Bhutan- China relations

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


Chinese incursions into Bhutanese territory

In 2008, 2009

Saibal Dasgupta | Doklam not first: China had built roads in four other places inside Bhutan | TNN | Jul 11, 2017 | IndiaTimes/ The Times of India


China constructed roads in four other places far away from Doklam in past years

Bhutan protested Chinese incursion twice in 2008 and 5 times in 2009

BEIJING: China has broken into Bhutanese territory and constructed roads in four other places far away from Doklam in past years. For Bhutan, the fear of repeated Chinese incursions will not go away even if the Doklam issue is resolved, according to a Thimphu-based analyst who requested anonymity.

"Each time, China starts with insisting its claims on our territory citing their own version of history. This is followed by building a road inside our border. They change the situation on the ground with construction work, and use the new situation to support their claim," he said.

The present border standoff was also sparked by road building by Chinese troops in Doklam plateau, which is claimed by both China and Bhutan.

A look at the proceedings of the National Assembly, the Bhutanese parliament, will show dozens of references to continued incursions by Chinese troops, and harassment of Bhutanese farmers by local people across the border.

"Royal Government protested many times to the Chinese regarding the road construction activities in the past and protested 2 times in 2008 and 5 times in 2009 on the extension of road construction towards Zuri-Phuteogang ridge," the government told members of parliament in 2009.

There are other references showing how the 14th and other rounds of border talks were disrupted owing to Chinese troops entering Bhutan.

China has repeatedly mentioned the 1890 Sikkim-Tibet treaty as the basis of its claims over the Doklam plateau. But the treaty cannot be used as a basis because Bhutan, which claims the plateau, was not a party to the treaty.

In fact, the border dispute continued even in 1960, 70 years after the treaty, and is not a settled issue, unlike Chinese claims.

"In 1960, during the Official's Negotiations China refused to discuss the Bhutan-Tibet border and the Sikkim-Tibet border," Claude Arpi, an analyst, and Tibetologist told TNN.

Bhutan’s relations with China

Developments of 2013

Bhutan’s road to democracy leads to China?

Bhutan and a glimpse on the strategic position it holds between India and China, a backgrounder; The Times of India, June 30, 2017

Sachin Parashar | TNN 2013/06/26

The Times of India

New Delhi: There’s a new anxiety in the top echelons of New Delhi about what’s arguably India’s only friendly neighbour, Bhutan. As the hill kingdom takes another baby step in its transition from monarchy to democracy with its second parliamentary election on July 13, 2013, there’s realization here that complacence has possibly allowed some disturbing developments there to go unnoticed.

Friendship with Bhutan is often taken for granted by India’s foreign policy mandarins. So, it was a rude shock when they learnt last year from a Chinese press release that the new Bhutan PM, Jigme Thinley, has had a meeting with the then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and the two countries were set to establish diplomatic ties.

Given that Bhutan’s foreign policy is, by and large, handled by New Delhi, such an important step without its knowledge created disquiet.

Purchase of 20 Chinese buses

Although the PM’s office in Thimpu sought to play it down, senior officers recalled that Thinley had said months after taking over as PM that he only saw growing opportunities in China and no threat. As part of Bhutan’s outreach to China was the decision last year to procure 20 Chinese buses, typically the kind of purchase that would normally be booked with, say, Tata Motors.

It raised eyebrows. It did not help that the person who got the contract for supplying the buses was reported to be a relative of Thinley.

Thinley: the best upholder of Bhutan’s ties with India

What’s ironic is that in his poll campaign, Thinley is said to be impressing upon the electorate that he was the best upholder of Bhutan’s ties with India, whereas he has possibly complicated them. Thinley’s Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party is again the main contender for power in this tiny, landlocked nation of 700,000 which saw transition to democracy from an over 100-year-old hereditary monarchy in 2008.

Democracy in Bhutan

Democracy in Bhutan was ushered in by Bhutan’s benevolent fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck. May 2013 saw the Bhutanese repose faith in the system with 55% of 380,000-strong electorate braving thunderstorms and landslides to exercise their franchise.

As the world’s largest democracy, India welcomed Bhutan’s transition in 2008, but not everyone in South Block realized that the proposed model wasn’t like India’s Westminister model of parliamentary democracy. It’s a diarchy in Bhutan with the monarch retaining certain overriding powers.

Article 20.7 of Bhutan’s Constitution says the cabinet shall be collectively responsible to the Druk Gyalpo (the king) and to Parliament”. The government must also enjoy the confidence of the king as well as parliament. Further Article 20.4 says “the PM shall keep the Druk Gyalpo informed from time to time about the affairs of the state, including international affairs, and shall submit such information and files as called for by the Druk Gyalpo”.

Bhutan’s expansion of diplomatic ties

It now appears that the king wasn’t quite in the loop as Bhutan expanded its diplomatic ties with 53 countries, as against 22 in 2008, as well as its overture to Beijing to enhance ties with China which has maximum significance for India. If he hasn’t stepped in, it is to avoid any unintended signalling for the growth of democracy in Bhutan.

2017: China attempting to change the status quo

Ananth Krishnan , China’s Bhutan gambit “India Today” 21/8/2017

The Doklam stand-off isn't just about China changing the status quo by building a road into the strategically significant plateau at the India-China-Bhutan trijunction. It is also about Beijing attempting to change another perhaps more important kind of status quo: in India's relations with Bhutan. In Beijing, there is a growing clamour to scale up its engagement with Bhutan, with which China does not have diplomatic relations. This has become all the more apparent in the weeks since the June 16 stand-off.

When some of China's top strategic experts gathered in Beijing on July 25 for a Doklam brainstorming session at the Charhar Institute, a think-tank in west Beijing, the consensus among two dozen experts, including former diplomats who had served in India and long-time "India hands", was the need for a new Bhutan approach, possibly following the playbook in Nepal and Sri Lanka, where Beijing has persistently sought to erode India's influence.

This has even been hinted at by a Chinese foreign ministry statement on August 2, which pointed out that "since the 1980s, China and Bhutan, as two independent sovereign states, have been engaged in negotiations and consultations to resolve their boundary issue", the key word being "sovereign", as the widespread view in Beijing is that India's "intervention" in Doklam had come without an invitation from Thimphu.

The statement added that the China-Bhutan boundary issue "has nothing to do with India" and that "as a third party, India has no right to interfere in or impede the boundary talks between China and Bhutan, still less the right to make territorial claims on Bhutan's behalf". "China," it added in a thinly veiled dig at India, "has all along respected Bhutan's sovereignty and independence." High-level exchanges between the two countries, despite no formal ties, are on the rise. In June 2012, then prime minister Wen Jiabao told the former Bhutan premier Jigmi Thinley when they met in Brazil that China was "ready to forge formal diplomatic relations on the basis of the five principles of peaceful coexistence".

This statement was repeated with even greater emphasis last year, when foreign minister Wang Yi told his visiting counterpart Damcho Dorji at the 24th round of border talks in Beijing that "an early establishment of diplomatic relations not only conforms to the common interests of the two countries, but is beneficial to safeguarding regional stability and development".

Qiu Yonghui of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences argued at the Doklam brainstorming that it was inevitable that India would lose influence in Bhutan. "Yes, in recent decades, Bhutan has been under the care of India, especially energy and economy," she said. "Nepal also was, in the past. But now, Nepal has already gradually moved away from India's control. After Bhutan joined the United Nations in 1971, it has even publicly opposed India a few times. The clear trend is Bhutan will become more and more independent." Given the opacity of Chinese intentions, it will be impossible to tell with certainty if the road through Doklam was aimed precisely at this objective. The widespread view in Beijing is that India has stymied the 24 rounds of border talks, where China had in 1996 offered a deal giving up 495 sq. km in the middle sector and a part of the 269 sq. km disputed in the western sector in exchange for prized access to around 100 sq. km in Doklam near the trijunction, which would bring China closer to India's vulnerable 'chicken's neck' or Siliguri corridor.

At the Beijing gathering, former diplomat Mao Siwei suggested Bhutan had initially accepted the offer, but "because of a variety of reasons, and perhaps because of the Indian security problem, they finally didn't agree". Beijing believes that may not forever be the case.

Doklam plateau

The Chinese version: Doklam is a Chinese pasture

Saibal Dasgupta |`Doklam a pasture for Chinese cattle' Jul 01 2017 : The Times of India (Delhi)

China has again referred to its version of history to buttress its claims over a disputed area also claimed by Bhutan. Chinese foreign ministry on Friday defended construction work by Chinese troops building a road in Doklam , the disputed area in Sikkim sector.

Reacting to the first Indian statement on the ongoing border stand-off, the Chinese government reiterated its demand that India should call off its troops from the area.

“We stressed many times that Doklam belongs to China and it is indisputable,“ Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said. “The area where the Chinese side undertakes road construction totally belongs to Chinese territory .“

Defending China's claims, Lu said, “From historical evidence, we can see Doklam has been traditional pasture for Tibetan residents and we have exercised good administration over this area. Before the 1960s, if Bhutan residents on the border wanted to herd their cattle in this area, they had to get the approval of China.

“The Qing dynasty also set a clear boundary along the border. In addition from jurisprudential evidence the historical convention in 1890 has clearly defined Gipmochi snow moun tain as the crossing point of China Bhutan India boundary.“ Lu added, “From the ground situation, we are now exercising complete administration over the Doklam region and border troops and residents on border are herding cattle along this.“

China has repeatedly used history to buttress its claims in a wide range of situations including Arunachal Pradesh, in the Diaoyutai dispute with Japan, and in challenging the claims of four other countries in the South China Sea area.

The disputed Doklam area is in India-China-Bhutan trijunction. India has rea sons to be concerned because road construction by Chinese troops in the area would give them an undue advantage against not only Bhutan but also India, sources said.

India and China have a 2012 agreement that the boundary points of the trijunction -which China sees as lying farther south than where India and Bhutan mark it -would be finalised in consultation with all concerned parties. On its part, the Chinese foreign ministry repeated that India had “trespassed“ the agreed India-China border. Beijing had on Thursday released photographs showing Indian troops.

Chinese version rebutted

Saibal Dasgupta | Chinese govt hid facts to buttress Doklam claim| Jul 08 2017 : The Times of India (Delhi)

China has hidden the fact that the government of Tibet did not sign the very document -the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890 -that Beijing is showing to support its claim to the disputed Doklam plateau. Neither Tibet nor Sikkim was consulted and neither signed the 1890 document which was purely a Sino-British affair.

{Readers can see the original treaties at

{Anglo-Chinese Conventions of 1890 and 1893 and

{Convention between the United Kingdom and China respecting Tibet, 1906}

The border standoff was triggered after Chinese troops started building a road in Doklam , also claimed by Bhutan, on June 6.

Leave aside the convention of 1890, China had not agreed to a treaty on Bhutan-Tibet and Sikkim-Tibet borders as late as 1960. This is another fact China has not mentioned as it goes about using the 1890 document as the basis of its claim over Doklam , analysts said. “The Tibetan government refused to acknowledge the 1890 convention because they were made a party to it,“ Claude Arpi, historian and Tibetologist, told TNN. Tibetan and British troops had clashed a couple of years before, and this could be the reason why Tibetan government did not acknowledge treaty , Arpi said.

China is pretending that there was no need to get the treaty approved by the Tibetan government because the central government had sent its representative to sign it along with British officials. But this is not true because the Chinese government did not have control over Tibet and was merely represented by a resident in 1890. In fact, the British government sent the Younghusband expedition into Tibet in 1904 because of the Tibetan government's refusal to accept the treaty , he said.

China has remained silent about the fact that the disputed area remained unresolved until 1960, and continues to be a bone of contention between Beijing and Thimphu. “In 1960, during the Official's Negotiations, China refused to discuss the Bhutan-Tibet border and the Sikkim-Tibet border,“ Arpi said. The Chinese foreign ministry has produced partial excerpts from a letter by ex-PM Jawaharlal Nehru to show India had accepted the 1890 treaty covering areas that include Doklam .

But it hid that the trijunction between India, Bhutan and China had not been resolved. India is worried the Chinese road-building activity is too close to the trijunction and will harm future efforts to resolve this part of the border.

2017: Chinese patrolling

Rajat Pandit, China’s road to Sikkim flashpoint with India, Jun 29, 2017: The Times of India

Dokhlam is shaped like a dagger jutting into India, separating Sikkim from Bhutan; Rajat Pandit, China’s road to Sikkim flashpoint with India, Jun 29, 2017: The Times of India


The Doklam plateau is Bhutanese territory but China sends PLA men to the area

India is opposed to China’s attempts to construct a road on the Doklam plateau

China can militarily threaten Siliguri Corridor if the road is constructed

The Indian defence establishment is opposed to China's attempts to construct a road on the Doklam plateau leading right up to the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, which has emerged as the major flashpoint in the ongoing face-off between the two armies in the remote border region.

The Doklam plateau is Bhutanese territory but China, which calls it Donglang, regularly sends People's Liberation Army patrols to the area to lay claim to it. Beijing is desperate to incorporate the plateau in its adjoining Chumbi Valley, which is shaped like a dagger jutting into India, separating Sikkim from Bhutan, in southern Tibet for geo-strategic reasons.

The Indian establishment is obviously worried. For one, India will lose its "strategic advantage" in the region if the road is constructed.

"Though our troops don't hold the plateau, the watershed they hold dominates it. The Dhok La, in which we are present, opens into the Chumbi Valley," said a source.

Moreover, China can militarily threaten the strategically-vulnerable and narrow Siliguri Corridor just about 50-km away in West Bengal — the so-called "Chicken's Neck" that connects the rest of India with the north-east states — if China manages to extend the road up to the tri-junction.

"China already has a couple of roads coming up to a certain point in the Chumbi Valley. If one of them is extended till the trijunction, through what we consider is Bhutanese territory, it will help the PLA in military logistics and maneuverability, like rapidly moving artillery and other equipment, in the case of a conflict with India," said the source.

The ongoing troop confrontation, with some initial jostling and a scuffle, began early this month when Chinese troops brought in heavy earth-moving and road-construction equipment as well as manual labour to the area.

When Indian troops strongly objected to the move, the PLA soldiers destroyed two Indian bunkers in retaliation near the Lalten post and then shut down/closed the Nathu La Pass for the batch of pilgrims headed for the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra from there.

As reported by TOI earlier, the continuing stand-off has seen the two sides reinforce their positions with around 1,000 troops each. Senior Indian Army officers, including the general officer commanding of the 17 Division, are also camping in the region, with Army headquarters keeping a close watch on the "tense but under control situation".

Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat is himself slated to visit Sikkim on Thursday for a first-hand review of the ground situation. Coincidentally enough, the same region had seen intensive firing between the two armies in September 1967 before a ceasefire was declared. Since then, the 4,057-km long of Line of Actual Control stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh has seen virtually no firing or violence between the rival troops despite regular "transgressions" and troop face-offs. Ironically, unlike the contentious borders at Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, the 220-km border between Sikkim and China is considered to be largely settled.

Aug 2017: Bhutan re-asserts claim

The Times of India, Aug 11, 2017

` Doklam very much Bhutanese territory'

Thimphu Counters Chinese Diplomat's Claim

Bhutan forcefully countered reports in Chinese media that it has accepted Beijing's claim over the Doklam plateau, the scene of a tense military faceoff between Chinese and Indian forces, and asserted that there was no shift in its stance.

Official sources in the Bhutanese government told ANI over phone, “Our position on the border issue of Doklam is very clear. Please refer to our statement which has been published on the website of Bhutan's foreign ministry on June 29, 2017.“ Bhutan had on June 29 issued a press release in which it clearly stated that construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory was a direct violation of agreements and affected the process of demarcating the boundary between the two countries.

Bhutan said the Chinese army started constructing a motorable road from Dokola in the Doklam area towards the Bhutan army camp at Zompelri on June 16.It further said the boundary talks between Bhutan and China were underway and the two countries had written agreements of 1988 and 1998 stating that they agree to maintain peace and tranquillity in their border areas pending a final settlement of the boundary question. The two countries have also agreed to maintain status quo on the boundary as before March 1959 and refrain from taking unilateral action, or use of force, to change the status quo.

A Chinese official, Wang Wenli, had claimed Bhutan had conveyed to Beijing through diplomatic channels that the area of standoff was not its territory. Wang, who is the deputy director general of the department of boundary and ocean affairs in China's foreign ministry , reportedly conveyed this information to a visiting Indian media delegation on Wednesday . She, however, did not provide any evidence to back her claim, and is seen as part of an intense media war unleashed by Beijing.

2018: China minister discusses Doklam issue

Saibal Dasgupta, China minister in Bhutan, discusses Doklam issue, July 25, 2018: The Times of India

Chinese vice foreign minister Kong Xuanyou is believed to have discussed the Doklam issue with Bhutanese officials during a visit to Thimpu on Tuesday where, ignoring the importance of rank in diplomacy, he was accorded the highest respect in terms of audiences with the king and the former king of Bhutan.

Indian and Chinese troops had engaged in a standoff in Dokalam that began on June 16 last year after the Indian side stopped construction of a road by China’s People’s Liberation Army in the disputed area. The face-off ended on August 28.

The Chinese foreign ministry confirmed that boundary issues with India were discussed.

See also

Anglo-Chinese Conventions of 1890 and 1893

Convention between the United Kingdom and China respecting Tibet, 1906

Bhutan: Foreign policy

Bhutan- China relations

Bhutan- India relations

Bhutan: Government


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