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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Bhutan eyes China, but bond with India remains strong

In fact, rainbow's glow is a cloak,which does't give the water.

Bhutan eyes China, but bond with India remains strong

Is Bhutan getting closer to China? Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao briefly met the Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley on the sidelines of the G20 Rio summit in June 2012.
The 20th round of boundary talks between the two countries in August has also made the situation critically worth watching for India. India's Minister of State in External Affairs E Ahamed responded to a related query raised in Parliament in late August on the Sino-Bhutan relationship by stating that "the government keeps a constant watch on all developments having a bearing on India's security."

Recent advances in the Sino-Bhutanese relationship have clearly been multi-faceted, touching on cooperation in political and economic matters, which link to India's regional strategic interests and its relationship with Bhutan, where India has traditionally been the "guiding" partner of Bhutan's foreign affairs.

Bhutan currently does not have diplomatic ties with China, but in the light of the growing political understanding between them, mainly their regular border talks and attempt at demarcating their common boundary, it may not be long before Sino-Bhutanese diplomatic ties are formally established.

Bhutan and China have some 470 kilometers of unresolved borders. China has shown keen interest in having a deal with Bhutan's northwestern areas in lieu of exchanging some specific central areas in the border region. Bhutan's northwestern region is close to the Chumbi Valley, and particularly to Tibet, and India's state of Sikkim. Any settlement between China and Bhutan on these border issues is bound to affect India's national interests.

Bhutan, India and China constitute a "tripartite" strategic triangle in the Eastern Himalayan region. The Chumbi Valley, located in the Yadong county of Tibet Autonomous Region, is close to the Siliguri corridor of India's northeast. India fears that China will have an edge once China's border negotiation with Bhutan succeeds.

There has been a surge of political interactions between China and Bhutan all these years. Before their 1984 border talks, Bhutan's border issue with China was part and parcel of the broader Sino-Indian border discourse. While many in India would presume that the China-Bhutan boundary talks are a cause of discomfort, India still conducts its relations with Bhutan on a separate and independent track.

From the Indian standpoint, Bhutan remains central to its broader Himalayan sub-regional politics.

The India-Bhutan relationship is based on the 1949 Treaty of Friendship, updated in February 2007 when King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk visited India.

The 2007 treaty is fundamentally different from its predecessor treaty, and puts Bhutan internationally on a different track. In 1949, the government agreed "to be guided by the advice of the Government of India in regard to its external relations."

The revised version states that "the Government of the Kingdom of Bhutan and the Government of the Republic of India shall cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests."

Even so, Article 2 of the 2007 treaty states that both countries need to "cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests."

Bhutan's holding bilateral border talks with China is linked to India's national interests in the Eastern Himalayan region. Hence, it is expected that Bhutan should consult India on the matter.

A few contours of the 2007 treaty are also central to the overall India-Bhutan relationship. It shows the solidarity that India shares with Bhutan, and the trust Bhutan still maintains with India. While it notes the "perpetual peace and friendship" between the two countries, it stresses mutual trust and understanding, and aims to maximize cooperation in various fields, including trade and economics, particularly in hydroelectric power sector.

Though Bhutan is completely sovereign and independent today, still it will be difficult for Bhutan to ignore India's influence, contribution and partnership both at bilateral and global levels.

Many Chinese people and businessmen have shown an interest in touring and investing in Bhutan. Bhutan has pursued the one-China policy, and has started seeing China as an economic opportunity.

Yet, the Indians are the predominant community in Bhutan currently. In terms of security and economic stakes, India still has a huge share and stake in Bhutan as a close partner and neighbor.

Though India would like to maintain the same vigor of cooperation and trust with Bhutan, much will depend upon how Bhutan decides to maintain and conduct its relationship with the outside world.

Bhutan must act smartly, and shouldn't really complicate its bearings either with China or India. China may genuinely be a matter of economic attraction, but Bhutan is still deeply ingrained politically with India. The institutional cooperation between Bhutan and India is still vital for Bhutan's future.