China’s activities in Bhutan, Nepal should ring alarm bells in India. Does Delhi have a plan?

By The Print

Three days after Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla returned from Kathmandu last week, where he sought to smoothen the spat caused by Nepal’s decision to incorporate Indian territories in a new map among other issues, Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe flew into Kathmandu for a day-long visit to promote defence cooperation.

General Wei will travel to Bangladesh and Pakistan from Nepal. Meanwhile, next door in Bhutan, satellite imagery from Western and Indian sources revealed that the Chinese have built and populated a village – which they call Pangda – a couple of kilometres inside Bhutanese territory in the Doklam plateau area.

Predictably, Bhutan has rejected the alleged Chinese encroachment, but the truth seems far more complex. According to some, the Chinese had offered Thimphu a deal on settling the un-demarcated boundary between them as long back as the 1990s, but Bhutan did not accept the offer in deference to Indian sensitivities.

“Many know Bhutan was offered a ‘package deal’ from 90’s which is a swap for the Doklam area for bigger concessions in north central Bhutan by the Chinese but Bhutan declined it. Most don’t know it was rejected on grounds of Indian security interests at the Trijunction & ridge [sic],” tweeted Tenzing Lamsang, editor of The Bhutanese.

The Chinese renewed the offer just before the Doklam standoff in 2017 and, in fact, made it better, a Bhutanese political analyst told ThePrint, on condition of anonymity. It seems Beijing was willing to accept a narrower sliver of the Doklam plateau, but there was a catch in the proposal – it would have to include the tri-junction area the Chinese call Gyemochen, close to the Indian border and overlooking the narrow ‘chicken’s neck’ area connecting the northeast to the rest of India.

Again, in consideration of Indian security interests, Bhutan indicated it wasn’t interested. It has now come to light, an Asian diplomat told me, that during the 72-day standoff between Chinese and Indian troops on the Doklam plateau, the Chinese were building alternative routes to the ridge overlooking Indian territory.

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