NEW DELHI: China’s fresh demand for Bhutan’s territory is part of Beijing’s larger drive to put coerce the Himalayan nation into a boundary deal on Beijing’s terms and put more pressure on India.
On Saturday, the Chinese foreign ministry said the China-Bhutan boundary has never been delimited and there “have been disputes over the eastern, central and western sections for a long time”, cautioning “third party” (read India) to refrain from stepping into the breach. On June 29, China objected to Bhutan’s application for a grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council for the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary situated in eastern Bhutan, saying it was “disputed” territory.
Bhutan got the funds but China’s objection was seen as an attempt to intimidate because it was the first instance of the Chinese making border claims on eastern Bhutan. In response, Bhutan shot off a strongly worded demarche to the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, saying, “Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is an integral and sovereign territory of Bhutan.” Sakteng sanctuary is in Trashigang province of Bhutan. Sources here see this move as part of the larger Chinese tactics of putting pressure on India’s smaller neighbours, to punish them for any closeness to India.
In 2017, the PLA had intruded into Doklam plateau which is Bhutanese territory, leading Indian forces to show up in strength to prevent China from building a road up to the Jhampheri ridge. The stand-off went on for 72 days before status quo ante was restored . This year, too, there have been reports that China had started building yet another road along Torsa/Amo Chu, apparently aiming for the Siliguri corridor in India. OnFriday, the Chinese embassy, responding to PM Narendra Modi’s charge of “expansionism”, said China had sealed boundary agreements with 12 out of its 14 neighbours.
The point is almost all of China’s agreements have been done with small countries and on China’s terms. Tenzing Lamsang, editor of The Bhutanese said on Twitter, “There are only two disputed areas raised in 24 boundary talks since 1984 agreed to by both sides with signed minutes (269 sq km in west and 495 sq km in northcentral Bhutan). The Chinese never brought this up in the boundary talks. So there is no dispute in Eastern Bhutan.”
“This eastern sector is very much Bhutanese with a large Bhutanese population and traditional dzongs (medieval fortresses) and two Bhutanese districts since time immemorial,” Lamsang said. At the GEF, Bhutan’s response to Chinese objections were placed on record. “Bhutan totally rejects the claim made by the council member of China. Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is an integral and sovereign territory of Bhutan and at no point during the boundary discussions between Bhutan and China has it featured as a disputed area,” it said.
Watch China now claims Bhutan territory, bid to put pressure on India


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