19:29 GMT +322 September 2018
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    Chinese soldier stands guard on the Chinese side of the ancient Nathu La border crossing between India and China. (File)

    Bhutan Puts Relations With China Ahead of India's Interests - Expert

    © AFP 2018 / DIPTENDU DUTTA
    Asia & Pacific
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    As China questions India's right to interfere on behalf of Bhutan in the ongoing border standoff in the Doklam area, a former diplomat and security expert reveals that there are voices within Bhutan which seek to resolve the dispute with China once and for all without caring for New Delhi’s interests.

    Earlier, Chinese news agency Xinhua said that India seeks to obstruct border negotiations between China and Bhutan in the Doklam area and is not entitled to make claims on behalf of Bhutan.

    "India has no right to interfere in China-Bhutan boundary issues, nor is it entitled to make territorial claims on behalf of Bhutan. India's current actions have not only encroached on China's territorial sovereignty, but also impaired the independence of Bhutan, one of the world's smallest countries, which is closely allied with India," the Xinhua commentary said.

    Both New Delhi and Bhutan have issued official statements to counter the Chinese narrative on the standoff, essentially invoking similar arguments.

    The Royal Government of Bhutan’s statement issued on June 29, said the construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory was a direct violation of written agreements of 1988 and 1998 and affects the ongoing demarcation process between the two countries.

    It should be noted that Bhutan held 24 rounds of talks on the issue with China so far.

    Meanwhile, India’s Ministry of External Affairs also issued a press release on June 30, noting that in 2012 Beijing and New Delhi agreed that the tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries (in this case, Bhutan) will be finalized in consultation with the concerned countries.

    India and Bhutan have maintained historically strong relations. Bhutan co-operates closely with India in determining its foreign policy, and the Indian Army is involved in the training of its armed forces.

    "People in Bhutan think that India has for too long prevented their country from normalizing diplomatic ties and negotiating a border settlement with China. Indian apprehension is that any boundary deal between Thimpu and Beijing will not only impact Indian security but also impinge on its own negotiating position with China on the boundary issue. Bhutan would prefer maintaining friendly and equidistant ties with both India and China," P. Stobdan, a former Indian ambassador and senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, told Sputnik.

    China, which does not have formal diplomatic ties with Bhutan, has denied claims that it has violated any treaties. Beijing seeks to claim 495 square kilometers in eastern Bhutan and 286 square km in the western sector, which includes the Doklam Plateau and even offered to swap territory to gain access to the Doklam Plateau.

    "We must note that Bhutanese position has been changing in a subtle way, especially the manner in which their boundary negotiation with China was proceeding without the knowledge of India. Bhutanese perceptions are getting visibly louder on social media and the growing aspirations of the people suggest that Bhutan’s ability to withstand pressures from both China and India has become paramount. The issue especially its ties with India will reverberate in the next election in Bhutan in October 2018," Stobdan added.

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    Tags:
    territorial claims, involvement, border dispute, Bhutan, China, India
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