Indian President Pranab Mukherjee will fly to Bhutan on a day’s trip next week, barely four months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the nation, underlining concerns in New Delhi over the recent talks between Thimphu and Beijing on disputed territory that also borders India.
Mukherjee will travel to Thimphu on November 7 and likely return the same evening after meeting King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Indian media reports say.
Modi, on his first foreign trip, had outlined in Thimphu his vision of India regaining its primacy in the neighbourhood, eroded over the past few years as an economically aggressive China lured South Asian nations.
Mukherjee’s trip will come at a time India is increasingly worried about China’s urgency in resolving its dispute with Bhutan over the 470km border they share.
That border includes the region just abutting the “chicken’s neck” Siliguri corridor that connects India’s Northeast to the rest of the country.
“How China and Bhutan settle their border impacts our security too,” reports quote official saying. “So, we’re watching China’s new urgency in border talks with Bhutan very closely.”
In June, when Modi travelled to Thimphu, he was accompanied by national security adviser Ajit Doval precisely because of India’s concerns that Bhutan and its disputes with China could emerge a ticking bomb for India’s own border security.
But just a month later in July, Tobgay sent his foreign minister, Rinzin Dorje, to Beijing for border talks. During the discussions, China indicated to the Bhutanese government that it was keen on an early resolution of their border differences.
Beijing has offered Thimphu a territory swap under which China would effectively concede more territory than it would gain but which would edge its border closer to the “chicken’s neck”.
“China can offer Bhutan sweet deals that are hard to turn down,” the official said.
Those “sweet deals” — like the territory swap proposal — triggered unprecedented tensions between India and Bhutan last year, when New Delhi cut off fuel subsidies that its northeastern neighbour’s economy depends on.
In 2012, Bhutan’s then Prime Minister, Jigme Thinley, had met China’s then Premier, Wen Jiabao, and India was concerned about what then appeared a growing possibility of Beijing and Thimphu establishing full diplomatic ties.