In­dia Watch­ing China’s Bid to Court Bhutan

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics - Di­pan­janRoy.Chaud­hury @times­group.com

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.

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