China now wants Bhutan to join its Belt-And-Road initiative
24 July 2018
After trying to ease India out of Nepal, China is now trying to deal directly with Bhutan, after last year’s stand-off with Indian forces on the Doklam plateau near the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China.
China now wants to work with Bhutan to ensure peace along their border and keep talking on the issue, a senior Chinese diplomat said during the first high-level visit to that country.
It now transpires that China made a deliberate attempt to raise a non-existent border issue with Bhutan to circumvent India’s defence pact with Bhutan. The stand-off in the Doklam plateau, the most serious and prolonged in decades along the disputed Himalayan border, was specifically meant to extend China’s influence to Bhutan.
While China and India subsequently withdrew their troops and have been working hard to mend ties, including with meetings between Chinese President Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two remain deeply suspicious of each other.
Chinese vice foreign minister Kong Xuanyou who ended a three-day visit to land-locked Bhutan on Monday, said his country highly regarded its traditional friendship with Bhutan and would as before respect Bhutan’s independence and sovereignty, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.
China has also invited Bhutan to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and share its “development dividend”, Beijing said on Tuesday, a day after a the Chinese minister visited Thimphu and held talks with the Bhutanese leadership on wide-ranging issues including the disputed border.
The ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) did not confirm it on Tuesday but it is understood that vice-foreign minister Kong Xuanyou discussed the situation along the China-Bhutan-India border in Doklam.
“The two sides exchanged views on China-Bhutan ties, and also the boundary issue, and reached many agreements,” Geng Shuang, MFA spokesperson, said at the regular briefing on Tuesday.
“Both sides should continue to promote border talks, abide by the principles and consensus already reached, and jointly protect peace and tranquillity in the border region to create positive conditions for a final resolution,” the statement cited Kong as saying.
China and Bhutan do not have formal diplomat relations, and China’s ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, accompanied Kong, the ministry added.
It said Kong met Bhutan’s king and government officials.
Bhutan also shares a border and close culture with restive Tibet, one of China’s most sensitive areas.
China has been using all means to wean away India’s influence in neighbouring countries through promises of huge investments in infrastructure projects and financial incentives, and has succeeded to some extent in exerting influence in South Asian countries that have traditionally been close to New Delhi, including Sri Lanka and the Maldives.