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China-Bhutan boundary dispute and its impacts on India 

The 13th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the China-Bhutan boundary issues was held recently. China-Bhutan boundary dispute and its impacts on India ..


  • The 13th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the China-Bhutan boundary issues was held recently .

China – Bhutan Border Dispute

  • Bhutan shares a 477 km-long border with China.
  • China claims certain territories from Bhutan:
    • In the north – Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys;
      • Both of these places are culturally vital for Bhutan.
    • In the west – Doklam, Dramana, and Shakhatoe, Yak Chu and Charithang Chu, and Sinchulungpa and Langmarpo valleys.
      • These places are pasture-rich and strategically located in the Bhutan-India-China trijunction, lying close to India’s Siliguri Corridor.
  • In 2020, China made new claims on Bhutan’s East in the Sakteng sanctuary.
    • Surprisingly, there has been no mention of Eastern Bhutan in the previous rounds of boundary negotiations held between the two countries.
    • Hence, addition of Eastern Bhutan in the list of disputed territories has baffled Bhutan.
    • This eastern sector of Bhutan has a large Bhutanese population, traditional Dzongs (fortified monastery) and two Bhutanese districts since time immemorial.

Ongoing challenges

While the disengagement is no doubt positive, it would be wrong to assume that this represents a step towards a broader agreement.
First of all, the current disengagement only involves withdrawals on one of the contested border areas, those which set off the skirmishes of 2020. Locations in friction points that predate 2020, such as Depsang in Daulat Beg Oldie and the Charding Nullah Junction in Demchok in the western sector, remain pending. Moreover, while tensions in eastern Ladakh can now plausibly decrease, broader recriminations along the border persist with the consequent potential of new flareups or clashes.

Indeed, while the disengagement has taken place in the western sector, signs of tensions are building up in the eastern sector in Arunachal Pradesh. China claims the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh under the pretext of “Zangnan” – the southern part of Tibet – and hence, Beijing calls it “South Tibet”.

Chinese efforts to legitimise its claims over this area have further heightened tensions. For instance, in October 2021, amidst the eastern Ladakh stand-off, China’s top legislature adopted a new law on the protection and exploitation of the country’s land border areas, which came into effect from 1 January 2022. The law stipulates that that China will take all necessary measures to “safeguard territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines territorial sovereignty and land boundaries”. It is important to note here that China has settled its land borders with 12 neighbours, while only India and Bhutan remain unresolved. It is thereby apparent that this law has direct bearing on the India–China boundary dispute.

Moreover, in December 2021, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs “standardised” the names of 15 places (comprising eight residential areas, four mountains, two rivers and one mountain pass) in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Beijing has also been building “xiaokang” villages in the contested areas. This was noted by the 2021 US Department of Defense report, which mentions that China had built a 100-home civilian village “inside disputed territory between the PRC’s Tibet Autonomous Region and India’s Arunachal Pradesh state in the eastern sector of the LAC” (located on the banks of the River Tsari Chu, along the disputed border in Upper Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh).

At the same time, China is also upgrading its civil and military infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control. As evidenced by satellite imagery, China has constructed two bridges capable of accommodating armoured vehicles in Pangong Tso in 2022. Owing to China’s growing assertive posture, the Indian Army, while completing the disengagement process, also brought into effect a major “reorientation” and “rebalancing” of its troops in the strategically sensitive areas along the dispute border in Arunachal Pradesh. This move is aimed at boosting the overall combat readiness of the Indian Army amidst the ongoing stand-offs in western sector.

Taken together therefore, one would be naïve to consider the recent disengagement as a step towards de-escalation or a full resolution of the decades long India–China border dispute. While some improvements can be expected in the western sector due to the disengagement, other areas retain much potential for future eruptions. The risk of miscalculation remains high and this could catapult yet another military clash along the border, an event that would be detrimental to both sides.

Hence, the bigger question remains unaddressed: What can be done to avert future flareups and promote actual de-escalation? Answering this question remains tricky. Both India and China consider the border dispute to be an internal issue and are thereby opposed to external mediation efforts. At the time of writing, therefore, it seems that the most likely outcome will be for the two sides to find some form of mutual deterrence and accommodation across the disputed border area, managing the conflict by stabilising the militarised status quo in the area.

This unsatisfactory outlook is likely to endure, with all the risks and implications for a possible renewed flareup, until both sides embrace the inevitable need for compromise and concessions to resolve the dispute, a scenario that unfortunately still appears far-fetched today.

Impacts on India 

  • Experts in India have said any deal between Bhutan and China that accedes to a “swap arrangement” between areas to the North (Jamparlung and Pasamlung valleys) with Doklam to the West would be of concern to India, given the proximity to India’s narrow “Siliguri corridor” that connects northeastern states with the rest of India.
    • India and China were involved in a stand-off in Doklam near the India-China-Bhutan trijunction in 2017.
  • It views Chinese presence near Doklam as a major security concern close to the strategic Siliguri corridor. 

Way Ahead for India 

  • Doklam is near India’s Siliguri corridor and was the site of a long standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in 2017.
  • Any development in the China-Bhutan boundary negotiations will be keenly watched by India
  • India will monitor any move to take forward the China-Bhutan talks.

Read also:- BIMSTEC

China-Bhutan boundary dispute and its impacts on India ,China-Bhutan boundary dispute and its impacts on India ,China-Bhutan boundary dispute and its impacts on India 

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