• By The Financial District


China has been grabbing territory in seven areas in Bhutan, rated as tops in the world as far as the human development index (HDI) is concerned, in violation of its treaty with the Himalayan kingdom and in subversion of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s pledge not to enforce the land grabbing edicts of the Qing dynasty, scholar Robert Barnett reported for Foreign Policy magazine.

Barnett said that since 2015, China had been building a previously unnoticed network of roads, buildings, and military outposts deep in a sacred valley in Bhutan.

“It is hard to fathom China’s rationale for its shift from nibbling at a neighbor’s territory to swallowing portions of it wholesale. If Bhutan declines to risk its ties with India and rejects China’s package deal, this shift by Beijing will have seriously damaged a previously amicable relationship for very little gain. Indian convictions that China aims to acquire its border territories will be strengthened; people throughout the Himalayas, faced with the seizure of one of Bhutan’s most sacred areas, will be skeptical of Chinese promises and intentions; and anxiety will percolate within the international community as to China’s ambitions regarding other nations’ territory,” he added.

In December 1998, China signed a formal agreement with Bhutan, the first and so far only treaty between the two nations.

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In that document, China recognized Bhutan’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity and agreed that “no unilateral action will be taken to change the status quo on the border.”

The construction of roads, settlements, and buildings within the Beyul and the Menchuma Valley is clearly a contravention of that agreement.

“In Chinese, the term for so-called salami-slicing tactics—slowly cutting off piece by piece of other nations’ territory—is can shi, or ‘nibbling like a silkworm.’ It’s serious business: The belief that India was gnawing at fragments of China’s territory drove Mao to launch the 1962 Sino-Indian War. And the converse of the phrase is jing tun, ‘swallowing like a whale.’ The small bites of the silkworm can turn into crushing jaw,” Barnett warned.

China’s claim to these areas is recent. Both the Beyul and the Menchuma Valley were shown as parts of Bhutan on official Chinese maps until at least the 1980s. They still appeared as parts of Bhutan on official Chinese tourist maps and gazetteers published in the late 1990s. Still, today even the maps published on China’s official national mapping site, tianditu.gov.cn, vary widely as to which parts of the Beyul are claimed by China and which are not.

China claims four areas in the west of Bhutan, three in the north, and Sakteng in the east. The areas it actively claims in the north are the Beyul Khenpajong and the Menchuma Valley, though official Chinese maps also show the Chagdzom area as part of China.

Since 1990, China has been offering to give up 495 square kilometers (191 square miles) of its claims in the north if Bhutan yields 269 square kilometers (104 square miles) of its territory in the west (parts of Doklam, Charithang, Sinchulungpa, Dramana, and Shakhatoe) to China. Bhutan relinquished its claim to the Kula Khari area (often written as Kulha Kangri) in the 1980s or soon after, attributing its earlier claim to a cartographic error, Barnett stressed.


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