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China – Bhutan Border Dispute 

China - Bhutan Border Dispute
China – Bhutan Border Dispute

Discussion: China – Bhutan Border Dispute

  • The 11th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the China-Bhutan Boundary Issues was held in China’s Kunming city.
  • After the meeting, both sides announced that a positive consensus has been reached to push forward the implementation of all steps of the Three Step-Roadmap.

China – Bhutan Border Dispute

China - Bhutan Border Dispute
China – Bhutan Border Dispute
  • Bhutan shares a 477 km long border with China.
  • China claims certain territories from Bhutan:
    • In the north – Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys; and
      • Both of these places are culturally vital for Bhutan.
    • In the west – Doklam, Dramana, and Shakhatoe, Yak Chu and Charithang Chu, and Sinchulungpa and Langmarpo valleys.
      • These places are pasture-rich and strategically located in the Bhutan-India-China trijunction, lying precariously close to India’s Siliguri Corridor.
  • In 2020, China made new claims on Bhutan’s East in the Sakteng sanctuary.
    • Surprisingly, there has been no mention of Eastern Bhutan in the previous rounds of boundary negotiations held between the two countries.
    • Hence, addition of Eastern Bhutan in the list of disputed territories has baffled Bhutan.
    • This eastern sector of Bhutan has a large Bhutanese population, traditional Dzongs (fortified monastery) and two Bhutanese districts since time immemorial.
    • Some observers viewed that move as a pressure tactic to push Bhutan to accept China’s earlier reported offer of a swap of Doklam in the west, which Beijing views strategically, in exchange for Bhutan to retain its northern territories.

Boundary Negotiation Between Bhutan and China

  • Although, Bhutan does not have a formal diplomatic relation with China, the country began its first border negotiations with China in 1984.
  • To date, both countries have held 11 expert group meetings and 24 rounds of border negotiations.
  • In October 2021, Bhutan and China signed an MoU on the Three-Step Roadmap for Expediting the China-Bhutan Boundary Negotiations. The three-step roadmap has still not been made public.

China-Bhutan Boundary Dispute And India

  • India views Chinese presence near Doklam as a major security concern close to the strategic Siliguri corridor.
  • China has also staked claim to a wildlife sanctuary in Bhutan near the border with Arunachal.
  • This assumes significance as, in December 2022, Indian and Chinese army troops clashed along the LAC in the Tawang Sector of Arunachal Pradesh.

Challenges In Solving The Border Dispute Between China And Bhutan

  • Bhutan-China Border Dispute Is Not A Bilateral Issue
    • The first challenge is to see if China would be keen on discussing the trijunction areas with India.
    • For this, China will to shun its decades-old policy of treating the Bhutan-China border dispute as a bilateral issue and involve India as well.
  • Increasing Chinese expansion In The Western Disputed Regions
    • India has briefed and sensitized Bhutan of China’s increasing inroads on multiple occasions.
    • Bhutan lacks the material capability and presence to avert these continuing intrusions.
    • Despite this, it stays reluctant to seek more Indian assistance, fearing more Chinese assertiveness.
  • China Is Keen On Establishing Diplomatic Relations With Bhutan
    • China’s solution to border disputes has often been inclusive of establishing diplomatic relations with Bhutan.
    • Such demands from Beijing will only intensify as its tensions with the US and India increase.

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