23 July, 2020
8 Min Read
- For the third time since early June 2020, China has repeated its claim that Bhutan’s eastern boundary was a “disputed” area.
- China’s claims were first made at a UNDP-led Global Environment Facility conference, when the Chinese representative tried to stop funding for the Sakteng forest reserve in Bhutan’s eastern district of Trashigang, which abuts Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang district.
- Chinese claims in eastern Bhutan come as a surprise for several reasons.
- The Trashigang area being claimed as disputed by the Chinese does not share a boundary with China.
- Chinese officials have not raised the eastern boundary in 24 rounds of talks with Bhutan, which began in 1984. Thus far, talks have been only about the Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys in Bhutan’s north, and Doklam and other pasturelands to the west, that come up to the trijunction point with India.
- Recently China has referred to a package solution to its boundary dispute with Bhutan.
- The “package solution” for the dispute involves the swapping of the northern and western areas. Under this territory swap, Bhutan would be given the disputed areas in its north in exchange for the disputed western areas, including Doklam.
- Bhutan has previously rejected this package solution, given India’s concerns.
- For Bhutan, the Chinese claim may be seen as a pressure tactic and as an attempt to hurry the scheduling of the next meeting or to gain leverage in the boundary talks.
- The Sakteng claim may be aimed at driving a wedge between India and Bhutan.
- By claiming Bhutan’s eastern boundary, China is attempting to double down on its claims over Arunachal Pradesh.
- The repetition of its “package” offer is worrying as it implies that China is not giving up its push for the Doklam plateau, where it has consolidated its military infrastructure and would like to inch towards India’s Chumbi valley, a strategically sensitive location.
- India and Bhutan must stay the course on their border claims, with the close cooperation and complete understanding they have shared for decades, in order to respond to the Chinese claims purposively.
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