Territorial aggression: Is it Chinese belligerence or Bhutan’s benevolence?
Bhutan has active borders with its Northern neighbour. China’s annexation of Tibet in 1959 brought China to the door step of Bhutan. Since, then China has been laying claims on areas hither-to-fore integral sovereign territory of Bhutan. Before Tibet’s annexation by China, there were pockets of dispute with Tibet, but nothing that could not be resolved amicably. China and Bhutan sharing common land borders led to disputes magnifying multifold. Bhutan has been in talks with China to resolve boundary dispute in Western, Central & Eastern Bhutan since four decades. Despite protracted negotiations and parleys between the two governments, there seems to be no inclination on part of China to settle the boundary. This is a larger strategy by China to keep changing facts on ground in their favour and keep enhancing claims during every negotiation. Through ‘Salami Slicing’ & nibbling actions, China has deep ingresses into Bhutan in almost all sectors.
China’s unabated territorial aggression in Doklam Plateau, Western Bhutan and Central Bhutan are a testimony of its policy of unilaterally changing facts on ground, despite agreements & sustained boundary talks since 1984. Doklam Plateau in its entirety has been militarised by China and occupied, despite it being part of Bhutan. Creation of a village to the South of Asam, within Bhutanese territory should have evoked a strong diplomatic & political response from Bhutan. Similarly, areas of Western Bhutan have been slowly but surely encroached upon by China with a view to secure its feeder & provide depth to Chumbi Valley. A large number of military infrastructure has been seen in satellite imageries in Central Bhutan & Eastern Bhutan. Unrelenting Chinese infrastructure development in Bhutanese territory should be a cause of concern to not only elected government in Bhutan but also its population, which has lost large tracts of their motherland.
While, Chinese belligerence is well understood as it is based on its expansionist designs, however meek reactions of Bhutanese are difficult to fathom! Is it that China has been able to bully Bhutan into acceptance or is it complicity on part of Bhutan to cede a huge chunk of real estate without even a whimper among its citizens or internationalisation of the issue? Either the government is keeping its citizens unaware of the developments along its Northern borders or it is benevolence of the government with some secret understanding with the Chinese. A democracy is by the people and for the people, therefore it is not clear whether citizens of Bhutan are naïve or they have reconciled to the loss of territory & thereby, sovereignty to the Chinese. These questions are pertinent and should have been the basis of debate among the Bhutanese society.
Citizens of Bhutan are empowered and have been raising myriad fundamental socio – political issues from time to time over diverse media platforms, however, absence of chatter on this issue does not augur well for democratic vibrancy that Bhutan is embarking on. Although, governments of the day are not duty bound to discuss policy issues in public domain, yet matured democracies take their citizens on-board on issues of national security. Debates only strengthen democracy.
An Opportunity Missed
Royal Government would miss an important opportunity; in case it fails to apprise its population of the expansionist designs of China. This would have put to rest the debate as to why trade with China is not good? Why, till date Bhutan does not have direct diplomatic relations with China? The larger population, in any case revers the government of the day, however a public acknowledgement of Chinese aggression would have shaped perception of the intelligentsia in Bhutan. Government in Bhutan must understand that voice of its citizens will find better resonance among the world in pushing back nefarious designs of China in comparison to their timid diplomatic demarches. Bhutan may not be able to push back bully China militarily, yet it has its unique culture, identity as independent peace loving country, fountain of Buddhist philosophy which should be leveraged against China.