CHINA’S BHUTAN GAM­BIT

bound­ary talks be­tween China and Bhutan, still less the right to make ter­ri­to­rial claims on Bhutan’s be­half”. “China,” it added in a thinly veiled dig at In­dia, “has all along re­spected Bhutan’s sovereignty and in­de­pen­dence.” High-level ex­changes be­tween

India Today - - UPFRONT - —Ananth Krish­nan in Bei­jing

The Dok­lam stand-off isn’t just about China chang­ing the sta­tus quo by build­ing a road into the strate­gi­cally sig­nif­i­cant plateau at the In­dia-Chi­naBhutan tri­junc­tion. It is also about Bei­jing at­tempt­ing to change an­other—per­haps more im­por­tant—kind of sta­tus quo: in In­dia’s re­la­tions with Bhutan. In Bei­jing, there is a grow­ing clam­our to scale up its en­gage­ment with Bhutan, with which China does not have diplo­matic re­la­tions. This has be­come all the more ap­par­ent in the weeks since the June 16 stand-off.

When some of China’s top strate­gic ex­perts gath­ered in Bei­jing on July 25 for a Dok­lam brain­storm­ing ses­sion at the Charhar In­sti­tute, a think-tank in west Bei­jing, the con­sen­sus among two dozen ex­perts, in­clud­ing former diplo­mats who had served in In­dia and long-time “In­dia hands”, was the need for a new Bhutan ap­proach, pos­si­bly fol­low­ing the play­book in Nepal and Sri Lanka, where Bei­jing has per­sis­tently sought to erode In­dia’s in­flu­ence.

This has even been hinted at by a Chi­nese for­eign min­istry state­ment on Au­gust 2, which pointed out that “since the 1980s, China and Bhutan, as two in­de­pen­dent sovereign states, have been en­gaged in ne­go­ti­a­tions and con­sul­ta­tions to re­solve their bound­ary issue”, the key word be­ing “sovereign”, as the wide­spread view in Bei­jing is that In­dia’s “in­ter­ven­tion” in Dok­lam had come with­out an in­vi­ta­tion from Thim­phu.

The state­ment added that the China-Bhutan bound­ary issue “has noth­ing to do with In­dia” and that “as a third party, In­dia has no right to in­ter­fere in or im­pede the

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