India keeping watch on Chinese influence in Bhutan

India keeping watch on Chinese influence in Bhutan

India keeping watch on Chinese influence in Bhutan

India is keeping watch on China’s bid to expand its influence in Bhutan ahead of the elections in the Himalayan Kingdom next year.

Even as the face-off between the Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army in western Bhutan continues, New Delhi is aware of the increasing effort made by Beijing to spread its influence in the country, which had transformed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy just nine years ago.

With the third elections to the National Assembly of Bhutan scheduled to take place next year, Beijing has been trying to reach out to politicians and other influential sections of the society in Thimphu, sources in New Delhi told DH.

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and his father Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who abdicated in 2006 to make way for his son, continue to hold sway in the politics of Bhutan. The royal family has traditionally championed Bhutan’s “special and unique relationship” with India and continues to be in favour of it.

They, however, could not ensure the ratification of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicle Agreement by Bhutan’s parliament. New Delhi’s connectivity initiative, which sought to isolate Pakistan and was seen as India’s response to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, was blocked by the apolitical National Council of Bhutan earlier this year.

India has learnt that even as its soldiers are engaged in a face-off with PLA personnel at Doklam Plateau in western Bhutan, Beijing has been reaching out to Thimphu through the Embassy of China in New Delhi. Thimphu, however, continues to firmly support New Delhi’s position on the face-off on Doklam Plateau and so far remains firm on its stand that the road the Chinese PLA wanted to build in Doklam Plateau would have unilaterally changed the status quo on the boundary, sources said.

But what New Delhi is worried about is the possibility of Beijing seeking to influence next year’s elections to the National Assembly of Bhutan in favour of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT).

The DPT had won the first election to the National Assembly of Bhutan in 2008. The DPT government, headed by then prime minister Jigme Thinley, had expanded Bhutan’s relations with other countries, with the number of foreign missions in Thimphu going up from 25 in 2011 to 53 in 2013.

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