Geography plays its part and history its role in popping up the China factor in India-Bhutan relationship. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded a two-day visit in Thimphu, what India is watching out next is the upcoming Bhutan-China boundary talks to be held in Beijing in July.
India is not missing the sense of urgency that drives Beijing’s Bhutan policy. Bhutan remains only neighbour with whom China doesn’t have diplomatic ties. Given that China has robust ties even with all neighbours locked in territorial disputes, its economic ties with Bhutan is nothing to write home about.
The basis of Indian apprehension in the ongoing Bhutan-China boundary talks is its assessment that “China settles all boundary disputes on its own terms”. And Thimpu doesn’t have the leverage to assert itself against a big power. Beijing wants to expand its footprint on Chumbi valley, extending its claims on western border.
Any concession from Bhutan on that will have impact on the Siliguri corridor, India’s gateway to north east. The disputed territory between Bhutan and China also borders both Sikkim and Arunanchal Pradesh. Any compromise on these areas will be very tricky for India, even as indications of Bhutan giving concessions on these areas to settle the dispute in the central part have come in.
One area where the Bhutan-China ties are expanding is in the filed of tourism. There were just 19 Chinese tourists visited Bhutan in 2003. But since 2011, Chinese have become the third largest category of tourists after Japan and the US in Bhutan.