Table of Contents
THE CONTEXT: This week’s visit of Bhutan’s Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji to China, was unprecedented on several levels. Bhutan and China do not maintain diplomatic relations
MORE ON THE NEWS:
- The talks appeared to yield substantive progress, according to a joint statement, with both countries having also signed a cooperation agreement outlining the functioning of a new joint technical team for the delimitation and demarcation of the boundary.
- The two countries are inching towards the completion of a three-step road map on boundary delineation and demarcation.
- The Bhutanese Prime Minister asserted that no agreement with China would in any way go against India’s interests.
BOUNDARY ISSUE BETWEEN BHUTAN AND CHINA:
- Bhutan and China have disputes over territory in the north and in the west in the Himalayas.
- Territorial disputes revolve around the 495 square kilometres in north-central Bhutan and 269 square kilometres in western Bhutan. Since 2020, Beijing has extended its claim on 740 square kilometres in the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Bhutan.
- Among all the contentious places, the key issue is a strategic plateau called Doklam – situated close to the tri-junction between India, Bhutan and China. Bhutan and China claim the region and India supports Thimphu’s position.
ISSUES FOR INDIA
- One such red line will involve keeping China away from southern Doklam’s ridges that overlook India’s “Siliguri corridor”.
- A second line will likely involve Thimphu going slow on normalising ties and opening itself up to a permanent Chinese diplomatic presence, while continuing with border talks.
- China asserts claims over roughly 764 square kilometres in the northwestern and central regions of Bhutan.
India- Bhutan Relation
- Diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan were established in 1968 with the establishment of a special office of India in Thimphu.
- The basic framework of India Bhutan bilateral relations is the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed in 1949 between the two countries and revised in February 2007.
- The India-Bhutan Agreement on Trade, Commerce and Transit – which was first signed in 1972 and revised most recently for the fifth time in 2016 – establishes a free trade regime between the two countries.
- India has been extending economic assistance to Bhutan’s socio-economic development since the early 1960s when Bhutan launched its Five Year Plans.
- There is ongoing cooperation between India and Bhutan hydro-power sector is covered under the 2006 bilateral agreement for cooperation and its Protocol signed in 2009.
- There is close bilateral cooperation in the educational and cultural fields between India and Bhutan.
- India and Bhutan agreed to collaborate on the joint development of a small satellite for Bhutan, and the MoU between India and Bhutan on cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space signed on November 19, 2020.
- The Siliguri Corridor, also known as the Chicken’s neck, is a narrow stretch, just 17 km wide, of land located in West Bengal, that connects the north-eastern states to the rest of India.
- The corridor has borders connected to Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, whereas it connects the northeast via Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Terai areas in West Bengal.
- The Siliguri Corridor has been a strategically important and vulnerable region. The BSF, Indo-China Border Police and even Assam Rifles have been guarding the corridor for India.
- The corridor has a significant road and rail network that connects West Bengal to eight north-eastern states. It has become a vulnerable area since Bengal’s partition in colonial times and the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh.
THE WAY FORWARD:
- India must pay attention to the domestic sentiment in Bhutan, develop a deeper understanding of Bhutanese perspectives, and connect with Bhutanese youth through education.
- India should avoid displaying any insecurity about emerging trends in Bhutan and its relationship with China, and instead approach this relationship with trust and confidence.
India must approach the boundary negotiations with a greater understanding of Bhutan’s reasoning, and with confidence that India’s long-trusted neighbour will take both India’s interests and its own into consideration before any final agreement.
PREVIOUS YEAR QUESTION:
Q) ‘China is using its economic relations and positive trade surplus as tools to develop potential military power status in Asia’, In the light of this statement, discuss its impact on India as her neighbour. (2017)
MAINS PRACTICE QUESTION:
Q) “The ongoing Sino-Bhutan boundary talks open up a new challenge for India’s bilateral relations with the latter”.Spread the Word