Bhutan News and Discussions


Senior Member
Feb 23, 2009
India reassures 10th plan funds

30 October 2009

The Indian government’s response to the requests and proposals from Bhutan government regarding the implementation of the 10th five-year plan is positive. Bhutan put up proposals in the areas of fund releases, energy, roads, total solutions projects and small development projects.

Some senior government officials met with the delegates from India led by Joint secretary (North) of India, Satish C Metha, on Wednesday to hold the Bhutan-India Development Cooperation Talks to review the GoI’s assistance to Bhutan’s 10th Plan. A few issues under the Project Tied Assistance that required immediate attention were discussed during the meeting. Of the total of Nu 2951.875 million requested during the financial periods 2008-09 and 2009-10, Bhutan received only Nu 1322.203 million till date. The foreign secretary, Daw Penjor, said that the government was concerned that it may not be able to implement all the projects under the PTA nor complete them within the plan period if the fund releases are not received on time. Therefore, early release of the funds was requested.

To achieve a target production of 10,000 MW of electricity by 2020, an Empowered Joint Group (EJG) was formed between the two governments to accelerate the process. Bunakha reservoir, Wangchu reservoir, Amochu reservoir and Kuri Gongri projects were identified to replace the earlier projects of Rotpashong and Chamkharchhu for inclusion under the 10,000MW scheme. The preparation of the Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the projects, Daw Penjor said, needs to be included under the PTA. The government also requested on the inclusion of the access roads of Semtokha- Wangdue Highway improvement and Tingtibu- Praling road construction for the achievement of 10000 MW. These roads were important for access to hydropower projects approved by the EJG.

The royal government, for easy transportation of heavy machineries and equipments through the Gelephu- Wangdue Highway to Punatshangchu project site, requested the GoI to improve the bad conditioned Santhalbari-Gelephu road which is the access point to the highway.

Bhutan has initiated the Total Solutions Projects with the NIIT of India with a view to turn Bhutan into a knowledge bases society. It was earlier proposed to fund the projects from the PTA commitments. However, since the funds under PTA have already been allocated to the projects agreed between the two countries, the government requested for an additional funding to be provided at the earliest.

On this project, the Indian government asked for more detail.

It was also proposed that the first small development projects committee meeting to be held at the earliest as there was pressure for all quarters to start the projects at the earliest. A meeting was agreed to be held soon. Meanwhile, Daw Penjor, reiterated the importance of the 10th since the present plan was the first to be implemented under the Fifth King and first democratically elected government. He said that the success and failure of the plan will determine people’s confidence in democracy.

“With assistance from India, we are confident that we would be able to achieve the objectives of the plan,” he said adding that 10th plan will ensure the establishment of a sound foundation of democracy in Bhutan.

On the earthquake recovery front, Daw Penjor requested the Indian government to support and assist in the earthquake recovery for the reconstruction works will have a serious impact on the 10th plan without the assistance of the developing partners.

In response, Observer learnt that the GoI was forthcoming on all the issues discussed and that budget would be released soon. However, a cost escalation was noted in a couple of projects- the energy sector with four new DPRs and the ACC office construction. The Indian government said this shouldn’t be a problem and plans would be reprioritized.

An agreement on the outcome of the meeting will be signed today. The GoI is Bhutan’s largest development partner with a total commitment of Nu 34 billion in the 10th plan outlay.

Sonam Pelden

India reassures 10th plan funds - Bhutan Observer - Bhutan News


Senior Member
Feb 23, 2009
Bhutan, Bangladesh mull road link via India


Thimphu, Nov 8 (PTI) Bhutan and Bangladesh have renewed a bilateral trade agreement to step up relations and discussed possibility of a road link between the two countries through neighbouring India.

"Success in all these areas and the trade agreement is an initiative that will surely result in the harmonious growth of our countries. This will significantly increase the economic activities in Bangladesh and Bhutan," said Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after the renewed bilateral trade agreement was inked.

The deal was yesterday signed by Bhutan Economic Affairs Minister Khandu Wangchuk and Bangladeshi Commerce Minister Mohammed Faruk Khan in presence of Hasina and her Bhutanese counterpart Jigmi Y Thinley, state-run daily Kuensel reported.

Hasina, on a four-day visit to Bhutan since Friday, and Thinley also discussed the possibility of a road between the two countries via India.



Senior Member
Aug 13, 2009
Modernising Bhutan questions where happiness lies

Friday, 18 Dec, 2009

Buddhist monks walk past a power station in the capital Thimphu, November 15, 2009.Reuters

THIMPHU: It is a sign of the times for Bhutan that a $9 million McKinsey consultancy report to find ways to accelerate Bhutan's economic growth has sparked soul-searching among this isolated and mostly conservative people.

For this is a nation famed for being guided by Gross National Happiness, an economic measurement that takes into account indicators ignored by conventional GDP, from recreational time, to forest cover and emotions like anger and envy.

Unnoticed by much of the outside world, Bhutan's new democracy is aiming at a breakneck economic expansion in the next decade of nine per cent a year that would put it on par with the growth ambitions of its huge neighbours India and China.

The question for many in Bhutan is how its ‘don't worry, be happy’ philosophy is compatible with boosting tourism fourfold, building new roads and massive hydroelectric power projects — some being planned with the help of a multinational consultancy.

But Bhutan's new democracy is now facing the reality of ensuring its younger, and more wired, generation, have more jobs, better incomes and good schools.

Underlying this lie worries that if Bhutan does not get it right economically, its new democracy will falter. Its leaders look warily at nearby Nepal, which has suffered protests and economic stagnation chaos since a new democracy emerged in 2006.

‘The biggest challenge that worries me is democracy itself,’ Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley told Reuters in an interview. ‘In this region and beyond there are so many democracies failing.’

‘It is not simply to accelerate growth,’ he added. ‘I have emphasised that this whole thing again must be put within the context of gross national happiness.’

First formulated in the 1970s, GNH has become the guiding principle for Bhutan.

When the young, Oxford-educated Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was enthroned as the new king in 2008, and a new parliamentary government was elected, GNH still had pride of place in Bhutan.

It is enshrined in the constitution and recently the national planning commission which oversees the economy was renamed the Gross National Happiness Commission.

‘Don’t worry, be happy’

Much of Bhutan still strains at the very idea of globalisation. Television was only introduced in 1999. Public smoking is banned and the capital has no traffic lights after residents complained they were unsightly. Around 80 per cent of the population lives in villages.

‘This is a country where we debate whether to introduce meditation into schools,’ said Karma Tshiteem, secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission.

But no longer is GNH a cute and vague concept. It now has an economic edge.

Bhutan's first democratically-elected government has raised expectations among many in this nation of 700,000 people, where more than a fifth lives in poverty on less than $0.70 a day.

Bhutan already has free primary education and health care.

It is not uncommon for Indians living on the border to cross over to Bhutan, where they have access to better clinics, residents say. But all this costs money.

Nearly half Bhutan's budget is dependent on official aid — 23 per cent of the budget is funded by India. It is a dependency that irks Bhutan. With aid falling in a global crisis, economic growth will be the only way to fill the funding gap for social programmes.

‘The idea that economic development is necessary for building a vibrant democracy is seeping in,’ said Sonam Kinga, vice chairman of the upper house National Council.

‘Jobs have to be created. There is growing unemployment. The government is planning to quadruple tourism numbers to around 100,000 a year in the next few years and increase its hydroelectric power capacity from 1,500 MW to 10,000 MW by 2020. Hydroelectric power, sold to India at subsidised rates, is the backbone of the economy. High-end tourism runs second.

Still, plans like boosting tourism numbers or plans to set up an IT park in Thimphu, are raising eyebrows.

‘I don't see call centres as being compatible with GNH,’ said opposition leader Tshering Tobgay.

‘If there is nine per cent growth in isolation there is disconnect. If income disparity grows there is disconnect.’ But the government must create jobs. Officials estimate that the global economic crunch may have pushed its growth under seven per cent last year — under the annual average of the last decade. Unemployment is at four per cent, a historical high.

‘It is ironic that in a country where we talk about gross national happiness with every breath, we still have places where there is no electricity, no accessible healthcare, no motorable road and no telephone connectivity,’ said By Yangchen, a 25-year-old student in Thimphu.

Those are the ideas that worry Bhutan's leaders. The government believes it is up to Bhutan's first democratic government to show voters that GNH can live side by side with economic prosperity.

‘The big issue is democracy. If democracy fails, nothing, not even GNH, will save us,’ said Tobgay.

DAWN.COM | World | Modernising Bhutan questions where happiness lies


Senior Member
Aug 13, 2009
India will aid in Bhutan’s democracy cause
Sandeep Dikshit NEW DELHI, December 22, 2009

Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk being welcomed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Among the pacts are four MoUs for hydel projects that would ease power shortage in eastern India considerably. India was also planning a transmission grid that would ultimately evacuate power from the Bhutanese projects all the way to Agra, said official sources.

Describing Bhutan as “India’s closest friend and neighbour,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh presided over the signing of a dozen pacts with Thimphu in the presence of King Jigme Khesar here on Tuesday.

In summit-level talks, New Delhi expressed satisfaction with its cooperation in checking the activities of insurgent groups trying to operate from southern Bhutan.

India also agreed to fund nearly a quarter of Bhutan’s Tenth Plan outlay of Rs. 14,800 crore.

“We have no differences or outstanding issues with Bhutan and the discussions were excellent,” noted Dr. Singh. The first state visit of Jigme Khesar was a “milestone in reinforcing and further expanding the already wide canvas of cooperation,” External Affairs Minister spokesman Vishnu Prakash quoted Dr. Singh as saying during the talks.

MoUs on power projects

Among the pacts are four MoUs for hydel projects that would ease power shortage in eastern India considerably. India was also planning a transmission grid that would ultimately evacuate power from the Bhutanese projects all the way to Agra, said official sources.

Dr. Singh assured the King of India’s possible assistance in the success of the democratic experiment in Bhutan.

The two sides exchanged notes on the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit scheduled in Bhutan for next year, with India promising help to make it a success.

Signalling the importance India attaches to ties with Bhutan, the delegation-level talks saw the presence of the Ministers for External Affairs, Finance, Home and Power, besides the National Security Adviser, the Foreign Secretary, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and other senior officials.

Bhutan is already producing about 1,500 MW from the existing power projects; of this, 80 per cent is sold to India. It will receive about the same quantum from two projects on which work is about to start. In addition, project reports have been cleared for four projects that will generate over 6,000 MW. These include the gigantic Sankosh (4,060 MW).

Under the MoUs signed on Tuesday, the projects are expected to yield over 3,500 MW. They are Ammochhu (620 MW) in the southern district of Samtse and Chukha; Kuri Gongri (1,800 MW) in the eastern districts of Monggar and Pema Gatsel; Chamkharchhu (670 MW) in the central Bhutan district of Shemgang; and Kholongchu (486 MW) in the eastern Bhutan district of Tashi Yangtse.

The intention is to extract economically feasible power from all the four major river systems — Torsa, Wangchu (Raidak), Sankosh and Manas.

The projects will not only ease India’s power woes to some extent but also earn revenue for Bhutan. As most of the areas are underdeveloped, there would be economic spinoffs during the construction stage itself, in terms of micro-trade, employment and transport business.

Thanks to sale of power, Bhutan already enjoys a trade surplus of Rs. 414 crore which will grow further when the projects come on stream.

Other MoUs pertain to the setting up of a superspeciality hospital, preventing trafficking in drugs, expanding air services, promoting e-governance and e-literacy, cooperating in search and rescue, providing technical help to the National Environment Secretariat of Bhutan and aiding in the setting up of a Bhutanese national transmission grid.

The Hindu : News / National : India will aid in Bhutan’s democracy cause


Senior Member
Aug 13, 2009
Note no.564 14-Jan-2010

BHUTAN’s Northern Border: China’s Bullying and Teasing Tactics: Update No.82

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan.

In response to the concerns of the Parliamentarians, the Secretary of International Boundaries Dasho Pema Wangchuk gave a detailed briefing on the current status of Bhutan-China boundary negotiations on 4th of December 2009.

What is note worthy is that the Secretary was very candid and did not try to hide from the members of the Parliament and the people on the difficulties encountered in negotiating with the Chinese and the deep intrusions being made by the Chinese regularly on its border.

This is quite in contrast to what the Indian people are treated in the matter of Chinese intrusions that are regularly taking place and the Ministry of External Affairs continues to claim that the so called intrusions are nothing but differences in "perception."

The points made by Wangchuk on December 4th were

* In 2008, the Chinese soldiers intruded deep into Bhutanese territory and came to Bhutanese Army’s outpost at Lharigang in the Charithang valley. In the year 2009, the Chinese intruded 17 times up to the RBA post.

* In 2004, the Chinese started road construction work from the Langmorpo stream towards the Zuri ridge. After several protests and discussions at the foreign minister level, the Chinese stopped the construction work.

* However in August 2009, the Chinese have started the extension of the road construction work again between Zuri and Phuteogang ridge that overlooks the disputed Charithang valley. The Bhutanese government protested four times that year. The action of the Chinese was in violation of the 1998 agreement between China and Bhutan on the maintenance of peace and tranquility and also of the mutual acceptance to maintain the status quo as agreed to in March 1959..

The Secretary conceded that there are four areas in the western border that are being disputed by the Chinese and that would include Doklam, Charithang, Sinchulimpa and Dramana pasture land.

In the case of the disputed area of 495, in another sector in Bayul Pasanglung the Secretary said that China had conceded the territory as that of Bhutan in an overall package deal that was discussed then. The Secretary has maintained that the Chinese position in this area has been consistent. But what is important is that the Chinese are willing to give up the claim only when other aspects of the package deal are accepted and implemented. This included trade and progress in diplomatic relations that would include perhaps an embassy of theirs in Thimpu.

Some time in April last year, a brief history of the border talks- 1st to 18th. was presented to the Parliament The 19th session is due this January.

As before Bhutan government gave a frank over view and nothing was held back or made light of. The Foreign Minister personally briefed the National Assembly in response to the request made by the Member of Parliament of Haa that is close to the western border with China and his concerns about the Chinese intrusions.

The foreign minister briefed the Assembly frankly on the progress of the talks. He said as follows

* The first four rounds had focussed on discussions regarding the guidelines for boundary negotiations, based on the five principles of peaceful coexistence: mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non aggression, non interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful co existence.

* In the fifth round of May 1988, the Chinese side made known their perception of the Bhutan-China border line, while the Bhutanese side noted their presentation. The 68th session of the National Assembly was presented, showing the Bhutanese claim based on Martham Chem, patrolling limit and traditional usage and Chinese claims in the fifth round. It was thoroughly discussed in the house, which eventually endorsed the Bhutanese claim line.

* In the sixth round, there were more discussions with maps of Bhutan on 1:500,000 scale, depicting the claim lines of both sides being exchanged. There were maps exchanged and discussion on the Western Bhutan and China's borders.

* In the seventh round in 1990, the Chinese side made some additional offers on the Luling valley sector, the acceptance of which would make them forego their claim in the middle sector.

* In the eighth round, the Bhutanese delegation proposed further territorial adjustments in the Western Sector, however there was not much progress in the next four rounds of talks.

* In the twelfth round, the Chinese side brought the draft of a proposed interim agreement on the maintenance of peace and tranquillity along the Sino-Bhutan border areas, which was later signed by the two foreign ministers after discussions.

* In the thirteenth round in September 1999 in Thimphu, the Chinese side came up with a policy on Bhutan, with proposals for settlement of boundary, establishment of diplomatic relations and trade. The Chinese side proposed that the two sides might concentrate on preparation of descriptions and confirmation of border alignment, adding a new dimension to talks.

* In the fourteenth round in 2000, as China was a larger country, the Chinese side was requested to show greater consideration on the Bhutanese perception of the traditional boundary in Doklam, Sinchulumpa, Dramana and Shakhatoe areas. The Bhutanese side also proposed cartographic discussions.

* In the fifteenth round, the two sides agreed to continue discussions at the expert level groups, to focus mainly on maps and other areas to enhance official talks.

* In the sixteenth round, maps made by the expert group showing claims of both sides were exchanged. In the seventeenth round in April 2004, it was decided to first narrow down the differences at the expert group level.

* However in 2005, the maps were examined but could not be exchanged due to the vast differences between the two claim lines. The Chinese side had differences in areas amounting to 1300 Sq. Km, of which they were ready to consider giving 900 Sq. km.

* In the eighteenth round in Beijing in 2006, the Bhutanese side stressed that the package solution offered by the Chinese in 1990 during the 7th round was not favourable to Bhutan, since the offered Pasamlug already belonged to Bhutan.

The importance of pasture lands in the western sector to the livelihood of yak herders in northern Bhutan was explained. The Chinese side maintained that the basis of further negotiations must be acceptance of the package deal and that China was ready to make minor adjustments within it

Some points worth noting are

* It was only in May 1988 that the Chinese side formally made known their version which was unreasonable.

* In 1990, it became clear that the Chinese want to claim more on the western sector and were willing to forego the claim in the middle sector. The reasons for this move were obvious. The Chinese want to get as much space as possible in the western sector that is close to tri junction of India- Bhutan and China. The reasons for the claim were not on traditional usage, history etc. but purely based on the strategic nature of the western border that is close to the tri junction and India.

* It was in 1999, that the Chinese came up with a comprehensive package deal that for the first time formally raised the issue of establishment of diplomatic relations and trade. The Chinese no doubt wanted to establish a diplomatic mission in Thimpu as a condition for the final settlement of the boundary. There was no offer of any specific concession in the western sector in the package deal.

* In the fourteenth round, the Bhutanese made a fervent plea that it being a very small country and China a much larger country, the latter should show some consideration in the four disputed areas in the western sector. But this was rejected by Chinese. No mercy.

* The package deal was not acceptable to the Bhutanese side as it involves many areas other than the dispute of the border areas. In the last round of the talks ( eighteenth in Beijing) the Chinese made it very clear that further basis of negotiations must be the acceptance of the package offered by them earlier and that China is willing to make some minor adjustments within it.

* The package deal was nothing new. Since 1974 China has been pitching for bilateral trade and closer diplomatic relations. Since nothing had moved, it has now made it official as a quid pro quo for any border settlement. Even here China is willing to accept only "minor adjustments" and Bhutan should be clear by now that even with the establishment of bilateral trade and establishment of the embassy, China will be unwilling to make any major concession in the western sector which is strategically important to China which at the same time is equally of strategic importance to India too.

* There are two views in India on the border problems between Bhutan and China. One view is that Bhutan’s border problem will be settled once the border dispute between India and China is resolved. The other view is that once Bhutan is weaned away from India, the Chinese will probably be more reasonable and may be more generous.

While the first position is unlikely, there are no reasons to believe that the Chinese are going to be generous in the second case- as China is very unlikely to give up its position in the four areas of the western sector which is equally important for Bhutan’s security too.

In the near future while major clashes may not occur between the PLA and RBA, China will continue to tease and bully Bhutan and its border outpost personnel. This is the China that is supposed to rise "peacefully"! .

Bhutan's Northern Border:  China's Bullying and Teasing Tactics- Update No. 82


Senior Member
Aug 13, 2009

Sino-Bhutan Boundary Negotiations: Complexities of the ‘Package Deal’

Medha Bisht

January 19, 2010

China and Bhutan completed the nineteenth round of boundary talks on January 13, 2010. The parleys were held in Thimpu and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue represented China while Minister of Economic Affairs Khandu Wangchu represented Bhutan. In the latest round, both sides have decided on a joint field survey, which would enable harmonising the reference points and names of the disputed areas. Also the focus of the forthcoming survey would be the disputed areas in the western sector which constitute the pastoral lands of Doklam, Charithang, Sinchulumpa and Dramana. The eighteenth round of talks was held in Beijing in 2006, when both parties decided to discuss the boundary issue at the technical level with the help of experts and then map out the disputed claims. The nineteenth round is significant due to its exclusive focus of the North-Western sector.

The nineteenth round could also be seen as significant because both sides met after a gap of almost four years. The talks are noteworthy due to three developments. First, India and Bhutan revised their friendship treaty in 2007 and Article II, which stipulated that Bhutan should be advised by India in its foreign policy decisions, was symbolically dropped. Second, Bhutan witnessed the first stage of democratization in 2008 by holding elections, thus taking the maiden step towards domestic political reform; at the same time, the Oxford educated Khesar Jigme Namgyal Wangchuk was formally coroneted as the fifth King of Bhutan in November 2008. Third, China on its part in the past few years has made significant progress in constructing roads right next to the disputed border areas. For instance, six roads so far have been built by China near Bhutan’s North and North-West areas. Moreover in the past two years, Bhutan has witnessed several Chinese intrusions/incursions into its territory.

Back to History: The Negotiation Phases

The history of border talks go back to the 1950s when China published maps claiming Bhutanese territory, thus bringing the issue into the public domain. The disputed areas that China claimed covered a total of 764 square kilometres covering the North West (269 sq km) and Central parts of Bhutan (495 sq km). While the North West part constitutes the Doklam, Sinchulung, Dramana and Shakhatoe in Samste, Haa and Paro districts, the Central parts constitute the Pasamlung and the Jakarlung valley in the Wangdue Phodrang district. The intrusion by Chinese soldiers and Tibetan herders has often been an issue of concern in Bhutan’s National Assembly discussions, where many chimis (district representatives) have claimed that traditionally the land always belonged to Bhutan and historically there has been no precedence of Bhutan paying taxes to the Tibetan government for any of the disputed claims.

If one traces the trajectory of boundary negotiations between Bhutan and China they can be divided into three significant phases. The first phase can be termed as the engagement phase which started in 1984; the second phase can be termed as the redistribution phase, which marked its incipience in 1996; and third can be termed as the normalisation phase, which describes the present status of negotiations and can be traced to 2000.

In the engagement phase, both parties decided to hold formal boundary talks and discussed issues of mutual concern. The Sino-Bhutan boundary issue till the seventies was being considered under the broader aegis of Sino-Indian border negotiations. The Chinese intent in the engagement phase was to engage Bhutan bilaterally and create a conducive atmosphere for facilitating bilateral relations. This argument can be made by assessing a statement made by Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue in 2008 who claimed that border issues have been a platform for facilitating mutual cooperation between the two countries.

The redistribution phase started in 1996, when China for the first time as part of the resolution package offered Bhutan a package deal, proposing an exchange of Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys totalling an area of 495 sq km in Central Bhutan, with the pasture land of Doklam, Sinchulung, Dramana and Shakhatoe amounting to 269 sq km in North Western Bhutan. In 1998 both countries for the first time signed a peace agreement promising to ‘Maintain Peace and Tranquillity on the Bhutan-China Border Areas.’ The agreement was seen as significant in Thimpu because China for the first time acknowledged Bhutan as a sovereign country and stated clearly in the agreement that “China fully respects the territorial integrity and independence of Bhutan.” This was the first official recognition and Bhutan could break free from the stated Chinese rhetoric of middle kingdom suzerainty. China during the talks also insisted on expanding the zone of engagement towards developing trade and formal diplomatic relations.

The normalisation phase can also be called the extension phase as both countries since 2000 have not shifted positions. In 2000, Bhutan extended the claim line of the disputed border. The same year, it also proposed technical discussions, using maps, between experts from the two sides. As can be gathered, the latest talks have not made progress beyond the stated positions. However, China-Bhutan engagement has intensified over the years, an aspect which sheds some light on the Chinese intentions of trying to create leverages inside Bhutan. The December 2009 statement made by the Ugyen Tshering, the Foreign Minister of Bhutan, in Kolkata is indicative of the potential that China holds for Bhutan. The Minister claimed that diplomatic and trade ties between Bhutan and China “are definitely conceivable in the future,” adding that an indirect trade link has already been established as India often buys heavy machinery and equipment of superior quality at competitive prices from China and then installs it in Bhutan. China, on its part, in the past few years has made inroads into Bhutan by exporting farming and telecommunication equipments. However, it has also not shied away from keeping Bhutan on tenterhooks. While China has been trying to engage Bhutan by promising the carrot of a promising economic engagement, it has also been using pressure tactics by intruding into Bhutanese territory. For instance, Chinese soldiers have touched upon Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) outposts several times. Stealing yaks, medicinal herbs and timber by Tibetan herders is also a common activity - an aspect which directly impacts the livelihood needs of the common people of Bhutan residing in the border areas. The Chinese response to Bhutanese objections has however been unequivocal whereby China has officially conveyed that as there has been no agreement on its proposal it cannot control the activities of Tibetan herders along the border. This perhaps is a pointer to China’s covert support for such activities. Fred Charles Ikle opines that in the normalisation phase often abnormal situations are introduced so that pressure can be created on the negotiating party. One can see the appropriateness of this description in the Chinese behaviour.

The Proposition and the Package Deal: Potential and Actual Impact

The protracted nature of Sino-Bhutan boundary talks and the continuous Chinese intrusions into Bhutanese territory reveals the strategic element embedded in the package deal. In November 2007, Chinese forces dismantled several unmanned posts near the Chumbi valley. This, analysts put it, has “distorted the Sino-Bhutanese border near Sikkim,” with Chinese forces only a few kilometres away from the Siliguri corridor. Chumbi Valley, a vital tri-junction between Bhutan, India and China border, is significant as it is 500 km from Siliguri corridor—the chicken neck which connects India to North East India and Nepal to Bhutan. Meanwhile Chumbi Valley is of geostrategic importance to China because of its shared borders with Tibet and Sikkim. The North-Western areas of Bhutan which China wants in exchange for the Central areas lie next to the Chumbi Valley tri-junction. Thus the potential consequences of an exchange deal would raise strategic concerns in India.

Meanwhile the actual impact of the package deal would be felt by the local Bhutanese living in the border areas, as the demographic spread is concentrated more in the North Western areas. Though the issue has been successfully postponed in the past years, domestic pressures in Bhutan are increasing so that the dispute can be resolved expeditiously. Intrusions by Tibetan herders in North Western areas of Bhutan has occupied considerable energies in National Assembly debates – the reason being the rich pastoral land which is intricately linked to the livelihood of the local people living in the border areas. At the domestic level, Bhutan will therefore have to justify its decisions to the representative chimis of the border districts in the National Assembly, who have raised concerns regarding the Sino-Bhutan package deal. Moreover any change in the claim lines will now have to be discussed in the parliament as Article 3 of the Constitution stipulates that decisions regarding border issues should be decided by the parliament.

The nature of politics in the package deal has thus elevated the Sino-Bhutan boundary negotiations to a level of strategic importance, where the stakes associated and its resolution thereof could change the framework of interests. Meanwhile the evolving Sino-India relations represent two dominant strands. While the first is a co-operative relationship on issues of mutual concern and interest, the second strand is reflective of a conflictual behaviour which in the recent past has been triggered on territorial and water diversion issues. Indian concerns emerge in response to the latter and therefore any development on Bhutan’s North-Western front could ring alarm bells in Indian strategic circles. Bhutan as a small country surrounded by two Asian giants has been successful in managing external players. However as the diplomatic milieu is changing in South Asia, strategic options have to be inevitably identified by the concerned countries. Based on this analysis the nineteenth round is therefore just the beginning, and much would depend on the evolving China-India-Bhutan triad.
Sino-Bhutan Boundary Negotiations: Complexities of the ?Package Deal? | Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

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