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India treating Bhutan as ‘protectorate’, says Chinese commentary

India's alleged influence in the recent elections in Bhutan has angered Beijing

August 05, 2013 12:08 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 08:57 pm IST - BEIJING:

A commentary published on Monday by a Chinese tabloid known for its hard-line views has hit out at India for “interfering” in >Bhutan’s recent elections and attempting to prevent the recently developing ties between Thimphu and Beijing.

The article, penned by Liu Zongyi, a scholar of strategic affairs at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS), a well-known think-tank, suggested that New Delhi may have sought to influence the outcome in the recent election on account of its anxiety over China’s recent overtures to Bhutan.

Last year, the then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said, in his first ever meeting with his Bhutanese counterpart, that China was ready to open diplomatic ties with Bhutan and solve their border disputes.

Following Mr. Wen’s meeting in 2012 with the former Prime Minister Jigme Thinley, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying travelled to Thimphu last August. The two meetings - marking the highest-level diplomatic engagement seen between the two countries - appeared aimed at accelerating steps to establish diplomatic ties.

Monday’s commentary, however, argued that “India won’t allow Bhutan to freely engage in diplomacy with China and solve the border issue”. The article was published by the Communist Party-run tabloid the Global Times , which is known for its nationalistic views and does not, according to Chinese officials, reflect government policy, Mr. Liu, the author of the commentary, suggested that India had pressured Bhutan to not engage with China, even claiming that “former

Indian ambassador to Bhutan Pavan K. Varma was forced to resign due to his failure to prevent Bhutan developing relations with China”.

“New ambassador V.P. Haran, who used to be the acting ambassador to Nepal and was keen on practicing a carrot-and-stick policy, has played a big role in the PDP’s latest victory in Bhutan," he claimed. "The > withdrawal of subsidies before Bhutan’s elections reflected that India never gives up its power politics where it doesn’t need to,” Mr. Liu added, describing “Indian influence on Bhutan’s elections” as “a tragedy for Thimphu”.

Mr. Liu noted that Bhutan had been looking to diversify its diplomatic engagement and reduce its reliance on India. He said it had also recently “made significant progress in border negotiations with China through active diplomacy”.

“As its largest trade partner, assistance provider and creditor, India controls the whole oil consumption of Bhutan and nearly 90 percent of the country's hydropower development,” he said. “Bhutan’s leadership was worried about this abnormal relationship, and was afraid that Bhutan would be annexed by India some day. In 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced he would drop the ruling element of the monarchy when the country realised democratic elections in 2008, hoping to gain greater legitimacy”.

“Bhutan is still firmly under Indian control,” Mr. Liu concluded. “In the 21st century, when concepts like ‘protectorates’ and ‘client states’ are outdated, the India-Bhutan relationship seems to be rather unique”.

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