The China-Bhutan Border Deal Should Worry India

Foreign phrases frequently communicate ideas that would ordinarily be difficult to translate. Fait accompli is a French phrase that refers to something that has already occurred, leaving the concerned party with no choice but to embrace it.

The October 14 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Bhutan and China fulfils this definition. The Memorandum Of Understanding outlines a three-step plan for resolving the China-Bhutan border dispute. However, China has either seized or is in the middle of invading most of Bhutan's claimed territory. The Memorandum of Understanding will merely dress up the eventual result, which is already a fait accompli.

The whole 477-kilometer Bhutan-China border, such as the Sino-Indian boundary, is contentious. Three locations in western Bhutan, notably Doklam, three regions in the north, and a constant reminder of its right to a huge portion of eastern Bhutan in June 2020 are all important Chinese demands.

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China has been pushing a packaged proposal since the seventh round of frontier discussions in 1990, in which it might relinquish its northern interests totalling 495 sq km in consideration for Bhutan conceding to China's western demands, which include 89 sq km of Doklam.

This was due to two factors. Firstly, gaining terrain in the west might work to broaden the Chumbi Valley, which is narrow and strategically important, and secondly, gaining Doklam might give it a strategic superiority against India. The Doklam region is not strategically vital for Bhutan, however, it is for India because it leads the Chinese to the Zompelri mountain, which provides them with a magnificent sight of India's northeastern jugular, also referred to as the Siliguri Corridor.

The Bhutanese seemed inclined to capitulate to the Chinese by the tenth round of talks in 1995. Bhutan, however, backed off when the two sides met for the 11th round in November 1996, and most of them feel India had a hand in this. As a result, in 1998, China and Bhutan agreed to block the boundary as of 1998, pending additional negotiations.

Discussions proceeded, but so was Chinese incursion into the disputed land through the use of graziers and infrastructure such as roads. In 2016, immediately before the Doklam incident in June 2017, a round of border and specialist group meetings took place. This was sparked by an Indian freeze on Bhutanese territory claims China, which was preventing the latter from constructing a several-kilometre road to a Royal Bhutan Army base on Zompelri ridge.

However, Beijing amplified its efforts to entrench itself in the Doklam plateau shortly after India and China agreed to disengage after August 2017. It merely changed its course to the ridge and started a large military construction project that included personnel barracks and helipads. In Bhutanese territory, China also began construction of a model hamlet on the Mochu River and a road snaking south into India. Bhutanese people have been silent observers, while New Delhi has opted to turn a blind eye.

However, recent events imply that Bhutan believes there are limitations to how much it can rely on India for protection.

New Delhi is doubtful to have much of an assistance to Bhutan, given its difficulties along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). A stabilized border, on the other hand, might bring a slew of advantages, notably Chinese investors and tourism.