1. China doubles down on claims on eastern Bhutan boundary
After Thimpu’s demarche, Beijing includes ‘eastern sectors’ to boundary dispute
- Days after Bhutan sent China a demarche protesting against Chinese claims to the Sakteng wildlife sanctuary in eastern Bhutan, Beijing has doubled down, including Bhutan’s “eastern sectors” to the boundary dispute between the two countries for the first time.
- “The boundary between China and Bhutan has never been delimited. There have been disputes over the eastern, central and western sectors for a long time,” said the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement to the media in Beijing. The MFA was responding to questions about China’s attempt last month to stop funding for the Sakteng sanctuary from the UN Development Program’s Global Environment Facility (GEF), on the grounds that it was “disputed” territory.
- According to written records, there has been no mention of eastern Bhutan, or Trashigang Dzongkhag (district), where Sakteng is based, that borders Arunachal Pradesh, in 24 previous rounds of boundary negotiations held between the two countries, between 1984 and 2016. So far, the talks have been about three specific areas, including Jakarlung and Pasamlung in the north, and the Chumbi Valley, where Doklam is situated, in west Bhutan.
- The negotiations have not been held since the Doklam stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops in 2017. In July 2018, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou visited Bhutan and met with the Bhutanese King, Prime Minister and other officials, but the 25th round of talks has not yet taken place. Sources said the talks could not be held in 2019 due to scheduling difficulties, and the coronavirus pandemic has delayed them further this year.
- The Bhutanese government and its Embassy in Delhi declined to comment on the issue.
- Bhutan has always maintained a discreet silence on its boundary negotiations with China, and it does not have any formal diplomatic relations with Beijing. The Ministry of External Affairs too declined to comment.
- The Hindu has learnt that Bhutan had issued a demarche to the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi last month, protesting against the Chinese statement at the Global Environmental Facility meeting that decides on global grants for various projects. The Sakteng sanctuary has in the past, too, received such grants, including in 2018-2019 for a project on preventing soil erosion, without any objection from China.
2. The Beijing-Islamabad equation of the 1960s
Archival material reveals China’s strategic planning despite stated positions on Kashmir, other issues
- Two conversations that Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai had in the 1960s with their Pakistani interlocutors reveal the nature of close consultations between Islamabad and Beijing when it came to India.
- In comments to a visiting Pakistani Minister, Mao was quoted as saying, “I once said to the former Indian Ambassador [to China], the younger [R.K.] Nehru, that our main enemy is the United States. You are not our enemy. Later, I ordered that Chinese soldiers are not allowed to shoot at the Indian Army. A Chinese soldier ran to India and told them about it. They thought we would never shoot. They are [were] very happy and went to our rear areas to walk around. We changed our plan. We increased our strength to three-and-a-half divisions, hit them, and then retreated. They weren’t expecting that.”
- R.K. Nehru was India’s Ambassador to China from November 1955 to July 1958.
- Mao also reveals what it means for a country to be “rich” in his strategic view: “The main thing is that if you can get rich, you will be fine. You will be able to boycott the United States, Britain and India, and you will be fine. You will need to make weapons. Can you make them? Start by repairing them and move up to building them yourself later.”
- The Chinese leader also asks Pakistani Commerce Minister Wahid Zaman in July 1964 why Pakistan did not fear the Communist Party but the “capitalists” and then proceeds to answer his own question. The conversation is available in the Wilson Center’s Digital Archive.
- “I think this is because we have no conflicts of interest and no border disputes. We don’t want to encroach on your land. You don’t want our Tibet or Xinjiang either. Neither of us wants to exploit and oppress. We are equal and as equals we can be friends,” Mao tells Zaman.
- “We had good relations with India for several years. Then when we took Tibet back, India got annoyed… India not only infringed on 90,000 square kilometres of Chinese territory but they want all of Tibet as well…The Indian people are good, but capitalists like [Jawaharlal] Nehru are not good,” Mao added.
Zhou on Kashmir
- Mao’s conversation with Zaman and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai’s talks with Bangla peasant leader Maulana Bhashani in November 1963 also shows the depth of discussion between Pakistan and China on Kashmir and other issues.
- Zhou takes great pains to emphasise why in public China advocates the route of bilateral talks between India and Pakistan to settle the Kashmir dispute.
- “If we were to say that we support self-determination for the people of Kashmir, India would simply suggest self-determination for the people of the Aksai Chin region in Xinjiang; following that, it would raise the issue for Tibet. These are both our territory, why should they have self-determination,” he says.
- In Zhou’s view, India wanted to occupy the Aksai Chin region — namely, “their so-called Ladakh”. The Chinese Premier said that while Pakistan wanted China to support the right of self-determination of the Kashmiris “but in fact our actions already go beyond this”, a transcript of the November 1963 conversation, also available in the Wilson Center Digital Archive, stated.
- “We have settled the Sino-Pakistani border question with you; the people of the world understand this, and it indicates that we acknowledge that this region belongs to you. Even though there remains something left unsaid, this is only because of the stipulations of international law – [Pakistani] Ambassador [Agha Mohamed] Raza knows this; but we will talk again after the sovereignty jurisdiction issue has been settled,” Zhou added.
- “Our concrete actions offer benefit than abstract statements… In fact, the right to national self-determination is stipulated explicitly in the United Nations Charter and the UN has also adopted a resolution of abstract principles. We have consistently supported these abstract principles of national self-determination, but settling these issues requires relying on concrete measures. Therefore, the two of us opposing India’s aggression together is most concrete and effective,” Zhou added.
- Both Mao and Zhou’s comments suggest that the top Chinese leadership was far from averse to sending false signals to India or saying something in public to safeguard their national positions — like on Kashmir.
- As these two candid conversations reveal, India — yesterday and today — is dealing with a formidable adversary, which can set abstract principles in opposition to concrete measures, and whose foreign policy is guided by domestic compulsions.