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Bhutan has been a friendly and reliable neighbour to India. The friendship between India and Bhutan is time-tested and deep-rooted. Not only has India signed a friendship treaty with Bhutan but also placed a permanent training team in the latter. The cultural and religious affinities also bring the people of Bhutan and India very close to each other.


On the contrary, China has always played a spoilsport in this relationship. China has not been able to establish even diplomatic ties with the Government of Bhutan. The problems had begun when China sent its army (People’s Liberation Army) into Yatung in 1988, and started to construct roads and tracks in Chumby Valley.


In December 1999, the escape of Chinese-raised stooge, the Karmapa Lama of Sikkim’s Kagyu sect of Buddhism, irked China a great deal. The Tsurphu Monastery-enthroned 17th Karmapa’s act of eluding his Chinese masters was rejoiced by the entire Kagyu sect worldwide. The Chinese strongly believed that Rumtek Monastery of Sikkim had a major part to play in this escape. Since then, China seems to have decided to cut off Sikkim from India.


The Chinese Push


The Chinese PLA, which started building tracks and roads in 1988, began to go on an overdrive since the period of 2000-2005. Construction of roads became more prominent as China built roads in the territory of Bhutan, disputed by the former. It was very clear that China was trying to occupy all high points around the Chumby valley, especially Yatung. In October 2012, China started construction of around thousand dwelling units. It is learnt that they have been allotted at very nominal rates to Han personnel of Border Regiments. There exist large green houses for growing vegetables and for daily needs. This move would tremendously help China in changing the demography of this area as well as strengthen its defence.



They started construction of roads, tracks and barracks including a firing range and an artillery position (possibly air defence) in General Area Donggala (东嘎拉).




Present Stand Off


The second step to the precursor of road construction by China was the obvious occupation of heights by the Chinese PLA in disputed and undisputed Bhutanese lands. The recent state of roads constructed by the Chinese PLA is very clearly seen in satellite imagery. China has constructed a massive 28-kilomtre road in undisputed territory and a 29-kilomtre one in disputed territory.




The above image shows two roads constructed by China in Bhutanese territory. The present-day dispute began when China started to extend the new road further south. This discernibly is land grabbing by China, which will affect India’s strategic interests adversely.



Chinese Photographs and Statement


The Chinese MoD issued two photographs of the standoff. The area could be easily geo-located to south of the tri-junction, which is undoubtedly Bhutanese territory. The geo-location is depicted in the image below. Some claim it to be at the point of the end of the road constructed in the Bhutanese territory, east of Dokhola (多卡拉).



Is China confusing India and the rest of the world by playing with similar-sounding names in Chinese characters? 多卡拉 and 东嘎拉 sound almost the same. Whatever be the case, it is China that first trespassed into Bhutanese territory. India is merely there to assist a friendly neighbour. In both cases, the Chinese PLA has crossed over 2-5 kilometres from its border to reach this point, which is barely 20-30 metres from India’s border. This belligerence coupled with illegal road construction should not be allowed at any cost.


The statement of Chinese counsellor Xie Liyan issued on 5 July 2017 is indeed very insensitive; rather offensive in its wording and language. Indian pilgrims regularly carry out yatra (pilgrimage) to the Holy Mt Kailash and Mansarovar. The yatra is not to Xizang. The route of Lipulekh and Taklakot (Burang) is a single one (they are not two different routes). Xie does not address Tibet either as Xizang Zizhiqu (Tibetan Autonomous Region) or Tibet.


The Chinese MoD spokesperson, quoting a treaty of 1890, is indeed laughable. At that time, neither China nor India was free. They were both controlled by the British. But Tibet was a free country. China quotes a British-era treaty but does not recognise the McMahon line or the 1842 treaty on Ladakh. China seems to have forgotten all treaties after India’s Independence, especially the recent ones of the 21st century.


India House Destroyed


Recently, the India House, which was once the Indian Trade Agency office in Tibet’s Yatung, was destroyed by China. It is unfathomable why no one is talking about it at all. This certainly is blatant violation of India’s territorial sovereignty. It has been destroyed to wipe out any evidence or even a trace of close relations that have existed between Tibet and India, inside of Tibet.


Strategic Importance


China increased PLA activities in Chumby valley since 1988. The encroachments on Bhutanese territory began after 2000, possibly as fallout of the Karmapa episode. Whatever be the reason, China’s intentions in this area are very clear. It wants to widen the Chumby valley. It has occupied all heights, especially around Yatung. This widening of Chumby Valley by occupying Bhutanese territory would deny any visual observation of the town and the valley around it.


China also has grand plans of linking Yatung with Shigatse by a rail line. This would further complicate matters for India and Bhutan as deployment of troops will be easier and quicker for the Chinese PLA.


The area is closest to India’s strategic Siliguri corridor connecting the seven sisters of North East to the rest of the country. The area disputed and claimed by China now is almost 10 kilometres in length further south. Thus, the main National Highway (NH) 27 (old 31D) will be only 70 kilometres away for the Chinese, instead of 80 kilometres.


The Way Forward


India is right in every sense in this particular standoff. India should not come down from its current standpoint even if given other options. Diplomatic initiatives may be taken trilaterally to resolve the issue amicably.


India should lay claims on the Holy Mt Kailash and Mansarovar and areas leading to it, which have been ours since ancient times.


India should be prepared for a very long standoff and an eventual war if diplomatic efforts fail to yield positive results.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal. The author can be reached at @rajfortyseven on Twitter