Bhutan hopes to complete the demarcation of territories with China within “one or two meetings”, said Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering in an interview with the Belgian newspaper ‘La Libra’ in Brussels.
Prime minister Tshering also said that Bhutan is watching whether India and China could resolve their boundary issues as he hoped to discuss the issue over the Doklam trijunction.
PM Lotay Tshering’s interview raised concerns for India amid China-Bhutan talks over the status of the Doklam trijunction. Bhutan and China are engaged in a series of talks to resolve the border dispute. The interview hints at the settlement between them. However, it raises questions about whether Bhutan agreed to a settlement of the disputed Bhutanese territory to the north while ceding parts of the Doklam plateau. In such a case, it will pose a very difficult situation for India.
Bhutan and China have disputes in Jakarlung and Pasamlung Valleys on the northern boundary of Bhutan. Doklam which lies on the western front is around 270 square km while the northern boundary dispute areas measure nearly 500 square km.
The Crisis unfolding
In 2017, soldiers of the Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) faced off against each other which sparked fears of violent confrontation. In a blatant posture, China began to construct a road in the direction of Mount Gipmochi and adjoining hill areas around Doklam. Indian troops entered the Doklam plateau to stop China from extending a road which was clearly marked as a -construction zone until the dispute is settled.
The months-long border standoff between China and India on the Doklam plateau lasted for nearly two and a half months.
The palpable tension was diffused days before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
For a long time, the tri-junction point, as reflected in international maps, lies at a place called Batang La. China’s Chumbi Valley lies to the north of Batang La, Bhutan to the south and east and the Indian state of Sikkim to the west.
The area of Doklam is of great strategic significance to India, China, and Bhutan. China has been aggressive for Doklam as it could control Chumbi Valley and transport war machinery to the border with India, giving them an upper hand over the Siliguri Corridor.
The negotiations to resolve the border dispute concerning the Doklam between China and Bhutan started in 1972 but remain unsolved. The tri-junction of Doklam at Batang La was never demarcated.
China wants the tri-junction to be moved around seven kilometres south of Batang La to a peak named Mount Gipmochi. If that happens, the entire Doklam plateau would legally become a part of China.
In 2012, China agreed to maintain the status quo at border tri-junctions such as Doklam where all three nations are involved.
According to the treaty in 1890, under the Sikkim-Tibet boundary treaty, along the high mountain pass 14,300 feet, Mount Gipmochi was marked as an area which divides the Tibet and Sikkim territories. In 1904, the British captured Tibet and in a 1906 treaty, they handed over the Chumbi valley to Tibet. The Chumbi valley touches the north of the Doklam plateau at Batang La.
Lt Gen Bhatt (Retd) who served as Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) in 2017 when the Indian army carried out extensive operations in the Doklam crisis along the Bhutan border and the Line of Actual Control explained the Chinese strategy. He said, “China wants to test India’s resolve and test what we will allow them to do and keep the LAC active.”
“It is becoming more powerful both economically and it is growing up and it wants to exert on its periphery,” Gen Bhatt said.
Bhutanese prime minister’s remarks reflect the urgency and concerns for India as if Bhutan cedes any part of the Doklam region in talks with China as experts point out.