The Innocent Scapegoat Bhutan

By Ye Hailin

A month has passed since Indian border troops trespassed on Chinese territory and caused the Dong Lang incident.

India first claimed it to be a response to the Chinese army crossing the border and advancing into Indian territory.

However, after this first claim was refuted, India backtracked on the Principle of Estoppel under international law and produced a second falsehood that the Convention Between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet signed in 1890 did not delimit the boundary of the Tibet region of China and Sikkim – a claim which was also rebutted with facts.

Hence, a third excuse was created for the incident they had provoked, which has become the most commonly-used, that India was sending troops to protect Bhutan’s territorial integrity.

What a fair-weather friend indeed, that it would choose to contend against the most-populated country in the world over the least-populated country in south Asia.

It is worthy of note that this “good deed” is reliant on an unequal treaty that goes against the norms of international relations in 21st century. According to the Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship Between the Government of India and the Government of Bhutan signed between India and Bhutan, India will take charge of all the foreign affairs and national defense of Bhutan.

Set aside the seriously outdated colonialism and hegemonism embedded in this so-called Friendship Treaty, and simply focus on the India’s conduct in the Dong Lang incident.

Who is going to believe that Indian border troops invading Chinese territory is really an attempt to defend Bhutan?

(Sketch Map of the Site of the Indian Troops’ Trespass)

Dong Lang Area is not the Contested Territory

Firstly, even though it is true that Bhutan is in dispute over the border issue with China — the two countries do not currently have diplomatic relations — the Dong Lang area (Doklam) is not part of the contested territory.

In dozens of past negotiations between China and Bhutan over the border issue, the Dong Lang area has never been the heart of dispute.

The Dong Lang area is located in Yadong county of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. It borders India’s Sikkim state on the west and Bhutan on the south.

According to the 1890 Convention, it delimited the boundary between the Tibet region of China and Sikkim. Dong Lang area, which is located on the Chinese side of the boundary, is indisputably Chinese territory.

For long, China’s border troops have been patrolling the area and Chinese herdsmen grazing livestock there.

At present, the boundary between the Dong Lang area and Sikkim is a part of the China-India boundary in the Sikkim Sector.

Neither has Bhutan ever contested the boundary of China-Bhutan and Sikkim, which was delimited by the 1890 convention and commences at Mount Ji Mu Ma Zhen.

The 1890 Convention has made it abundantly clear that the China-India boundary in the Sikkim Sector commences at Mount Ji Mu Ma Zhen on the Bhutan frontier.

Mount Ji Mu Ma Zhen is the eastern starting point of the China-India boundary in the Sikkim Sector and it is also the boundary tri-junction between China, India and Bhutan.

The Indian border troops’ trespass occurred at a place on the China-India boundary in the Sikkim Sector, which is more than 2,000 meters away from Mount Ji Mu Ma Zhen.

(On-the-Scene Photo Showing the Indian Troops’ Trespass)

Timing of the Bhutan Statement

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan made a statement two weeks after the incident supporting India’s position, a statement that was not so much a falsehood issued to Bhutan’s government as a misfortune for its people.

The nature of the statement and its timing offer powerful evidence that Bhutan is completely under the thumb of India, to the extent that it cannot express its own will in accordance with its own interests.

If the intrusion of Indian troops was carried out at the request of Bhutan, then why did Bhutan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs not issue a statement of gratitude and support at the very beginning? Why keep silent on the matter for two whole weeks?

The Chinese government understands that the Bhutan statement was not made of its own will, and it is precisely for this reason that the Chinese government has chosen not to challenge it.

China is clear about and understands Bhutan’s difficulties, and will do everything it can to avoid penalizing Bhutan for India’s adventurism and rash actions.


Why did  Indian Troops not Enter from the Bhutan Sector?

In addition to the timing of the Bhutan statement, we should attach more attention to the location where the Indian troops crossed the line, which helps to clarify the matter.

India claims that the Dong Lang area is a disputed territory between China and Bhutan, but the border crossed by its troops is actually the delimited China-India border in the Sikkim sector.

Whatever obligations or commitments exist in the treaty between India and Bhutan, they cannot possibly give India the right to violate the territorial integrity of a third party.

It cannot have been due to a technical error of India’s decision-making group that Indian troops did not enter the Dong Lang area from the Bhutan sector.

This can only be construed as a refusal on the part of Bhutan to support Modi’s adventurism, in spite of the strict control imposed on Bhutan.

If India had crossed Bhutan’s territory to advance into China, this would have provided some pretext for India to claim it was defending Bhutan.

This is a very obvious point, and the only possible answer is that Bhutan refused to let India through.

(On-the-Scene Photo Showing the Indian Troops’ Trespass)

The Victim of India’s Dangerous Game

However, Bhutan’s reluctance does not absolve it of any responsibility for the incident. The matter is ultimately settled, Bhutan and its relations with China have suffered from Modi’s adventurism.

The China-Bhutan boundary issue is one between China and Bhutan. It has nothing to do with India. With a friendly and constructive attitude in the face of their difficulties, China and Bhutan have been trying for years to tackle their border issue so as to achieve favorable conditions for the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Thanks to the joint efforts of both sides, the border area between China and Bhutan has always enjoyed peace and tranquility.

India’s attempt to create a new border dispute and delay the construction of infrastructure in China’s border region is doomed to fail, but its attempt to destroy the progress of normalized relations between China and Bhutan has succeeded.


India’s Ambitions to Control Bhutan.

The Dong Lang incident has exposed to the world India’s ambitions to control Bhutan.

But even under pressure, Bhutan understated its case. Although Bhutan delayed for two weeks before making a reluctant statement in support of India’s stand, it made no suggestion that it had “invited” India to the Dong Lang area, which would have provided the excuse that India was acting to “defend Bhutan”.

It would appear that India is forcing Bhutan to concede rather than defending it.

However, it seems that India has forgotten one problem: when Indian troops have to unconditionally withdraw from Chinese territory — which is inevitable — will its hegemony in Bhutan remain indestructible?


Photo by China’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs

(Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

Ye Hailin, Director of Center For South Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences