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Wednesday, Jul 08, 2020 13:00 [IST]

Last Update: Wednesday, Jul 08, 2020 07:16 [IST]

Chinese claims in eastern Bhutan rattle Thimphu

NIRMALYA BANERJEE
The latest territorial claim of China in eastern Bhutan portends fresh trouble for India. The area which China has claimed in Bhutan borders on the sensitive Tawang area of Arunachal Pradesh the possession of which China has made a precondition for settling is border dispute with India.
The Chinese claim was voiced in the 58th council meeting of the Global Environment Forum, a virtual meeting held on June 2 and 3 this year. The highlights of the discussions, under the section “Summary of Chair,” appearing in the GEF website, said: “The Council Members for the China constituency requested its view be reflected as follows: ‘in light of the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in the project ID 10561 is located in the China – Bhutan disputed area which is on the agenda of China – Bhutan boundary talk, China opposes and does not join the council decision on this project.” The environmental project, it was reported, referred to assistance in the Sakteng sanctuary.
“The Council Members for the constituency of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka requested the views of Bhutan be reflected as follows: ‘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 it has featured as a disputed area.”
A source in Bhutan Embassy in Delhi confirmed on Monday that the embassy had sent a demarche to the Chinese embassy in Delhi contesting the Chinese claim. He said the boundary dispute between Bhutan and China were confined the northern and the western sections of the Himalayan country and none in the eastern sector. In lieu of areas in the northern border of Bhutan, China wanted Doklam, Charithang, Sinchulumpa and Dramana in the western areas of Bhutan that were also close to the Indian border in Sikkim.
It may be mentioned that Sakteng wildlife sanctuary is in the Trashigang district of Bhutan through which India some years ago had requested for facility to construct a road connecting the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh with the foothills of Assam. The proposed road would have reduced the distance from the Indian plains to Tawang town by almost 100 kms, facilitating ease of travel. China stepped in, however, and put pressure on Bhutan to stop the construction of the road when only 15 kms were still remaining to connect with Lumla in Tawang district.
Coming in the wake of the Chinese move in Galwan valley in Ladakh to prevent the construction of the Dorbuk – Shyok – Daulat Beg Oldie Road, lying entirely within Indian territory, the latest Chinese claim in eastern Bhutan could also be meant to thwart Indian attempts to complete the road to Tawang, an observer said.
In its border negotiations with India in recent years, China has laid additional emphasis on the possession of Tawang, calling it an inalienable part of Tibet. Former National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan said in 2006 with reference to the border dispute: “The areas of divergence remain. Tawang, in Arunachal Pradesh, remains the most important. Till that is settled, whatever else we may do it is difficult to say that we have crossed the Rubicon.”
Now by claiming areas in eastern Bhutan, China could be building pressure for possession of Tawang The British had realized the strategic importance of the Tawang tract, its possession would help China access to Bhutan as well as to the plains of Assam. For India, Tawang, being a settled area, is inalienable.
It could be a part of the Chinese strategy to build pressure in the Tawang sector when the two armies were facing each other in Ladakh, observers pointed out. This was old Chinese strategy. In 2017, during the Doklam face-off when Indian troops had intervened in a road building programme of the Peoples Liberation Army of China in Bhutanese territory, China had raked up the Sikkim issue as a pressure tactic.
“Beijing should reconsider its stance over the Sikkim issue. Although China recognized India's annexation of Sikkim in 2003, it can readjust its stance on the matter,” an article in Global Times that reflects the official Chinese position, said in July 2017, when the Doklam standoff was on.

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi