India Watching China’s Bid to Court Bhutan
New Delhi: India is monitoring China’s attempts to expand its influence in Bhutan ahead of the parliamentary elections in the Himalayan state next year, especially in the backdrop of a flurry of visits by senior Chinese officials to the neighbouring country in the past few months.
Amid the face-off between Indian and Chinese armies in western Bhutan, Delhi has noticed Beijing’s effort to expand its presence in the Himalayan state, which became a constitutional monarchy from an absolute kingdom in 2008. With the third edition of the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year, Beijing has been trying to reach out to politicians and other power centres in Thimphu, according to persons familiar with the developments.
Delhi-based senior Chinese diplomats have been visiting Bhutan regularly over the past few months and continued to do so even during the Dokalam standoff, according to one of the persons quoted above. Thimphu, however, firmly supports New Delhi’s position on the faceoff on Doklam plateau and so far remained firm on its stand that the road the Chinese PLA wanted to build in Doklam plateau would have unilaterally changed the status quo on the trijunction. Delhi supported Thimphu at the trijunction following a security arrangement between the two sides.
For India, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and his father Jigme Singye Wangchuck continue to be key figures in Bhutan’s decision-making process. The royal family has been traditional strong votaries of Bhutan’s “special and unique relationship” with Delhi.
They would eventually play a key role to ensure the ratification of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreeement (MVA) by the Bhutanese Parliament. Delhi has decided to go with Thimphu’s pace in implementing Bhutan leg of the BBIN MVA. But what worries Delhi is the possibility of Beijing seeking to influence
the next year’s elections to the National Assembly of Bhutan in favour of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, or DPT, the current opposition party in Bhutan. Sections of the Bhutanese society have been favouring wider outreach with the international community, including China. However, a large section of the society is still wary of external influences on local culture and recall Beijing’s role in Tibet after 1949.
The DPT, which lost the 2013 elections to People’s Democratic Party, might try to make a comeback when the next elections to the National Assembly take place in 2018, said experts.