China reaching out to Bhutan as part of new South Asia policy
By ATUL ANEJA
The outreach is in line with China’s revamped approach towards India’s other neighbours
China has signalled its intent to establish diplomatic ties with Bhutan, adding another dimension to its evolving South Asia policy, which has already included a deeper engagement with Nepal, as part of Beijing’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.
Soon after his return from New Delhi, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with visiting Bhutanese counterpart Damcho Dorji on Monday. Xinhua news agency paraphrased Mr. Wang’s remarks as saying that “the early establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Bhutan confirms the common interests of countries, benefiting regional stability and development”.
Chinese scholars, however, caution that given India’s unrivalled influence in Thimpu, China’s diplomatic ties with Bhutan can only be established with New Delhi’s concurrence. “If it happens, it would mean that the trust level between China and India has risen appreciably,” says Long Xingchun, Director of Center of India Studies, China West Normal University, in a conversation with The Hindu.
China’s diplomatic outreach to Bhutan converged with the arrival in Beijing of Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister for Finance, as the special envoy of the newly appointed Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as Prachanda.
Analysts say the arrival of Mr. Mahara will test Nepal’s policy of dual engagement—balancing ties with Beijing and New Delhi. Mr. Mahara’s visit precedes the proposed outing to India by Bimelandra Nidhi, a Deputy Prime Minister for Home Affairs, also as the Nepali Prime Minister’s special envoy.
The symbolism of balancing ties is also likely to be expressed through an invitation to President Pranab Mukherjee for a visit to Nepal.
Ahead of his arrival, Mr. Mahara, who belongs to the CPN (Maoist Centre) party, underscored that Nepal was seeking a “balanced relationship” with China and India. “We want to have cordial and balanced relationship with both of our neighbouring countries. We expect goodwill and support from our neighbours in our socio-economic development, prosperity and political stability.”
Santosh Ghimire, foreign correspondent with the Kathmandu-based Annapurna Post, told The Hindu that “a consensus has now emerged among rival political parties on maintaining a balanced relationship with India and China”.
Mr. Mahara highlighted that there would be no disruption in the implementation of agreements signed with China by the previous government of K.P. Sharma Oli—an assurance that has soothed anxieties in Beijing. “This government will sincerely implement the bilateral deals on transit, connectivity, trade, commerce reached between the two countries during the erstwhile government. We want to take bilateral relationship to a new high by implementing those deals,” he observed.
In March, President Xi Jinping had proposed a harmonisation of Nepal’s reconstruction and development plan with China’s 13th five-year plan within the framework of the OBOR. The Chinese President said he visualised Nepal as “a bridge between China and India”.
In tune with China’s high-octane Asian diplomacy, the Chinese leadership is set to receive Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in Beijing on Wednesday. The state-run Global Times has noted that ahead of the visit, Myanmar has appointed a special committee on the stalled China-backed Myitsone dam project.