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The ‘Doklam stand–off‘ which was a water-shed event in the Sino– Indian relationship was a major land-mark incident in 2017. The three months long border crisis which started in July 2017, brought back the spectre of an armed conflict in the Himalayas. The Indian and Chinese troops were once again standing eye- ball to eye- ball in one of the potentially most volatile corners of the world, after the Chinese troops have decided to build a road through an area claimed by both China and Bhutan. In the end, an armed clash was averted as both sides announced their respective decisions to pull back from the disputed plateau. The defence strategists in India, now feel that, it was not about a new road or claim over a piece of land. But the brief tug- of-war most probably indicate a clever political move by China to drive a wedge between India and Bhutan.
China’s new interest in Bhutan
It seems the strategy of China in 2018, is to court Bhutan, being a sensitive Himalayan nation, the only neighbouring country with whom Beijing does not yet have diplomatic relations. Bhutan may be a small country, but the courtship could reset the prevailing India- dominated balance of power in the Himalayas.
Bhutan is tied to India through three treaties signed with the British colonial power in 1910 and independent India in 1949 and 2007.The first two treaties gave Bhutan a high degree of internal autonomy while its foreign relations were still guided by India, in effect making it an Indian protectorate. The 2007 treaty granted Bhutan more independence over its foreign affairs. China has started its usual’ soft diplomacy’ in a bid to dilute India’s influence in Bhutan. Chinese Circus artists, acrobats and foot-ball players recently made a bee- line to Bhutan.
China extended scholarships to Bhutan children to study in China. More than 9000 Chinese tourists visited Bhutan in 2017, unlike any other year. Although there is no Chinese embassy in Thimphu and no Bhutanese embassy in Beijing, bilateral relations are actively maintained through intermittent border meetings. The border stand-off provoked India to intervene, which was not entirely liked by the Bhutanese people, who are eager to show the rest of the world that Bhutan is an independent sovereign nation. China was quick to exploit the situation and on 02 Aug 2017, the Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement saying that ” the China- Bhutan boundary issue is one between China and Bhutan. It has nothing to do with India. India has no right to make territorial claims on Bhutan’s behalf. India has not only violated China’s sovereignty but also challenged Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence.”
China wants India to recognise the ‘Line of Actual Control’ as the border, so that China keeps Akshi Chin and let India keep Arunachal. Apparently this stand is not acceptable to India.
Old Unhealed Wounds
China has not forgiven India for giving sanctuary and asylum to Dalai Lama and rebel Tibetans in 1959. A degree of tension is in China’s interest because it does not , like most of the nation’s, look for permanent solutions to problems. It wants a strategic stability that can be used to its advantages. China also resents India’s refusal to join Beijing’s multi- trillion dollar mega project- Belt and Road infrastructure development initiative, which of successfully implemented could turn China into the world’s leading economic and perhaps also, political and military power.
Supremacy in INDIAN OCEAN
2018 is going to witness an acceleration of Chinese activities on Indian Ocean, which was entirely the domain of India earlier. China is trying to expand its influence with most of the island nations in Indian Ocean; busy buying friends in the Maldives and the Seychelles and heavily investing in Mauritius – All for the purpose of securing its ” maritime Silk Road”, which cuts right across Indian Ocean undermining our presence. Chinese submarines are regularly being spotted in Indian Ocean these days indicating its futuristic intentions.
There will be no war in 2018 like the one in 1962. Given the vast volume of trade between India and China, a war is the last option for China. However it’s evident that China is in no hurry to settle its border disputes with India, since China does not respect any internationally accepted norms and rules when it comes to its territorial ambitions.More over ,China already has invested heavily in the ‘China Pakistan Economic Corridor”(CPEC) project which passes through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir(POK).An armed conflict in this disputed territory is the last thing China would desire in the next few years.