Bhutan’s about-turn: India needs to be wary of China’s Doklam ploy - The Tribune India

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Bhutan’s about-turn

India needs to be wary of China’s Doklam ploy

Bhutan’s about-turn

Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering. Photo courtesy Twitter handle: @PMBhutan

BHUTANESE Prime Minister Lotay Tshering’s assertion that China has an equal say in resolving the Doklam plateau dispute has compounded India’s worries. The plateau, which lies at the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan, is a tinderbox of immense strategic significance. Doklam had witnessed a tense standoff between Indian and Chinese soldiers in 2017 after Beijing tried to extend an illegally constructed road towards Mount Gipmochi and the adjoining Jampheri ridge. China’s intention was to gain access to Jampheri and thus get a clear line of sight to the sensitive Siliguri corridor or Chicken Neck that connects the northeastern states with the rest of India. However, the Indian Army scuttled the neighbour’s nefarious plan.

Tshering’s statement, which runs contrary to his 2019 stand that the ‘existing tri-junction point should not be disturbed unilaterally’, indicates that China is intensifying pressure on Bhutan to resolve their border dispute to Beijing’s satisfaction. In January, China and Bhutan had agreed to expedite negotiations to settle their boundary issues. In recent years, China has also stepped up efforts to establish formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan. Wooing Thimphu is part of Beijing’s strategy to wrest the initiative from New Delhi, militarily as well as diplomatically. There are apprehensions that Bhutan might cede a portion of its territory to China.

Tshering is in denial over reports that the Chinese are building villages on Bhutanese territory. He has claimed, rather unconvincingly, that there have been no intrusions by China. It’s obvious that he doesn’t want to rile China, notwithstanding the implications his stance can have for India-Bhutan ties. The takeaway for India is to proactively resolve its own boundary dispute with China and preclude the latter’s expansionist moves. The two countries are at odds even over the length of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). India considers it to be 3,488-km long, while the Chinese claim that it stretches for only around 2,000 km. The undemarcated border areas that facilitate Chinese misadventures and transgressions need to be dealt with on priority. The time is ripe to tell China to address LAC-centric issues with the same urgency that it is showing with regard to Bhutan. 

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