Dr (Prof) Satish Kumar
Last week China bluntly threatened Bharat for its action in tri-junction, located near Bhutan-China border. China accused Bharat of its offensive posturing in the Doklam region. The face-off between two countries started on the issue of road construction on the borders of a 269-sq km plateau in Bhutan. China held the construction of border road legitimate. It said the road was being built on the Chinese territory that does not belong to Bharat or Bhutan. According to the Foreign Ministry of China, Bharat crossed the boundary on the Sikkim side into Chinese territory. This, however, is a blatant lie. Indian troops have been always there at the Bhutan border due to many reasons. One of the reasons is to navigate the Chinese incursions in the eastern sectors. China has made the withdrawal of Indian troops a precondition for dialogue. This is completely unacceptable to Bharat. In fact, Bhutan has made it clear to China that by constructing road China has violated 1998 agreement. Both signed an agreement in 1998 to maintain peace and status quo on the China-Bhutan border.
There is a strategic implication and value of the region. Doklam is at the tri-junction of Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet and is strategically important for India as the crucial Siliguri corridor, known as ‘Chicken’s Neck’, is merely 50 km from there. Now this neck is life line between the rest of Bharat and the north- eastern states. The Siliguri Corrridor is a narrow stretch of land that connects Bharat to the north eastern states. If the Chinese were to gain possession of the Doklam plateau, in the event of hostilities it would have the ability to essentially “cut off” Bharat’s land access to 40 million citizens in its northeast territories. One of the strategic experts said, “ The Doklam plateau lies immediately east of Indian defences in Sikkim. This piece of dominating ground not only has a commanding view of the Chumbi Valley but it also overlooks the Siliguri Corridor further to the east”.
It is not surprising that China is upset. There are many reasons. First, PM Modi’s visit to America. The trail of Indo-US meeting after the end of Cold War triggered unexpected depression in China which sparked off tension between the two countries. It could be seen after the nuclear tests and former US President Clinton’s visit to India. The reason is Tibet. The complete mapping and designing of China has emerged from Tibet issue. It was America which dropped Tibetan (Khampas) rebels in 50s and 60s on the Chinese mainland. The rebels’ momentum though did not survive long. The distance from US to Tibet killed the spirit. China is aware of India’s proximity and its reach. Its military and Para- military forces are located on the border. Therefore, India-US joint venture could trigger a major strategic loss to China. Having anticipated this notion, China is very sceptical and apprehensive of Indo-US friendship.
Second, PM Modi has changed the trajectory of Indian foreign policy. India under Nehru had subsequently lost its hold in the Himalayan belts. One after another country came under the pressure of China. China has been trying to tilt the hold of India in Nepal and Bhutan. PM Modi is aware of the China’s ambitious grand strategy of a Greater China. That is why he started his diplomatic itinerary after becoming PM from Bhutan and Nepal. That sent a message to China. India of 2017 is not confused nor ideologically tilted with preconceived notions. The Chinese President has well understood the foreign policy of PM Modi. Unlike the previous governments, the Defence and Foreign Ministries are not speaking in different texts and tone.
Third, China has been trying a package deal with Bhutan for resolving the boundary disputes. Beijing has resolved its boundary issues with all the neighbouring countries except India and Bhutan. China made a pressing issue in 1996 and 2012 to lure Bhutan for a swapping deal. Between China and Bhutan there are three territorial areas of dispute. The Jakarlung and Pasamlung valleys are located in the Bhutan-Chinese north-central border. It has an area of almost 491 kms. There is another area of Chinese interest which is situated on eastern part, in close proximity to Tibet. It is almost half of the area of North-Central part. It is well known to the world that China has been building chains of highways and railways connecting Beijing-Lasha. It wants to move inside Bhutan.
China’s thesis is that Bhutanese, Sikkimese and Ladhakis form a united family in Tibet. They were subjects of Tibet and of the great motherland of China. In fact, in 1966 Tibetan nomads entered the pastures of the Doklam plateau and tried to occupy the territory. The US intervention pressurised China to backtrack from the region. There was another attempt by China in 1988 when the PLA crossed into Bhutan and took control of the Chumi Valley, below the Doklam plateau. Bhutan’s border issues with China are directly related to India-China border. Therefore, the border issues are inter-connected and it has spilling effects on the third country. Almost 470 kms long border between Tibet and Bhutan could be properly understood in context of Sino-India border issue. The history of Bhutan proves that it has been attached to Bharat like an umbilical cord. Still Bhutan’s economy and defence are run with the help of Bharat. Chinese forces have dismantled several nearby unmanned posts in Bhutan. The tri-junction between Bhutan, India and China in the Siliguri corridor connects northeast India to the rest of India, and Nepal to Bhutan and shares borders with Tibet and Sikkim. Bhutan’s western border is close to Nathula, the frontier post between China and India; the eastern border is connected to the disputed area of China and India; the narrow passage which connects the South West and North East areas, is not far from Bangladesh.
It has to be understood that Tibet is the lynchpin of all this debate. India’s woes spill over with the acceptance of Tibet as an integral part of China. Repeatedly subsequent Indian Governments have accepted this fact under one China policy, Tibet is a part of China. Therefore, the Chinese claims in eastern and western sectors have sprung from the same thesis. Since Tibet is part of China, therefore, documented history proved that parts of north-eastern states of India, Bhutan and Ladakh are parts of China. Now the next tough stand of India should be to denounce the often-repeated theory of Tibet being part of China. If China could violate its accepted terms and conditions signed with India, why should India respect the Chinese stand? That will not be very easy to jump from one track to another, keeping in view that China and India are the largest trade partners. But beginning of change has been made by the PM. The strategic culture and ‘Make in India’ move fall in the same line, while the Indo-US friendship will keep China at bay.
(The writer teaches Pol. Science at Central University, Mahendargarh)
Gangtok Amid soaring border tension China said it could issue a travel alert for its citizens visiting India depending on the security situation. The Chinese government attaches a great importance to the safety and lawful rights of Chinese citizens. ‘chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said. In accordance with the security conditions of the relevant country. we will decide whether or not issue a travel alerts, Geng said answering a question if china will issue any advisory. — Amalendu Kundu
‘It is in Chinese DNA’
Let us hope that the Bhutanese Government will soon issue a White Paper on its boundary with China (Tibet). It will prove that most of the pastures in the Dokham area have for centuries been used by Bhutanese nomads, while the Chinese were nowhere to be seen before the fist years of the 1960s. However the question remains: how can a State which claims to be a responsible power can unilaterally grab a ‘disputed’ area to built a road on it, especially when it is aware that this road is so strategically located the neighbour, i.e. India. Only Beijing can answer this question. Some say that it is in Chinese DNA, “to first change the status quo on the ground and then later to offer to ‘talk’”. Remember the South China Sea or the Aksai Chin. — Claude Arpi