China | Diplomacy | 09th February 2022 | Virtual Wire
China, ‘The bully of the East’, has adopted a policy of expansion and encroachment near India-Bhutan’s border.
After the 1978 Chinese economic reform, China has become one of the largest economies of the world, simultaneously trying to grow at its physical side by engaging in land, water and island border disputes with its 14 neighbouring countries in a raw manner. India is no exception in China’s list of expansion policies. However, due to COVID-19, China has been criticized by various international organisations, forcing it to deploy a subtle policy of illegal occupation in neighbouring countries (Nepal and Bhutan), while not engaging directly with India (described as ''salami-slicing'' by India's late Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat).
Since the 2017 war against India, Beijing has already strengthened its de facto control over the Doklam plateau, located in an ideal location near the India-China-Bhutan trijunction. Aside from the remote area where India was opposed to the construction of a road that would push the triangular area to the south, China has deepened its presence elsewhere on a large part of the plateau and faced little opposition from Bhutan in doing so. China has built a village of about eight Kilometres deep in Bhutan’s territory with 66 miles of road, a hydropower station, communist party centres, disaster relief warehouse, military outposts, satellite station and 6 security sites. Recently, the satellite images show further construction of two interconnected villages, 30km away from Doklam Plateau (connecting to China’s G204 highway.
It is trying to gain some leverage over India to show India's eyes and be a bully, evident from the Indo-China Galvan clash. The plateau located, on the India-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction, provides a controlling view of the Chumbi district. India, with help of Bhutan, has a greater local advantage than China in this area. However, If China were to control the Doklam Plateau, it will provide it with an offensive launch site in the Rangpo River valley near Kalimpong and threaten the Siliguri Corridor, a troubled Indian regional link in its northeast.
China has also laid claim over Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, a 650-square-mile area located in the Bhutan province of Trashigang. Its strategic location is located near Arunachal Pradesh, where China holds about 90,000 sq km from the Indian subcontinent. Tawang, the main source of conflict between India and China in the eastern part of their border dispute, lies to the northeast of the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary. If China manages these, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) can easily sweep the plains of Brahmaputra in the northeast as it did during the 1962 war.
Thus, China is using its military and economic power to influence Bhutan and through it make a roadway to India. Its subtle policy of intrusion is visible through its various road projects surrounding India. Closed Bhutan is China's only neighbour without relations with Beijing, and the Himalayan government officially allowed India to "regulate" its foreign policy until the two signed a new friendly agreement in 2007. General security, driven by geography and geopolitics, remains the backbone of India-Bhutan relations. In the midst of a hostile China, both countries need better understanding and cooperation now than ever before in order to protect their long-term national interests.