The stand-off between India and China over the border between the two countries in the Bhutan-Sikkim-Tibet section, took a turn for the worse on Wednesday with an official Chinese organ Global Times calling upon Sikkim and Bhutan to free themselves from Indian clutches.
While Sikkim is an acknowledged part of India, Bhutanâ€™s foreign affairs are controlled by India by a treaty and its defense is guaranteed by India.
The ostensible reason for this unusual turn of events is the dispute over a section of the border arising from the construction of a road by China on territory which it claims but which India disputes. But the real reason is much deeper and wider. In fact, events in the past two years have been leading up to the border dispute, and Chinaâ€™s taking the dispute to a higher level of confrontation.
In an editorial on July 5, a Chinese official organ, Global Times reveals Beijingâ€™s blueprint for Bhutan and Sikkim.
â€œIndia has startling control and oppression over Bhutan, and as a result, Bhutan has not established diplomatic ties with its neighbor China or any other permanent member of the UN Security Council. Through unequal treaties, India has severely jeopardized Bhutan’s diplomatic sovereignty and controls its national defense,â€ the editorial says.
â€œIndia imposed a similar coercive policy on Sikkim before. The small neighbor’s revolts over sovereignty in the 1960s and 1970s were brutally cracked down on by the Indian military. New Delhi deposed the king of Sikkim in 1975 and manipulated the country’s parliament into a referendum to make Sikkim a state of India.â€
â€œ The annexation of Sikkim is like a nightmare haunting Bhutan, and the small kingdom is forced to be submissive to India’s bullying. After independence, New Delhi inherited the brutal colonial policies of Britain and pursues regional hegemony at the sacrifice of tiny Himalayan nations.â€
Coming to the on-going border dispute involving Bhutan, Sikkim, India and China, Global Times says: â€œNew Delhi’s regional hegemony is boldly shown by the border face-off this time. Using the excuse of helping Bhutan protect its sovereignty, India brazenly obstructs China’s road construction in Chinese territory.â€
â€œChina’s construction site is near India’s Siliguri Corridor, a vital path to the country’s (Indiaâ€™s) turbulent northeast area. Suspicious of the potential threats the road construction poses to the corridor, Indian troops crossed the border to the China side and obstructed our road construction.â€
And then the editorial goes on to warn: â€œNew Delhi’s regional hegemony is swelling to a tipping point. The country has to pay for its provocations.â€
Then in a appeal to the international community it says: â€œ
The world should pay attention to New Delhi’s bullying of tiny Himalayan countries. The international community must be aware of Bhutan’s dilemma and prevent India from oppressing this small kingdom.â€
â€œChina should lead the international community in restoring Bhutan’s diplomatic and defense sovereignty. Unfair treaties between India and Bhutan that severely violate the will of the Bhutanese people should be abolished. China needs to put more efforts into establishing diplomatic ties with Bhutan at an earlier date as well.â€
Turning to Sikkim, Global Times says: â€œBeijing should reconsider its stance over the Sikkim issue. Although China recognized India’s annexation of Sikkim in 2003, it can readjust its stance on the matter. There are those in Sikkim that cherish its history as a separate state, and they are sensitive to how the outside world views the Sikkim issue. As long as there are voices in Chinese society supporting Sikkim’s independence, the voices will spread and fuel pro-independence appeals in Sikkim.â€
â€œIn the past, China was wary of India playing the Dalai Lama card, but this cardÂ is already overplayed and will exert no additional effect on the Tibet question. But if Beijing adjusts its stance on India-sensitive issues, it could be a powerful card to deal with New Delhi.Â â€œ
â€œWith certain conditions, Bhutan and Sikkim will see strong anti-India movements, which will negatively affect India’s already turbulent northeast area and rewrite southern Himalayan geopolitics,â€ Global Times predicted.
Hitting Where It Hurts Most
This is hitting India where it hurts most. The India-China border issue has now metamorphosed into something much bigger because it has brought into Indiaâ€™s â€œtroubled neighborhood categoryâ€, two new entities, namely, Bhutan and Sikkim.
The regime in Beijing clearly hopes that Bhutan and Sikkim will soon join Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in resisting India, with overt and covert Chinese help.
In the immediate term, Bhutnese and Sikkimese may not respond to Beijingâ€™s call for a revolt, since there are no objective reasons for doing so. But it is entirely conceivable that in the coming years, nationalistic feelings, lying dormant in any distinct ethnic, linguistic, cultural and geographical group, will come out, especially when a powerful neighbor like China is ready to give a helping hand.
An aggressive Indian state under an ultra-nationalistic and jingoistic regime driven by an exclusivist Hindutva ideology could, due to misguided zeal, attempt to impose norms of behavior and a culture alien to the tribal people of these areas.
Just as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime is now imposing Hindu norms regarding diet on the Muslims of India and hurting their economic interests, the over zealous Hindu outfits of the Sangh Parivar, allied to the BJP, could step up Hinduization of the non-Hindu people of the North Eastern states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as being part of Tibet.
A growing lack of tolerance at the highest levels in India may have multiple consequences, one of which could be the growth of secessionist tendencies in ethnic groups occupying definitive geographical areas. Therefore, the need of the hour is unification based on tolerance of diversity and not imposition of uniformity.
Threat of War
The Global Timesâ€™ threat to Indiaâ€™s territorial integrity and sovereignty assumes greater seriousness because it is accompanied by a threat of war.
China said that it will be a war in which India will meet the same fate as it did in the 1962 conflict, that is, a thorough drubbing. However, while a military confrontation between Asiaâ€™s biggest countries is indeed on the cards, it is likely to be limited in nature as the 1962 war also was.
Both countries are nuclear weapon states. And paradoxically, the very fact that they have nuclear weapons will be a constraining factor. And, as in 1962, it is likely that the world will not stand by idly, given the economic importance that India and China have gained in recent years.
Roots of Beijingâ€™s Ire
The Narendra Modi government is silent on the Chinese threat, restricting itself to pointing out that China has violated Bhutanâ€™s territory by building a road, and that India had had to step in out of a treaty obligation to Bhutan.
Both sides quote a 1890 agreement to say that the border is settled and but that they differ on the details.
This issue, as similar issues before, can be settled by talks or put on the backburner for the time being. But China and India are on a collision course now over various critical issues.
Chinaâ€™s President Xi Jinping is hell bent on pursuing his trade mark project, the inter-continental roads and ports project, named One Belt One Road (OBOR), and has invited India to join the venture .But India has not only spurned the invitation but has been highlighting loopholes in it to damage Chinaâ€™s international credibility and Xiâ€™s personal credibility.
Xi considers this a personal affront because he is hoping write himself into the history of the Chinese Communist Party as the man who took China to a new height after Mao and Deng. Xi is hoping to do get plaudits for the OBOR at the next party Congress which is round the corner.
India has also placed itself firmly in the orbit around the US, which, apart from accusing China of currency manipulation, has stepped up arms supplies to Taiwan in a renewed challenge to Chinaâ€™s claims over Taiwan.
Further, India is keeping the pot boiling in regard to Tibet by encouraging the Dalai Lama, who is opposed to Tibetâ€™s absorption into China, to do things which will irritate Beijing. The Dalai Lama visited Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh state, which China claims is part of the Tibet autonomous region of China. And on top of all that, New Delhi allowed American Ambassador Richard Verma to make a well-publicized visit Arunachal Pradesh.