routes of the subcontinent are too critical and strategic to be left to grow in parallel to Beijing’s growth story.

Make no mistake — if India and Bhutan abandon the unitary and intertwined umbilical cord of sub-Himalayan geography, both will be held guilty of unpardonable self-destruction.


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