Aug 19, 2012

Bhutan mulls opening diplomatic relations with China

NEW DELHI: India is adjusting to a new reality as Bhutan mulls opening diplomatic relations with China. As the only country in India's immediate neighbourhood which does not have official ties with China, Bhutan is in a special spot where India is concerned.

But Bhutan wants to fly the nest. And India will have to make room for Bhutan's ambitions. Keeping the new developments in mind, last week, national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon, held a brainstorming session with eminent persons to work out India's strategy on Bhutan.

Bhutan is a candidate for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council in 2013. But given that it has diplomatic relations with just about 30 countries, Bhutan needs to up its game before the vote. That, according to the new Bhutanese government lay behind a much-commented meeting between Bhutan PM Jigme Thinley and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the Rio+20 summit recently.

In Delhi, Bhutan has reportedly invited envoys of all foreign missions to Thimphu. In New York, Bhutan sponsored an event on its USP - "gross national happiness", which, said Indian diplomats, was widely attended. India is not only supporting the Bhutanese candidature, but lobbying for it. Bhutan will be up against South Korea for the Asian seat, a formidable competitor with very deep pockets.

While India is happy to help Bhutan's ambitions, new Delhi remains wary about talk of a Bhutan-china relationship, particularly if it involves a boundary settlement. A Bhutan-China settlement would involve a decision on the strategic Chumbi valley tri-junction, which is of great importance to India, with its proximity to the "chicken's neck" near Siliguri.

Bhutan and China have several points of disagreement on the border stretching from Dhoklam in the west to the grazing grounds in the north. China wants those grazing grounds in the west, closest to the Chumbi valley. That raises alarm bells in India.

India will speed up its assistance programme to Bhutan. Bhutan has benefitted by become a hydropower exporter to India, by 2020, India wants Bhutan to be able to export 10000 MW of power to India. Other economic aid programmes are likely to be speeded up.

On the other side, China's presence is increasing inside Bhutan. China, according to reports has plans to extend its railway network from Lhasa to Zangmu, as well as Shigatse and, some say, to Yadong, at the opening of the Chumbi Valley.

Courtesy: The Times of India,

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