The recent warming of relations between Bhutan and China has raised eyebrows in India, sparking a range of apprehensions and strategic considerations. Historically, Bhutan has shared strong ties with India, with New Delhi playing a pivotal role in Bhutan’s development and security affairs. However, Bhutan’s gradual engagement with China is seen as a diplomatic maneuver that requires careful analysis. India’s concerns stem from the fear of losing its traditional sphere of influence in Bhutan, and the potential implications for regional stability. These developments necessitate a nuanced approach from all parties involved to ensure that Bhutan’s interests are respected while maintaining regional stability and security. The evolving dynamics in Bhutan’s foreign relations may well serve as a litmus test for India’s diplomacy in its neighborhood.
Tag: GS-2 IR
This editorial, derived from “Warming ties: On Bhutan-China relations and India’s concerns” published in The Hindu on 25/10/2023, explores the consequences of the recent trip by Bhutan’s Foreign Minister to China.
Deepening of the relations between China-Bhutan
- The Bhutanese Foreign Minister’s groundbreaking visit to China represents a historic milestone in diplomatic relations between the two countries, as they do not have formal ties.
- During this visit, China and Bhutan held their 25th round of boundary talks and signed a Cooperation Agreement related to the Bhutan-China Boundary.
- This agreement is a significant step in their 3-Step Roadmap initiated in 2021 for resolving border issues, which includes reaching an agreement on the border, conducting on-site visits, and formally demarcating the boundary.
- This builds on the positive momentum established since their last discussions in 2016.
- India’s distinctive connection with Bhutan has led it to exercise caution when it comes to establishing diplomatic relations and entering into a boundary agreement with China.
- However, recent developments suggest that Bhutan is moving towards normalizing relations with China.
- The Bhutanese Prime Minister has reassured India that any agreement with China will not harm India’s interests, and it’s likely that Bhutan has involved India in these efforts to guarantee its security interests and red lines, including keeping China away from strategic areas near the “Siliguri corridor.”
- Another red line involves Bhutan proceeding cautiously with normalizing ties and allowing a permanent Chinese diplomatic presence while continuing border talks.
What potential consequences could India face as a result of the deepening relationship between Bhutan and China?
Growing Bhutan-China relations could have several significant impacts on India:
- Increased Chinese influence in Bhutan, especially in the strategic Doklam plateau, may threaten India’s security interests and potentially affect its access to northeastern states through the Siliguri Corridor.
Implications on Energy security
- Bhutan’s diversification of economic ties with China could reduce its dependence on India, impacting India’s energy security, as it imports a significant portion of Bhutan’s surplus electricity.
- Bhutan establishing formal diplomatic relations with China may challenge India’s historical influence in the region and affect its traditional pro-India foreign policy.
Implications on Connectivity and Infrastructure
- Bhutan’s participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative could impact regional infrastructure development and connectivity, raising India’s concerns over strategic and security implications.
Implications on Regional Organizations
- Bhutan’s alignment with China could influence India’s role in regional organizations like SAARC and BIMSTEC.
What should be India’s stance?
In dealing with the evolving Bhutan-China relationship, India should:
- India should engage in open and transparent diplomacy with Bhutan to understand their relationship with China and address any concerns that may arise.
Collaborate on Borders
- India and Bhutan should work together on border negotiations, aiming for a mutually acceptable deal that serves the interests of both nations.
Consider Bhutan’s Perspective
- India should understand Bhutan’s motivations and objectives in its dealings with China, acknowledging Bhutan’s goals for economic development and security.
Build Mutual Confidence
- Trust between India and Bhutan is crucial, and India should have confidence that Bhutan will consider both nations’ interests when making decisions about its relationship with China.
Strengthen Bilateral Ties
- India should continue to enhance its bilateral relationship with Bhutan through various forms of cooperation, such as development assistance, cultural exchanges, and security collaboration.
Explore Regional Cooperation
- Investigate opportunities for trilateral or multilateral cooperation involving Bhutan, India, and China to address common regional challenges like environmental conservation, disaster management, and trade.
India should carefully manage the complex effects of Bhutan’s deepening ties with China by balancing security, economic diversification, and regional diplomacy. Maintaining strong relations with Bhutan, open dialogue, and regional cooperation will help India safeguard its interests in the region.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. FAQ: Why have Bhutan and China been improving their relations recently?
Answer: Bhutan and China have been improving their relations due to a combination of factors, including Bhutan’s desire to diversify its international partnerships, China’s economic and diplomatic outreach in the region, and Bhutan’s aspiration to engage with China on its own terms. This process aims to promote economic cooperation and reduce Bhutan’s dependence on India.
2. FAQ: How does India view Bhutan’s improving relations with China?
Answer: India views Bhutan’s warming relations with China with some apprehension. Historically, Bhutan has been in India’s sphere of influence, and any shift towards China is seen as a potential challenge to India’s regional dominance and strategic interests.
3. FAQ: What are some of the key concerns that India has about Bhutan-China ties?
Answer: India is concerned about losing its traditional sphere of influence in Bhutan, which could affect its strategic position in the region. India is also apprehensive about potential security implications, including the presence of Chinese forces near its border and the influence of China on Bhutan’s foreign policy.
4. FAQ: How should Bhutan, India, and China navigate this situation for regional stability?
Answer: To ensure regional stability, all parties involved should adopt a nuanced approach. Bhutan should be allowed the space to pursue its own foreign policy while maintaining its sovereignty. India and China should engage in dialogue to address concerns and promote peaceful coexistence, ensuring that Bhutan’s interests are respected.
5. FAQ: What lessons can be drawn from Bhutan’s evolving foreign relations in the broader context of India’s diplomacy in its neighborhood?
Answer: Bhutan’s changing foreign relations serve as a litmus test for India’s diplomatic approach in the region. It highlights the need for India to adapt to evolving geopolitical realities and foster stronger, mutually beneficial ties with its neighbors to maintain influence and stability in the neighborhood.
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