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'India will not allow Bhutan to engage with China'

August 05, 2013 17:22 IST

The recent withdrawal of subsidies on cooking gas and kerosene to Bhutan, since revived, has raised the hackles in China, with a state-run daily saying India will not allow Bhutan to freely engage with it.

"The withdrawal of subsidies before Bhutan's elections reflected that India never gives up its power politics where it doesn't need to", an article written by a scholar from a state-run think tank in the ruling Communist Party of China's mouthpiece Global Times said.

"India won't allow Bhutan to freely engage in diplomacy with China and solve the border issue," Liu Zengyi, a research fellow at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies said in his article titled, ‘New Delhi sees Bhutan as little more than potential protectorate’.

"Besides, India will continue its stance on the Sino-Indian border dispute and strengthen its strategic posture", it said, referring to last year's attempts by China and Bhutan to establish diplomatic relations.

"Due to the Indian influence on Bhutan's elections, the wish of depending on democracy to maintain the sovereignty of Bhutan's royal family and its political elites has become a failure," it said.

The article alleged that Indian Ambassador to Bhutan V P Haran followed a "carrot-and-stick" policy and "played a big role" in the victory of the opposition Peace and Democratic Party over the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa.

"Critics stated that the timing of India's subsidy withdrawal suggested it wanted to influence Bhutan's election results. Why did India, which is proud of being the largest democratic country in the world, venture to interfere in Bhutan's elections," Liu's article asked.

India restored the supply of subsidised gas to Bhutan from August 1, a month after it was halted. The article also stated that New Delhi was concerned over the strategic threat posed by China to the Siliguri Corridor.

"As a country located between China and India, Bhutan serves as a buffer and is of critical strategic importance to the Siliguri Corridor, a narrow stretch of land (known as chicken's neck) that connects India's north eastern states to the rest of India", it said.

"The corridor is considered a vulnerable bottleneck for India's national security. Delhi worries that China will send troops to the corridor if a Sino-Indian military clash breaks out," the article said.

"Guaranteeing the security of the Siliguri Corridor has been a long-seeking strategic aim since Indian independence," it said.

It also talked of Bhutan's dependence on India, pointing out that India controls the lifelines of Bhutan's economy. As its largest trade partner, assistance provider and creditor, India controls the whole oil consumption of Bhutan and nearly 90 per cent of the country's hydropower development, it said.

Bhutan has established diplomatic relationships with many countries after 2007, and made significant progress in border negotiations with China through active diplomacy, the article pointed out.

Subsequently then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had said that China is ready to forge a formal diplomatic relationship with Bhutan.

Image: Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck greets PM Manmohan Singh in New Delhi

Photograph: B Mathur/Reuters

K J M Varma in Beijing
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