'Extremely Concerning': China-Bhutan MoU Could 'Spell Disaster' For India, Warns Congress Party

© Photo : Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of ChinaChina and Bhutan sign a memorandum of understanding, 14 October 2021
China and Bhutan sign a memorandum of understanding, 14 October 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 24.10.2021
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China shares a 477-kilometre border with Bhutan and lays claim to more than 700 kilometres of Bhutanese territory.
The new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Bhutan and China could be a "disaster for India," senior Indian lawmaker and Congress party Spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said on Sunday.
The MoU on the "three-step roadmap for expediting boundary negotiations" was signed by Bhutanese Foreign Minister Lyonpo Tandi Dorji and China's Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Jianghao in a virtual ceremony on 14 October.
The Bhutanese Foreign Ministry said that both Thimpu and Beijing "agreed on a three-step roadmap" that will "expedite the ongoing border negotiations" in a meeting held in Kunming in April this year. From 1984 to date, Chinese and Bhutanese officials have held 24 rounds of "boundary talks and 10 rounds of "expert group" level meetings.
Singhvi said that India could not afford to "lose Bhutan" after having "lost Nepal" to China.
The remarks by Singhvi, a federal opposition lawmaker, reflect sentiments shared among several observers in India’s strategic and political circles over the Bhutan-China MoU.
For India, the Doklam Plateau, a region controlled by Bhutan but claimed by China, is crucial from the perspective of national security.
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During the previous round of border negotiations between China and Bhutan, Beijing offered to forego its territorial claims in other parts of Bhutan in exchange for control over Doklam, which also lies at the trijunction of India, Bhutan, and China.
So far, Bhutan has rejected the offers from Beijing.
The India-China military crisis in 2017 on the Doklam Plateau was precipitated after Chinese workers started constructing a road that could have potentially provided PLA troops with access to the nearby Jhamperi Ridge.
The Jhamperi Ridge overlooks India’s “chicken-neck” corridor, a narrow strip of crucial land that connects India’s western states to the northeast of the country.
Sensing a threat, the Indian troops (back in 2017) crossed over into Bhutan and prevented Chinese workers from carrying out their road construction activity near the Doklam Plateau.
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According to a 1949 treaty between Bhutan and India, New Delhi has to guide its land-locked Himalayan neighbour (Bhutan) on matters of foreign policy and defence. While Bhutan enjoys diplomatic ties with 54 nations, it still hasn't established formal relations with China.
The boundary talks between Bhutan and China were put on hold after the Doklam standoff, with the meeting in Kunming in April the first time that the sides met to resume their stalled dialogue.
Singhvi’s party colleague and India's former federal minister Manish Tewari pointed out in a column, published in the English daily Asian Age on Sunday, that the Doklam Plateau represented a “critical” and a “vulnerable” point for India.
The Indian Foreign Ministry said on 14 October that it had taken “note” of the memorandum between Thimpu and Beijing.
“You are aware that Bhutan and China have been holding a boundary negotiation since 1984. India has similarly been holding boundary negotiations with China,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, when asked about New Delhi’s stance on the announcement.
Meanwhile, the Chinese state media, in a commentary published on 15 October, blamed India for the unresolved boundary question between Thimpu and Beijing.
“Unsolved China-Bhutan boundary issues were used as an excuse by India to attack China during the Doklam standoff in 2017. If China and Bhutan make progress in solving boundary disputes, India will have fewer chances and excuses to make troubles on border areas,” Global Times quoted Wang Shida, deputy director of the South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania Research Institute of Contemporary International Relations Research Academy of China, as saying.
Accusing India of putting “pressure” on Bhutan, the Chinese scholar also warned that India could stonewall the final boundary agreement from being signed once the border protocols between the two nations are agreed upon.
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“Signing the MoU is not as sensitive as signing a concrete agreement. It is highly possible that India would exert great pressure on Bhutan when Bhutan's negotiations with China are at a crucial point to prevent its final success, or India may mess up the negotiations," Shida told Global Times.
India and China have also been embroiled in a year-long military standoff in the eastern Ladakh region since May last year. Over a dozen rounds of military commander-level negotiations and several rounds of diplomatic parleys have failed to resolve the standoff.
While China blames India for instigating the standoff by ramping up border infrastructure, New Delhi accuses Beijing for “unilaterally” altering the status quo of the boundary line.
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