Demons of Doklam

The China-Bhutan territorial dispute brought China face-to-face with India. Is there an end to this dispute or will the bordering nations engage in another round of disagreements?

By Muhammad Omar Iftikhar | March 2023

China and Bhutan have agreed to a consensus to execute their agreement to expedite negotiations to resolve their border dispute. This will include a three-step roadmap. Discussions and debates were held during the 11th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the China-Bhutan Boundary Issues from January 10-13, 2023. It was held in Kunming City, China. On the geographical front, Bhutan shares a 477 km long border with China. Both countries have already held over twenty rounds of talks to settle this dispute.

China and Bhutan do not have diplomatic relations. However, they maintain goodwill and relationship methods through periodic visits. In May 2020, China began an extensive campaign to claim its territory in the Himalayas which also includes Bhutan. Since the 1950s, China has been claiming Bhutan’s land. China claimed an area near Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary.

There are two perspectives with which we can analyze the China-Bhutan claim. First, China is punishing the disputed areas of Bhutan for their alliance with India. Dorji Penjore, the head of the Centre for Bhutan and Gross National Happiness Studies, wrote a research paper titled ‘Security of Bhutan: Walking Between the Giants.’ He says, “The Sino-Bhutan border dispute is not so much a contest over territory as it is of China’s desire to punish Bhutan for allying with its regional rival, India.” The second perspective could signal at China putting pressure on India on the geopolitical front.

China’s demand for Bhutan’s land is part of its ambition to pressure Bhutan to enter into a deal. Chinese authorities said, “China-Bhutan boundary has never been delimited and there have been disputes over the eastern, central, and western sections for a long time, cautioning third party to refrain from stepping into the breach.”

China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) encroached into the Doklam plateau, which is part of Bhutan. This standoff went on for nearly 72 days. New Delhi will be cautious of every decision that China will take concerning Bhutan. India would need to know the implementation timelines and their possible implications. China is seeking control over Chumbi Valley. It is envisioning building its railway line from Lhansa Yatung closer to Sikkim. The Eastern Army Command is ready to defend Bhutanese territory in case of aggression arising from the India-Bhutan agreements.

Read More