Bhutan vents out first major disclaimer against Chinese, sides with India over disputed Dong Lang territory

Bhutan, for the first time has taken a major stand against China's incursions and said the area where the Chinese were building a road is a disputed one and progressing towards Zom Pelri, a camp of the Royal Bhutan Army.

"We have asked them (China) to stop and refrain from changing the status quo,” Major General Vetsop Namgyel told The Hindu on Wednesday, adding that the road that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is constructing not in line with agreements between China and Bhutan. The Bhutan-China border talks are based on the guiding principles agreed to in 1998 by the two countries and the agreement on the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the Bhutan-China areas. 

 Bhutan vents out first major disclaimer against Chinese, sides with India over disputed Dong Lang territory

The Disputed area between Sikkim and Tibet

Border talks has strategic implications for India’s security and Delhi’s own negotiations with China probably needed to be ‘synchronized' with Thimphu.

While authorities and media in Bhutan shun from speaking about the escalations between the two countries in recent years, Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat took off to Gangtok to take stock of operational matters and interact with top commanders in the formation headquarters.
However, a senior Bhutanese journalist under anonymity told Firstpost that Bhutan should be on the forefront and be proactive in discussing the border issue. "Doklum is a disputed area between Bhutan and China. The Chinese have violated the peace agreement many times in the past as well," he said.

China has a history of incursions

Bhutanese secretary for international boundaries, late Dasho Pema Wangchuk, had told the Bhutanese parliament that Chinese soldiers had intruded into Bhutanese territory as many as seventeen times in 2009 alone.

China started road construction work from the Lang Marpo stream (falls in the disputed area) towards Zuri ridge in 2004, but later stopped it after the Bhutanese government protested five times and asked China to stop construction on the basis of the 1998 agreement on the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the Bhutan-China border.

Wangchuk had often said that Bhutan has not been able to successfully demarcate the northern border with China because of the differences of views and positions of the boundary between Bhutan and China.

Is Bhutan caught between India and China

While China has been successful in warming up to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, the Wednesday candid message from Namgyel should serve as a disclaimer from the happiness capital.

Further, India's assertion has definitely upset the Chinese as they plan to push back against, what they see as a line having been crossed, a senior Indian official told Indian Express.  Although  India has had a long presence along the Bhutan-China borders, it had never acted in defence of Bhutan's interest, the article added.

Bhutan's stand against Beijing, on the other hand, goes on to show the country's unwavering alliance and support for big brother India.

PTI reports on Monday cited China accusing Indian troops of trespassing, and threatened to block Nathu La pass, a route used by Indian pilgrims to go to Hindu sites in Tibet and Bhutan. India on the other hand accused China of destroying its bunkers on their side.

Talking to Hindustan Times, the director of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, Hu Shisheng rightly brought up the Bhutan angle as a key to the recent India-China logjam.

"Dong Lang La is a major issue between China and Bhutan and not between China and India, why has it become an issue between India and China?" The Hindu quoted him.

Visual details emerged on Youtube video shortly showing the Chinese and Indian troops jostling in Dong Lang La region of the Chumbi Valley, where Indian troops are seen forming a human wall along the international border trying to stop the Chinese army advancing into the Indian territory.

During a meet in November 2016, Bhutan’s national daily, Kuensel reported the then home minister Damchoe Dorji conveyed the government is working to reduce differences in claims as far as possible. “Even an inch of land is precious land for a small country like Bhutan,” Dorji had said. Besides, the growing concern about the loss of grazing land for people living across the borders has also been an issue for highlanders in Bhutan.

Bhutan has also spoken of strengthening its relations with China, but it does not look likely with the recent turn of events.

Bhutan has been a loyal neighbour to India for several years as New Delhi has been providing various types of assistance to the Himalayan Kingdom, the majority of which includes building roads. Landlocked Bhutan is heavily reliant on imports from India, be it basic necessities to consumer goods as well as Liquid Petroleum Gas.

As for India, China’s advances in the Doklam area is a strategic threat to the Siliguri corridor, a narrow stretch of land (known as chicken's neck) that connects India's northeastern states to the rest of India. As a country located between China and India, Bhutan serves as a buffer and is of critical strategic importance to the Siliguri corridor.

China's reactions

China has always despised  India’s monopoly over Bhutan’s foreign affairs. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told a daily conference on Tuesday that the Chinese government has made great efforts to offer convenience for Indian pilgrims and claimed Indian frontier officers entered into China's sovereign territory through the Sikkim section of the India-China border, whereby it had to take countermeasures.

China added that it has suspended the entry of Indian pilgrims for security reasons.

On the other hand, in a statement on Wednesday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said that the current impasse with India, including the area of Donglong (called Doko La by India and Doklam by Bhutan) is a part of Chinese territory since “ancient times”, adding that “if India wants to raise an issue with this part, I would say that it doesn’t belong to Bhutan, nor does it belong to India.”

The spokesperson even accused India of a “hidden agenda”, saying that though “the boundary between China and Bhutan has not been delimited, no third party should interfere in this matter".

Updated Date: Jun 30, 2017 09:03:25 IST