The Bhutan-China MoU: Neighbours explore their strategic options - The Tribune India

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The Bhutan-China MoU

Neighbours explore their strategic options

The Bhutan-China MoU

Photo for representation only. - File photo

AS far as China is concerned, Bhutan has walked in lockstep with India ever since its citizens were traumatised by the sight of thousands of pitiful Tibetans transiting through their land to India after the Chinese crackdown in Lhasa in 1959. Since 1984, the two have held endless talks but did not move towards a resolution just like the India-China boundary talks. China became every country’s largest trading partner but India and Bhutan are happy in each other’s company. In the past, Bhutan ignored several overtures from Beijing, including support for a UNSC term, to stand by India whose boundary negotiations with China are at an impasse. In 2013, the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Wangchuck, stepped in as the chief guest on Republic Day after the King of Oman cancelled his India visit.

Against this intensity of political and security ties, Thursday’s announcement of a Bhutan-China MoU to resolve their boundary dispute through a three-step solution should come as a jolt. The Ministry of External Affairs limited itself to expressing wariness and also awareness that Bhutan and China have been holding talks. But it was ingenious of the spokesman to equate these talks with India’s boundary negotiations with China. While China and Bhutan seem to have taken a decisive step to resolving their dispute, New Delhi and Beijing are having trouble in all three sectors of their unresolved 3,488-km boundary. Their last military talks ended in a mutual blame game.

It is not as if this is a sudden development. As the Bhutan-China joint press release noted, both sides began discussing the three-step solution in April. The process of achieving finality on a boundary with China typically takes a decade (it has the largest number of land boundaries in the world). And much can change in between. But this flagging of Bhutanese sovereignty comes after Bangladesh and Sri Lanka declined to subscribe to India’s pet ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ concept. India needs to take stock whether its animosity towards China and increasing identification with US’ interests in the region are encouraging its neighbours to explore other options.

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