Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Bhutan-China border issues and Indian concerns

China wants to widen the Chumbi Valley by pressing its claims on Bhutan’s western boundary but that could have implications for IndiaBhutan and China have a border dispute on the northern and western side. In June 2012, they decided to move ahead with the border demarcation talks. This has special pertinence for India, because the western areas of the dispute have a direct bearing on the Siliguri Corridor. The Siliguri Corridor, a vital tri-junction between Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal, is a narrow hub of rail, road and air arteries known as the “Chicken neck,” the narrowest stretch of which is just about 30 km wide. India is vulnerable in this corridor as it is the only access point to the northeast. 

Settling the western border has many advantages for China vis-a-vis India:
  1. The narrow and vulnerable Chumbi valley between India (Sikkim) and Bhutan has a single arterial road and rail-route. So, the lack of space restricts the deployment of troops. The Chinese strategy of claiming areas in western Bhutan is to widen its shoulders to facilitate military manoeuvres in the Chumbi Valley.
  2. The limitation is in restricted deployment space; there is no other place on India’s northern borders which severely limits military manoeuvres as the Chumbi Valley does.
  3. The Siliguri Corridor is about 500 km from the Chumbi Valley.
  4. By settling a dispute with Bhutan,  China would have settled borders with many South-Asian states: Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar-  and put pressure on India for settlement.

In this light, India needs to enhance relations with Bhutan. From 1949 onwards they were governed by a Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship of 1949. Article 2 of the treaty was significant wherein “the Government of Bhutan agrees to be guided by the advice of the Government of India in regard to its external relations.”
However, much has changed. The isolation of Bhutan is a matter of the past. The nation has changed from monarchy to a democratic set-up. Article 2 had been a matter of concern for the Bhutanese so much so that some of them called themselves “half independent.” The 1949 Treaty was revised in 2007. Article 2 was replaced with: “In keeping with the abiding ties of close friendship between Bhutan and India, the Government of the Kingdom of Bhutan and the Government of Republic of India shall cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests. Neither Government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other.” The 2007 Treaty has begun a new era in bilateral cooperation.
Despite the new Article 2, New Delhi will remain Thimpu’s most important friend and a partner. These figures speak for themselves. Bhutan is the largest recipient of Indian development aid and India accounts for a total of 79 per cent of Bhutanese imports and 95 per cent of its exports. India trains the Bhutanese army through the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT), in Bhutan. Simply put, Bhutan’s dependency on India will not match with any other country for many years.
"Dances with Dragons", The Hindu, 21 August 2012. 


  1. The narrow and vulnerable Chumbi valley between India (Sikkim) and Bhutan has a single arterial road and rail-route,which shud be further enhanced by deploying brahmos & agni3 missiles to counter china from tibet.Bhutan’s dependency on India will not match with any other country since it has good tradition ties by growing defence & trade ties.india shud have an airforce based in bhutan.

  2. Thanks laldo for the info on deploying missile systems in the Siliguri Corridor- its a good recommendation to include in our answers, you know to end on a futuristic note.
    - Spurthi