Bhutan Plays Key Role In Indo-China Tension: Thinktank

As relations between India and China sour, the role of Bhutan has become paramount with its internal developments having important implications in terms of how these countries position themselves politically, economically and strategically, a European think tank has said.

In a commentary, European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) said that maintaining and expanding its alliance with Bhutan is going to be of paramount importance for India as it will remain keen to prevent further Chinese incursions into Doklam and Bhutan more generally.

Since the clashes between India and China in the Galwan Vally, both countries have accused each other of violating the status quo in the western Himalayas. This incident resulted in India imposing tariffs on Chinese goods.

Amid this tension, Bhutan, which is often “underappreciated”, plays a strategic role. Owing to its location, economic developments within Bhutan continue to be heavily connected to its bilateral relations with India in particular, EFSAS said.

Bhutan has enjoyed a friendly relationship with India due to cultural, historical, geographical and strategic factors.

“Bhutan relies on the permeability of the Indian border for access to the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean more generally. In recent years, though, Bhutan has sought to deepen its multilateral political integration, and has established its own diplomatic ties with some other countries. Although Bhutan’s diplomatic independence has grown since then, the country does lean on India as a political and diplomatic mediator,” the think tank said.

Meanwhile, Bhutan’s relations with China have been less cordial.

“The 1949 victory of the CCP in the Chinese civil war marked an existential shift in the threat-perception of the Bhutanese monarchy, incentivizing alignment with India. Shared cultural-religious ties, which operate as a decisive variable informing political decision-making in Bhutan, are, despite the heritage shared with Tibet, less pronounced between Bhutan and the Han-dominated China, especially following Tibet’s integration into China,” the EFSAS said.

In July, China made new territorial claims in Bhutan in an emerging Eastern sector surrounding the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary following the India-China border tensions in the Galwan Valley.

The EFSAS has opined that maintaining and expanding its alliance with Bhutan is going to be of paramount importance for India as it will remain keen to prevent further Chinese incursions into Doklam and Bhutan more generally.

It said, “For India, retaining an understanding of the domestic political processes in the adjacent Himalayan countries will be of key relevance in shaping the further political developments of the region in the future. In turn, Bhutan might face growing coercive behavior at the hands of China. This situation, in combination with the growing tensions and pressures in the region, will pose new and distinct challenges to Bhutan’s unique cultural heritage.” (ANI)

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