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India's sway over Bhutan nothing but hegemony

China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-14 07:41

US President Joe Biden and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Tokyo, Japan, May 24, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

Editor's Note: Sun Xihui, an expert in Asian studies from the National Institute of International Strategy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, recently wrote an article revealing India's long-time control and bullying of Bhutan. The following are excerpts:

After gaining independence from Britain, India inherited British colonial policies toward Bhutan and established the India-Bhutan "special relationship", pursuing its hegemony in South Asia. In 1949, India and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Friendship, with India promising not to interfere in Bhutan's internal affairs and Bhutan agreeing to be guided by India in its foreign relations.

Although the new friendship treaty the two countries signed in 2007 removed such words as "Bhutan accepting India's guidance on foreign policy", and focused on consolidating and expanding economic, cultural and educational cooperation, it did not essentially change the basis of India's control over Bhutan.

Their "special relationship" makes New Delhi consider itself the "protector" of India's small neighbor. India's control and influence over Bhutan is manifested in its security and economic spheres. Viewing Bhutan as a "buffer state" between India and China, New Delhi always includes Bhutan in its national defense strategy. Then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru claimed as far back as 1959 that "it is India's duty to protect the territorial integrity and borders of Bhutan". During a visit to Bhutan in September 1958, Nehru said that "any attack on Bhutan would be regarded as an attack on India".

In 1962, India used the worsening border situation with China to deploy troops in Bhutan. Bhutan's military equipment almost entirely comes from India and its defense plans are made by Indian military experts. So far, India has stationed troops in Bhutan's Thimphu, Paro, Haa and Chhukha.

India also remains Bhutan's largest aid donor, prompting Bhutan to consider India's interests in its domestic and foreign policies. Due to natural conditions, India is Bhutan's only transit trade channel and the most important trading partner, giving India the means to influence Bhutan's domestic and foreign policies.

India, thus, tries to restrict Bhutan from establishing diplomatic relations with other countries. It calls Bhutan an independent and sovereign state, but it is wary of Bhutan's foreign relations and even opposes Bhutan's contact with other countries. It also tries to intervene in border negotiations between China and Bhutan. Since the 1950s, China has resolved border issues with almost all its neighbors, except Bhutan, because India insists on negotiating on Bhutan's behalf, while China hopes to negotiate directly.

India's control over Bhutan's security and economic lifeline allows it to interfere in its internal and external affairs, highlighting New Delhi's regional hegemony in its policy toward Bhutan.

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