The ghosts of the past appear to be coming back to haunt Indian diplomacy. The concerns over Doklam plateau, a strategic tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China, have resurfaced again, nearly three years after the region witnessed a military stand-off between New Delhi and Beijing. In a U-turn that has sent alarm bells in India, Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering has asserted that China has an equal say in resolving the Doklam dispute. This is a worrisome development for India which is entirely opposed to China extending its footprint in Doklam since the high-altitude plateau lies close to the sensitive Siliguri corridor, the narrow tract of land that separates India’s North-eastern states from the rest of the country. China aims to shift the tri-junction southward, which would make the entire Doklam plateau legally part of China, a move that India rejects.
Tshering’s statement, made during a media interview, runs contrary to his 2019 stand that the existing tri-junction point should not be disturbed unilaterally. The volte face indicates that China is intensifying pressure on Bhutan to have its way on the border dispute. In January, China and Bhutan had agreed to expedite negotiations in this regard. In recent years, China has also stepped up efforts to establish formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan. Wooing Thimphu is part of Beijing’s strategy to wrest the initiative from New Delhi, militarily as well as diplomatically. There are apprehensions that Bhutan might cede a portion of its territory to China.