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SPECIAL: Bhutan – China Relations

Sino-Bhutan Rapprochement?

The meeting of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley at the sidelines of the Rio +20 summit on 21 June 2012, forcefully brought one of the most sensitive and contentious issues of Bhutanese foreign policy back into the limelight. Not only does Bhutan have no formal diplomatic relations with its giant neighbour, there is also looming a still unresolved border dispute between the two countries, which, as if the issue alone wouldn’t be touchy enough, does also concern the security scenario of Bhutan’s second neighbour and closest friend, India.

This page tries to put together a conclusive picture of the issue’s salience by providing for official announcements, news articles, opinion pieces and scientific analysis from as many sources as possible. If you happen to come along an informative article on the issue that hasn’t been posted here, please contact Bhutan Research so that it can be added.

Official Press Release by the Cabinet Secretariat of the Royal Government of Bhutan, 21 June 2012: “Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Rio De Janeiro today (June 21) on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Summit. The meeting carries great historic significance as it marks the first meeting between the heads of the two governments. They discussed bilateral issues of mutual interest and multilateral cooperation including Bhutan’s bid for a non permanent seat on UN Security Council for the term 2013-2014, elections for which are to be held in fall this year.” Source

Official Press Release by the Government of the Peoples Republic of China, 22 June 2012: “Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his Bhutanese counterpart, Jigmi Y. Thinley, on Thursday expressed willingness to establish formal diplomatic ties between their countries. The two leaders met here on the sidelines of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, known as the Rio+20 summit, which started Wednesday afternoon. Wen said China highly appreciates Bhutan’s staunch support of China’s position on issues concerning Taiwan and Tibet. China, Wen said, also values the traditional friendship between the two nations and respects Bhutan’s choice for its development path according to its own national conditions. Noting that China pursues a foreign policy of good-neighborliness, Wen said China is ready to forge formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Meanwhile, Wen said, China is willing to complete border demarcation with Bhutan at an early date and strengthen exchanges in various fields so as to push bilateral ties to a higher level. For his part, Thinley said his talks with Wen carry great historic significance as it marks the first meeting between the heads of the two governments. The Bhutanese, he said, highly appreciate China’s endeavor to safeguard the common interests of developing countries in international and regional affairs. Bhutan firmly sticks to a one-China policy and has strong desire to strengthen understanding of and friendship with China, Thinley said. He confirmed that Bhutan wishes to forge formal diplomatic ties with China as soon as possible. Bhutan is willing to settle border issues with China in an cooperative manner, enhance bilateral economic and trade cooperation and people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and carry out close communication and coordination in international and regional affairs, said Thinley.” Source

Official Press Release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Peoples Republic of China, 22 June 2012: ”On June 21, 2012, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met with his Bhutanese counterpart, Jigmi Y. Thinley, in Rio de Janeiro.
Wen said China and Bhutan, as neighbors linked by mountains and rivers, enjoy time-honored ties in history and culture and have maintained friendly exchanges. Wen said China highly appreciates Bhutan’s staunch support of China’s position on major issues concerning Taiwan and Tibet. China, Wen said, also values the traditional friendship between the two nations and respects Bhutan’s choice for its development path according to its own national conditions. Noting that China pursues a foreign policy of building a good-neighborly relationship and partnership with its neighbors, Wen said China is ready to forge formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Meanwhile, Wen said, China is willing to complete border demarcation with Bhutan at an early date and strengthen exchanges in various fields so as to push bilateral ties to a higher level.For his part, Thinley said his talks with Wen carry great historic significance as it marks the first meeting between the heads of the two governments. The Bhutanese, he said, admire the great achievements China has made and highly appreciate China’s endeavor to safeguard the common interests of developing countries in international and regional affairs. Bhutan firmly sticks to the one-China policy and has strong desire to strengthen understanding of and friendship with China, Thinley said. He confirmed that Bhutan wishes to forge formal diplomatic ties with China as soon as possible. Bhutan is willing to settle border issues with China in a cooperative manner, enhance bilateral economic and trade cooperation and people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and carry out close communication and coordination in international and regional affairs, said Thinley.” Source

Official Press Release by the Cabinet Secretariat of the Royal Government of Bhutan, 09 August 2012: “Vice Foreign Minister of China Ms Fu Ying, who arrived in the country today leading an eight-member delegation for the 20th round of boundary talks,called on the Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley at the Gyalyong Tshogkhang today.
The boundary talks between Bhutan and the government of the People’s Republic of China is scheduled in the capital tomorrow. Lyonchhen welcomed Vice Foreign Minister Ms Fu Ying on her first visit to Bhutan. He also conveyed heartfelt condolences from the people and the royal government of Bhutan on the aftermath of heavy rainfall and loss to lives and properties in China. Lyonchhen also expressed his admiration on the extent with which China has been able to lower its poverty level.Vice Foreign Minister spoke of GNH and said that Bhutan’s development model of GNH is increasingly becoming opular and admired in China. Lyonchhen and Vice Foreign Minister also spoke on several other matters of mutual interest. Economic affairs minister, who is also the minister-in-charge of foreign affairs, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, International boundaries secretary Dasho Pema Wangchu and foreign secretary Yeshey Dorji were also present at the meeting. Source

The Bhutanese, 22 June 2012

Prime Minister meets Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao — According to a Press Release issued by the Prime Minister’s office, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley met the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on 21st June 2012 at the sidelines of the Rio summit. The release from the Prime Minister’s office said, “The meeting carries great historic significance as it marks the first meeting between the heads of the two governments.” It also said “They discussed bilateral issues of mutual interest and multilateral cooperation including Bhutan’s bid for a non permanent seat on UN Security Council for the term 2013-2014, elections for which are to be held in fall this year.” According to a host of international news reports which included prominent Chinese and Indian news agencies Wen Jiabao and Prime Minister, Jigmi Y Thinley on Thursday are reported to have expressed willingness to establish formal diplomatic ties between the two countries. The news reports were flashed widely on numerous prominent media outlets especially in India and China generating interest among foreign policy watchers in both the giant  neighbors of Bhutan.

Kuensel Online, 03 July 2012

Bhutan’s relations with its giant neighbours — Bhutan needs an independent institution, a think tank, that can do “critical thinking” about the country, it’s foreign policy or international status, among others. This was highlighted during a presentation professor Dibyesh Anand of London’s Westminster University, an expert on China-India relations, made yesterday in Thimphu, while sharing a perspective on Indo-Bhutan friendship. Talking to a gathering of civil servants, media personnel, and private individuals, he said Bhutan needed to do more on creating an independent kind of knowledge on the country’s relationship with its neighbours.

Kuensel Online, 04 July 2012

Taking relations to the next level? — China proposed to establish diplomatic relations with Bhutan, when Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley and the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met for the first time in Rio De Janeiro on June 21, on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Summit, international media reported. During the meeting, the Chinese premier also spoke of resolving the boundary issue and accelerating trade and visits, such as pilgrimage, between the two countries. Last year, 2,896 Chinese tourists visited Bhutan, the Bhutan tourism monitor reported. Bhutanese have also been importing directly from China home furnishings, construction materials, vehicles and other consumer items.

The Bhutanese, 06 July 2012

When the Raven met the Dragon — There has been a flurry of international and national discussions on the purported news of the move towards establishment of diplomatic relations between Bhutan and China. This was based on supposed statements by the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lyonchhen Jigme Y Thinley and the Premier of China, Wen Jiabo when they had met along the sidelines of the Rio+20 summit. The maximum news coverage of the meeting is visible in Indian and Chinese news agencies, reporting without having checked with the Royal Government of Bhutan on the actual interpretation or details of the statements.

Business Bhutan, 09 July 2012

China, India and a country ‘in between’ — The 1864 Duar War, after which Bhutan ceded 18 of its most fertile Duar plains to British India, wasn’t just necessarily a reaction to Bhutanese aggression. It was a calculated move. That’s what Professor DrDibyeshAnand, an expert on China-India relations at Westminster University in London, UK, believes. Speaking on Indo-Bhutan relation vis-à-vis China at an open discussion forum organized by the Center for Bhutan Studies early this week, Dr. Anand said the taking over of the Duars was part of the bigger scheme of British expansion policy and imperialism.

Kuensel Online, 08 August 2012

Sino-Bhutan boundary talks — The 20th round of boundary talks with the government of the People’s Republic of China is scheduled for August 10 in the capital. The vice minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms Fu Ying, will be leading an eight-member delegation from the People’s Republic of China, who are expected to arrive in the capital on August 9. Economic affairs minister, who is also the minister-in-charge of foreign affairs Khandu Wangchuk will lead the Bhutanese delegation for the boundary talks. International boundaries secretary Dasho Pema Wangchuk, foreign secretary Yeshey Dorji and officials from the foreign affairs ministry and International Boundaries Secretariat will also be present at the talk.

Kuensel Online, 09 August 2012

It is time for China and Bhutan to build bridges of friendship and cooperation — It is a great pleasure for me to make my first ever visit to the Kingdom of Bhutan, a member of the big Asian family, known around the world for its beautiful landscape, rich cultural heritage and friendly people. As Bhutan’s biggest neighbor, we are glad to see Bhutan enjoying economic growth, social stability and rising international standing under the leadership of His Majesty the King and the Royal Government of Bhutan. And many more Chinese people got an opportunity to know Bhutan better last year through the Royal wedding, which was widely reported in China. Bhutan set a new image for itself as a dynamic, promising and happy Kingdom.

BBS, 09 August 2012

20th Bhutan-China border talks tomorrow — The Vice Foreign Minister of China, Ms. Fu Ying arrived in the country this morning leading an eight-member delegation for the 20th round of boundary talks. The boundary talks will be held tomorrow. The delegation called on the Prime Minister, Jigmi Y Thinley, at the Gyalyong Tshogkhang. Lyonchhoen welcomed minister on her first visit to Bhutan. On behalf of the Bhutanese government and the people, Lyonchhoen conveyed condolences for the recent loss of lives and properties in China caused by heavy rainfall. Lyonchhoen also expressed his admiration on the extent to which China has been able to lower its poverty level.

BBS, 10 August 2012

Bhutan and China reaffirms commitment to resolve boundary issue — During the 20th Round of Boundary Talks between Bhutan and China held in the capital today, both the countries reaffirmed their commitment to resolve boundary issue at the earliest. The delegations from both the countries reaffirmed their commitment through mutual consultation, understanding and accommodation on the basis of the Four Guiding Principles. The principles were agreed upon in 1988 and 1998 under the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility in the Bhutan-China border areas. The Bhutanese delegation was led by the Minister in-charge for Foreign Affairs, Khandu Wangchuk. The delegation members included the Secretary of the International Boundaries, Dasho Pema Wangchuk and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Boundaries Secretariat.

Kuensel Online, 10 August 2012

Warming up to our north — There has been so much speculation by foreign policy hawks on Sino-Bhutan relations and Indo-Bhutan relations ever since the Bhutanese prime minister met the Chinese premier on the sidelines of the Rio Summit on June 21 this year. But the meeting was historic, because it was the first time ever the heads of the two countries had formally met. Otherwise, official meetings between the two countries have always centred on border talks. The 20th one in the past 28 years., is to take place today in Thimphu. The vice foreign minister, Fu Ying, who is leading the Chinese delegation to the talks, has explicitly expressed China’s desire to “build bridges of friendship and cooperation” with Bhutan. This has expectedly excited a certain section of the Bhutanese populace, who are eager to explore beyond the northern boundaries offered by the mighty Himalayas.

The Bhutanese, 10 August 2012

PM meets Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister — The Vice Foreign Minister of China Ms Fu Ying, who lead an eight-member delegation for the 20th round of boundary talks, called on the Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley at the Gyalyong Tshokhang last Thursday. The boundary talks between Bhutan and the government of the People’s Republic of China was held yesterday in Thimphu. The Bhutanese delegation lead by the economic affairs minister Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk represented Bhutan for the meet. The third Expert Group Meeting (EGM) in Beijing in July 2010 and an informal meeting of the expert group in Hongkong in November 2011 were held after the last round of boundary talks held in Thimphu in January 2010.

Kuensel Online, 11 August 2012

Same old same old — Like the boundary talks that preceded it, the 20th round of boundary talks that was held yesterday between Bhutan and China yielded no resolve with regards the disputed areas between the two nations. A news release from the foreign ministry stated the delegates representing the two nations at the discussions expressed satisfaction with the talks, and reaffirmed their commitment to resolve the boundary issues at the earliest. “The talks were held in a warm and friendly atmosphere,” the news release said. “It’ll provide the opportunity for the two nations to better understand each other’s positions, which will facilitate in arriving an early and just settlement of the boundary issues.”

Business Bhutan, 11 August 2012

Round 20: Bhutan and China agree to resolve boundary issues at the earliest — The 20th round of boundary talks between Bhutan and the government of the Peoples’ Republic of China, held yesterday in Thimphu, was more or less a repetition of many such meetings between the two countries. Both the governments agreed to resolve the boundary issues at the earliest that has dragged on since 1984. This will be done through mutual consultation, understanding and accommodation on the basis of the Four Guiding Principles agreed to in 1988 and the 1998 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility in the Bhutan China Border Areas. The disputed areas comprise four pastures of Doklam, Charithang, Sinchulumpa and Dramana.

A catch-22 foreign policy situation for Bhutan — The Chinese government has made its intention very clear. It wants to not only swiftly bring an end to the longstanding boundary issues between the two countries but also forge formal diplomatic ties and trade relations with Bhutan. In effect, China has already extended its hand of friendship toward Bhutan. Should we take it, refuse it, or just procrastinate the friendship deal with the northern neighbor? Although the choice is still ours, this is a nagging question that irks but deserves an answer as well. Or even more, it begs for critical perspectives on how Bhutan should tread its foreign policy affairs with China vis-à-vis India. In all its certainty, China’s show of gregariousness and camaraderie has jolted Bhutan out of its comfort zone. For one, it’s a tricky foreign policy situation for the country. And either ways – whether we choose to embrace China as a comrade or kindly refuse the offer – there is too much at stake.

India Today, 24 May 2012

Dragon tries to spread influence in India’s backyard — Beijing is now trying to enter India’s strategic backyard with a vengeance which has rung alarm bells in South Block and is ramping up its pearl of strings strategy to encircle India, according to a report accessed by Headlines Today, compiled by the intelligence agencies sent to the Foreign Office. China is ramping up its strategy to increase influence in India’s neighbour hood. Late last month, former Chinese Envoy to India Zhou Gang was sent as the special envoy of the Chinese government to Thimphu and he met the 4th King of Bhutan and senior government officials. The Chinese Envoy told his interlocutors that if Thimphu wants to settle the boundary dispute with China it should allow Beijing to open a diplomatic mission in Bhutan. For long India has resisted attempts to influence Bhutan by countries like China which wants to dominate the country’s affairs that is a strategic buffer between India and China.

The Hindu, 22 June 2012

China, Bhutan ‘ready’ to establish diplomatic ties — Chinese and Bhutanese leaders have expressed willingness to establish formal diplomatic ties following a first-ever meeting between the heads of government of the two countries on Thursday, Chinese State media reported. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao held his first meeting with Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley on Thursday in Rio de Janeiro, on the sidelines of the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. Bhutan, which neighbours both India and China, does not have diplomatic ties with Beijing, although it has held 19 rounds of talks over a border dispute that has strained relations between the two countries. Thursday’s meeting marked the first instance of a statement from the heads of both governments indicating the two countries were willing to establish diplomatic relations. Mr. Wen told his counterpart “China is ready to forge formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence,” the State-run Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

The Indian Express, 22 June 2012

China, Bhutan want to establish diplomatic ties — Meeting for the first time, Prime Ministers of China and Bhutan have expressed their willingness to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries and discussed measures to resolve border dispute.  Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his Bhutanese counterpart Jigmi Y Thinley had a surprise meeting on the sidelines of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development at Rio de Janeiro yesterday and expressed desire to establish diplomatic relations between the two neighbouring countries. Thinley said his talks with Wen carry great historic significance as it marks the first meeting between the top leaders of the two governments, Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying.

Outlook India, 22 June 2012

China, Bhutan Agree to Establish Diplomatic Ties — Meeting for the first time, Prime Ministers of China and Bhutan have agreed to establish diplomatic relations and resolve their border dispute. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his Bhutanese counterpart Jigmi Y Thinley had a surprise meeting on the sidelines of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development at Rio de Janeiro yesterday during which both the leaders expressed desire to establish diplomatic relations. Thinley said his talks with Wen carry great historic significance as it marks the first meeting between the top leaders of the two governments, Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying. Wen told Thinley that China values the traditional friendship between the two nations and respects Bhutan’s choice for its developmental path according to its own national conditions.

The Times of India, 23 June 2012

China’s coziness with Bhutan rings security alarm for India — India confronts a new strategic situation in its neighborhood as its staunchest ally Bhutan prepares to establish full diplomatic ties with China. Until now, Bhutan had been the only South Asian country where China did not have a presence. That is about to change.  After a surprise meeting between Bhutanese PM, Jigme Y Thinley and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the Rio+20 summit in Brazil, the two countries reportedly discussed ways to resolve their border dispute. While Bhutan and China have had a long dialogue on the border dispute, India would be interested in the contours of any resolution as it would have huge implications for its strategic calculations in the region.

The Telegraph, 24 June 2012

Bhutan’s China ties get India nod — A move by Beijing and Thimphu to work towards establishing diplomatic ties has come with a quiet nod from New Delhi, which views a resolution of the Bhutan-China border dispute in its interest. The Prime Ministers of China and Bhutan met for the first time on Thursday on the sidelines of the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro. Wen Jiabao and Jigmi Y. Thinley agreed their countries should establish diplomatic ties and discussed the border dispute. Ordinarily, the development should have alarmed South Block because Bhutan is India’s closest ally, but sources here said the development had come with India’s knowledge and approval. Bhutan-China relations have remained strained because of the dispute over their 470km border, which 19 rounds of talks have failed to solve, and because of Thimphu’s close ties with New Delhi.

The Hindu, 26 June 2012

Bhutan’s move reflects maturing Sino-Indian ties — Bhutan’s willingness to establish diplomatic ties with China, expressed by Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley last week during the first ever meeting with his Chinese counterpart, has been seen here as reflecting maturing Sino-Indian ties. Analysts perceive New Delhi’s assumed tacit support for the move as heralding a new approach to regional diplomacy. The heads of government of Bhutan and China held their first ever meeting on Thursday on the sidelines of the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil. During the meeting with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Mr. Thinley said Bhutan “wishes to forge formal diplomatic ties with China as soon as possible”.

The Indian Express, 28 June 2012

Bhutan Buffer — Bhutan’s reported decision to establish diplomatic relations with China marks an end to the system of buffer states that the British Raj had created in the 19th century to secure the subcontinent against encroachments from external powers. Although the government of Bhutan has not confirmed these reports, which have all emanated from the Chinese side, there is no denying Thimphu’s growing interest in the normalisation of relations with Beijing.  The Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Y. Thinley had apparently told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of a recent international summit in Brazil that Thimphu is ready to forge diplomatic ties with China. Pleased with the diplomatic breakthrough, Wen, according to the Chinese media, has offered to “complete border demarcation with Bhutan at an early date”.

Daily News & Analysis, 06 July 2012

India frets as Bhutan falls in China Teacup — News of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao meeting his Bhutanese counterpart Jigme Yoser Thinley, on the sidelines of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development at Rio de Janeiro last month, grabbed considerable attention in India. The Chinese state-owned Global Times announced that the Bhutanese leader had expressed willingness to establish diplomatic ties with China. While the news was later denied by the Bhutanese, there are a number of issues that the incident raises about India’s relations with its smaller neighbours and specifically with Bhutan and China. It would appear that neither New Delhi nor ordinary Indians pay much attention to their smaller neighbours unless the Chinese get involved. Why are Bhutan’s relations with China of such importance to India? The tiny Himalayan constitutional monarchy happens to be the only other country besides India that has a land boundary dispute with China. While Bhutan and China began direct negotiations on the boundary dispute in 1984, they are yet to establish full diplomatic relations, thwarted so far by Indian pressure on the Himalayan nation.

Daily News & Analysis, 14 July 2012

Is Bhutan moving away from Delhi… towards Beijing? — With the increasing democratisation, communists consolidating their position, coupled with “sub-standard” works of Indian contractors, is costing India its long-term and the closest ally in South Asia. The tiny Himalayan nation Bhutan is increasing moving away from it. A joint study conducted by the ministry of external affairs and Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, released here on Friday by foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai discusses a potential shift in Bhutan’s foreign policy, having far reaching impact on India’s strategic and political interests.

India TV, 12 August 2012

China demands removal of Indian bunkers from Sikkim-Bhutan border — China has demanded removal of Indian army bunkers located at the trijunction of India-Bhutan-China borders, India has rejected the demand, sources said. China has also demanded access to the Fingerpoint area at the northernmost point of Sikkim for its soldiers. This demand, too, has been rejected by India, sources said. Of late, China has been flexing its military muscle right at India’s doorstep for quite sometime now. And, it is getting more aggressive. According to Eurasia Review, China considers Bhutan as one of five fingers of the palm, which is Tibet. China considers Tibet as the ‘palm consisting of five fingers policy’ namely, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. China has always been keen on exercising its dominance on ‘periphery countries’ (zhoubian goujia). The peripheral policy forms the core of China’s external strategy.

The Times of India, 13 August 2012

Bhutan seeks China’s help for a seat at UN high table — Bhutan has sought China’s support for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council for the term 2013-14. This was revealed by the Bhutanese government after its leaders held border talks with a visiting Chinese delegation in Thimphu on Friday. “The talks were held in a warm and friendly atmosphere,” the Bhutanese foreign ministry said in a statement. “It will provide the opportunity for the two nations to better understand each other’s positions, which will facilitate an early and just settlement of the boundary issues.” The meeting discussed Bhutan’s aspiration to serve as a non-permanent member of UNSC, elections for which are scheduled for October this year, said Bhutan’s leading English daily, Kuensel.

Below you can find a number of recent as well as older research and analysis articles on Sino-Bhutan relations and Bhutan’s foreign policy.

Bisht, Medha (2012), ‘Chinese Inroads into Bhutan: Diplomatic Gimmick or Strategic Reality?’, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, IDSA Comment published 14 August 2012. Click here to read the complete article.

The past few months have been an exciting phase in Bhutan’s foreign policy. Some political analysts are questioning Bhutan’s resistance to establishing diplomatic ties with China, while others have asserted publicly that Bhutan-China relations are inevitable and would become a diplomatic reality in the years to come. Amidst these competing voices, Bhutan, for its part, has officially maintained silence over the issue. An obvious pointer to this was the way Bhutan chose silence in the wake of media reports in China and India about the interaction on developing Sino-Bhutan relations between the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Thinley at the sidelines of the Rio+20 summit. Significantly, the official mouth piece of Bhutan, The Kuensel, totally ignored the issue. However, a popular daily, The Bhutanese, mentioned categorically, on the basis of a Press Release issued by the Prime Minister’s office, that the “local Chinese media had misreported that Bhutan and China will establish diplomatic ties.”

Singh, Teshu (2012), ‘Sino-Bhutan Relations: Implications for Indian Security’, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Article No. 3692. Click here to read the complete article.

In a historic congregation Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his Bhutanese counterpart Mr. Jigmi Y. Thinley held their first meeting on the sidelines of United Nation Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil. The meeting has raised few questions as to why is China interested in Bhutan, especially now despite the long impending boundary dispute. Why has there been a strategic shift in Bhutan’s foreign policy? What are the overall implications of this development on Indian security?

Adhikari, Indra (2012), ‘When the small dragon met the big one’, published by IPA Journal, 30 July 2012. Click here to read the complete article.

The meeting between Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley of Bhutan and Premier Wen Jiabao of China on 21 June 2012, on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil, sprung a surprise for most India-Bhutan-China watchers. It stirred the calm waters of Bhutan-India relations.With headlines like ‘China’s coziness with Bhutan rings security alarm for India’, the Indian media spread such panic that many Indians thought Bhutan was on the verge of severing its old ties with India for a new romance with China. Security analysts and strategists reviewed the Chumbi Valley triangle, saying this was the first bold move by the Bhutanese government after the signing of the revised Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty in February 2007.This write-up tries to analyse the meeting of the two dragons in a broader perspective of India-Bhutan-China relationship.

Arora, Vishal (2011), ‘Bhutan plays it safe with neighbors‘, published by Asia Times Online, 16 September 2011. Click here to read the complete article.

Three years into power, the first democratic government of Bhutan is treading cautiously as it leads the tiny land-locked Himalayan kingdom tucked between the two Asian rivals, India and China. Thimphu’s geopolitical concerns seem to be a key component of its foreign relations as well as domestic policy. “Our policy is that even though we do not as yet have formal diplomatic relations with most countries in the world, we establish and develop the friendliest of relations,” Prime Minister Jigmi Yoser Thinley told Asia Times Online. Bhutan is the only country in South Asia that has never made an attempt to counterbalance New Delhi’s influence by giving a foothold to China. While Thimphu does not have diplomatic relations with China, it does not provoke Beijing either.

Bisht, Medha (2010), ‘Sino-Bhutan Boundary Negotiations: Complexities of the ‘Package Deal’’, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, IDSA Comment published 19 January 2010. Click here to read the complete article.

China and Bhutan completed the nineteenth round of boundary talks on January 13, 2010. The parleys were held in Thimpu and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue represented China while Minister of Economic Affairs Khandu Wangchu represented Bhutan. In the latest round, both sides have decided on a joint field survey, which would enable harmonising the reference points and names of the disputed areas. Also the focus of the forthcoming survey would be the disputed areas in the western sector which constitute the pastoral lands of Doklam, Charithang, Sinchulumpa and Dramana. The eighteenth round of talks was held in Beijing in 2006, when both parties decided to discuss the boundary issue at the technical level with the help of experts and then map out the disputed claims. The nineteenth round is significant due to its exclusive focus of the North-Western sector.

Sharma, Rajeev (2010), ‘South Asia’s Rectangular Triangle – Nepal, Bhutan and India’, South Asia Analysis Group, paper No. 4012. Click here to read the complete article.

It is a tale of two contrasting neighbors for India. Nepal and Bhutan have been as similar and yet as dissimilar as chalk and cheese. The China factor has further muddied the waters when it comes to the Nepal- Bhutan-India triangle — or shall we say a rectangular triangle? This poses a stiff challenge for the Indian diplomacy. Both Nepal and Bhutan have been monarchies. Both are landlocked nations, heavily dependent on big brother India. Both have made a transition to democracy — a forced and violent one in the case of the former, while peaceful and voluntary in the case of the latter. The Hindu-dominated Nepal has traditionally been a troubling neighbor for India that has used the China card for decades even though the Nepalese culture is analogous to India’s and absolutely different from China’s. On the other hand, the Buddhist-majority Bhutan (incidentally both religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, have emanated from India), has been a model neighbor for India, barring a handful of flashpoints (when it ignored the Indian advice and voted differently in the United Nations) and has never used the China card against India, though Beijing has wooed Thimphu for doing so.

Chandrasekharan, S. (2010), ‘Bhutan’s Northern Border: China’s Bullying and Teasing Tactics‘, South Asia Analysis Group, note No. 564. Click here to read the complete article.

In response to the concerns of the Parliamentarians, the Secretary of International Boundaries Dasho Pema Wangchuk gave a detailed briefing on the current status of Bhutan-China boundary negotiations on 4th of December 2009. What is note worthy is that the Secretary was very candid and did not try to hide from the members of the Parliament and the people on the difficulties encountered in negotiating with the Chinese and the deep intrusions being made by the Chinese regularly on its border. This is quite in contrast to what the Indian people are treated in the matter of Chinese intrusions that are regularly taking place and the Ministry of External Affairs continues to claim that the so called intrusions are nothing but differences in “perception.”

Gallenkamp, Marian (2010), ‘Between China, India and the Refugees: Understanding Bhutan’s National Security Scenario’, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Issue Brief No. 154. Click here to read the complete article.

There are few countries in the world, whose bare existence is more surprising than Bhutan’s, given the
recent political developments in the Asian region. Landlocked and trapped by geography, roughly 700,000 people live on 39,000 square km tugged between Asia’s two giants – India and China. Bhutan
not only withstood numerous attempts to conquer by the Tibetans and Mongols, but also managed to evade colonization and the resultant incorporation into the British Raj, despite two wars against the British. Eventually, the treaty of Punakha, signed in 1910, formally secured Bhutanese sovereignty vis-avis the British in exchange for their guidance in external affairs. This provision was also adopted in the friendship treaty between newly independent India and Bhutan in 1949. In 1962, Bhutan luckily
escaped Chinese hostilities and aggressions during the Sino-Indian war that was fought on both sides of its border. Finally, towards the end of the last century, Bhutan eluded Sikkim’s fate, though it applied disputable policies to safeguard its independence.

Balaji, Mohan (2008), ‘In Bhutan, China and India collide‘, published by Asia Times Online, 12 January 2008. Click here to read the complete article.

As the world’s newest democracy, the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan has won praise around the world. Its recent transformation – from a century of monarchy to a multi-party democracy – has all the trappings of cinema: an enlightened king steps aside for his dashing, Oxford-educated son who represents a future of peace and prosperity. But all’s not entirely well in Shangri-la. Bhutan, sandwiched between two Asian giants, China and India, is increasingly embroiled in other nations’ realpolitik and has been recently subjected to military incursions that are reverberating around the region. Despite the dazzle of democracy, the often-cited “gross national happiness” of bucolic Bhutan is truly at stake.

Penjore, Dorji (2004), ‘Security of Bhutan: Walking Between the Giants’, in Journal of Bhutan Studies, Vol. 10, pp. 108-131. Click here to read the complete article.

‘Vulnerability’ best sums up the plight of small states in any discourse on security. Many size factors interplay to entangle most small states in a network of insecurities, and smallness has seldom been beautiful. Small states have often been the ‘objects of conquest’ in the big powers’ scramble for dominion during the colonial and cold war periods. They have been conquered, cornered, exploited and reduced to mere buffer states or pawns in war-games, sometimes changing many hands, since their military – the traditional guarantor of security – was weak. A normative shift in the concept of security today brought about by uni-polar world and the process of globalization does no good either, despite existing international law and post-Kuwait, -cold war norms. The new security threat is more subtle, dangerous and difficult to contain. While the old military threat still looms large, new forces working across borders are beyond their control, and this complicates the security situation further. How will small states fare under this new world order? There are both opportunities and challenges arising from both the realist and idealist world orders and the process of globalization.

Galay, Karma (2004), ‘International Politics of Bhutan’, in Journal of Bhutan Studies, Vol. 10, pp. 90-107. Click here to read the complete article.

This paper discusses the extent to which international relations theories, which are mainly based on the behavior and interest of the big powers, explain the international behavior of small states. In order to do so, four different theories that are most commonly used to explain the international behavior of small states are reviewed briefly. Bhutan’s international affairs, emphasizing on its relations with India is described and explanations provided using these theories. These theories predict that other small states would behave in a similar manner. To test this, Bhutan’s relation with India is compared with the relation between Nepal and India. Nepal’s relations with India differ from that of Bhutan’s. This difference is empirically supported by their voting behavior in the United Nations. The exiting theories fail to explain different relations of two similar states vis-à-vis a big neighbour. Some alternative explanations have been provided. The paper concludes by emphasizing that no existing international relations theories explain the behavior of small states. More studies incorporating cultural, political and social characteristics and involving foreign policy experts of small states are suggested.

Mathou, Thierry (2003), ‘Bhutan-China Relations: Towaards a new step in Himalayan Politics’, paper presented at the first International Seminar on Bhutan Studies, held in Thimphu 20-22 August 2003. Click here to read the complete article.

There is an apparent paradox in Bhutan-China’s relationship. The geographical location of Bhutan gives it both political and strategic importance in the Himalayan region. Bhutan has a long tradition of cultural and religious interaction with Tibet and shares a common border with China. Yet, the kingdom is China’s only neighbour which does not have diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Even trade and economic contacts between the two countries are very small and their common border remains closed.
However, the status quo resulting from the turmoil that followed the integration of Tibet in the PRC and the Sino-Indian border conflict in 1962 is about to change. Political contacts have been resumed since the mid 1980s. The two governments have been using the annual border consultations to exchange views on a wide range of bilateral issues. Both countries have interest in the normalization of their relationship. Yet, their perspectives are different. While Bhutan prefers to remain cautious according to the approach it has always favoured on the diplomatic scene1, China is considering its relation with Bhutan as part of its “Western development strategy”, that could allow Tibet to regain a central position in the Himalayan region.
The present paper places Bhutan-China relations in an historical perspective that shows the importance of the Tibetan factor. Linkage politics and perceptions of security in the context of India-China relations are also described. Though a sign of further détente in the region, the perspectives of normalization of Bhutan-China relations open a new step in Himalayan politics.

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