Home Asia Amidst the Ladakh Standoff, China Expands its Border Issues with Bhutan

Amidst the Ladakh Standoff, China Expands its Border Issues with Bhutan



China’s most recent border-related issue came to the fore when it averred that a part of the eastern Bhutan came under the disputed areas of contested territories between the two nations. The matter was raised in the online meeting of the 58th Global Environmental Facility (GEF) Council  (a US-based global funding body for environmental projects), earlier this June. China had opposing views regarding the funding of Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Bhutan’s Trashigang district. Beijing claimed that the project came under the disputed territory area of the China-Bhutan border, hence the development of the sanctuary should not be initiated there. To Beijing’s controversial affirmation, Thimphu responded staunchly that Sakteng has always been Bhutans’  “integral and sovereign territory.”

the Council member for the Constituency of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, Aparna Subramani said that the sanctuary region, located in the easternmost part of Bhutan and spread over 650 sq km, had never featured as a disputed area in the history of border-related talks between China and Bhutan. The past data reveals that China and Bhutan have had 24 rounds of border deliberations and talks between 1984 and 2016. The talks bear testimony to the fact that only two areas of Bhutan have consistently featured in the discussions, them being the north and the west. Mr. V.P. Haran, the former Indian Ambassador to Bhutan informed the Indian Express that “there is a dispute in only two segments of the border: in the north – Pasamlung and Jakarlung, and in the west – Doklam and some adjoining areas to the east.”

Since the two countries do not have each other’s embassies in either of the countries, all communication between them is routed through their respective embassies in New Delhi. Thimphu conveyed its dissent to Beijing via New Delhi and said that if China raises this issue in future border talks, it will strongly oppose the same. Bhutan and China haven’t had any talks over disputed territories since , 2017 when the Doklam issue lined up for further discussion was delayed first due to issues in scheduling and then owing to the pandemic. China’s abrupt but prevalent expansion of disputed border claims has been an ongoing trend, with the recent Ladakh standoff as the latest example. It is also being speculated that since Bhutan’s eastern part has proximity to Arunachal Pradesh, China’s claim of Arunachal being an entry point to south Tibet could be Beijing’s claim regarding Sakteng. Meanwhile, the GEF has rejected China’s claims and taken into account Bhutan;s contestations and agreed to the funding of the sanctuary project.