After India, Bhutan too may give China BRI meet a miss

Delhi’s Only Neigh­bour To Hold Out Against Bei­jing’s Out­reach

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES NATION - Sachin.Parashar @times­group.com

New Delhi: While India has re­jected China’s in­vite for Belt and Road Fo­rum meet, most of its neigh­bours, in­clud­ing the Mal­dives, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh have con­firmed par­tic­i­pa­tion in the event. In fact, in a 2017 re­run, Bhutan is the only coun­try in the im­me­di­ate neigh­bour­hood which is again hold­ing out against Chi­nese at­tempts to rope it in for the event which is likely to be at­tended by 40 heads of state and govern­ment.

China has in the past 12 months in­ten­si­fied en­gage­ment with the new govern­ment in Thim­phu in an ef­fort to wean it away from India’s sphere of in­flu­ence. While Bhutan, which does not have diplo­matic re­la­tions with China, is look­ing at Bei­jing as a po­ten­tial part­ner in at­tempts to di­ver­sify its econ­omy, it knows that its pres­ence at the Fo­rum meet is un­likely to go down well with the In­dian es­tab­lish­ment.

Bhutan boy­cotted the first Fo­rum meet in 2017 too, align­ing it­self with India which sees BRI as un­der­min­ing its sovereignty in the form of the China-Pakistan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor that passes through Pakistan con­trolled Gil­git-Baltistan re­gion of the state of J&K. As re­ported by TOI on April 8, India has said no to an of­fi­cial in­vite to take part in the meet.

China has ac­tively courted Bhutan in the re­cent past with Thim­phu see­ing reg­u­lar visits by Chi­nese am­bas­sador to India Luo Zhao­hui. China’s vice for­eign min­is­ter Kong Xuanyou had also vis­ited Bhutan last year.

Bhutan though has been cagey about bi­lat­eral ex­changes with China. A press re­lease is­sued after Kong’s visit merely said that dur­ing the visit the two sides dis­cussed is­sues of mu­tual in­ter­est. China though had said in a state­ment that it re­spected Bhutan’s in­de­pen­dence, sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity.

India also closely fol­lows Bhutan’s talks with Bei­jing on their bor­der dis­pute and it is of con­cern to the govern­ment that in­creas­ing China-Bhutan en­gage­ment fol­lows China’s, as strate­gic af­fairs ex­pert Brahma Chel­laney says, ef­fec­tive con­trol over much of Dok­lam.

Ac­cord­ing to Chel­laney, China has by slowly cap­tur­ing Dok­lam now ef­fec­tively over­turned the land-swap deal it has long of­fered Thim­phu, un­der which Bhutan was to cede its claim to the Dok­lam plateau in re­turn for Bei­jing re­nounc­ing its claim to a slice of land in northern Bhutan. For India though, Bhutan’s Dok­lam is lo­cated dan­ger­ously close to the Siliguri Cor­ri­dor, which con­nects India’s north­east with the main­land.

AFP/Getty Im­ages

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