Bhutan-China Border Mismatch

Bhutan shares 470 km border with China in North and 605 Km with India in East, South and West.  To a giant China and tiny Bhutan it is 2 and 44 percent of their total border length, respectively. Today the two neighbors have disputes over 4500 sq km of land in patches in western and northern part of Bhutan.

Bhutan perceived the friction with China after latter took over Tibet in 1959. While China has border disputes with most of her 13 neighbors, relation with Bhutan has been out of bound to media. Maintaining silent diplomacy between the two countries, progress in delineation of the borders is done under most careful scrutiny of the governments. Regardless of the strategies chosen to ease out the cartographic friction, both governments have been claiming success to their mistakes.

Bhutan, under the patronage of India, began border talks with China in 1972 and continued until 1984. Thereafter, the Chinese side insisted on making the talks free of direct Indian influences.  The situation came to hostility in 1988 when China began exercising her authority over the Chumbi valley, a plateau where strategic interests of India, China and Bhutan meet, if not overlap.

There are 7 regions where both Bhutan and China’s claims overlap. The most disputed remains the Doklam plateau in western Bhutan adjoining Yadung province of Tibet autonomous region. Since 1988, China has been proposing an exchange of pies. During the tenth round of Bhutan-China border talk held in Beijing in 1996, China offered to exchange 495 sq km area of Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys (Where China and Bhutan overlap) in Bhutan’s north for Sinchulumpa, Dramana and Shakhtoe with total area of 269 sq km, in the western Bhutan.  On July 13, 1997 BBC reported that Bhutan accepted the proposals. Bhutan, alone cannot take decision to share this pie, since Doklam plateau and Chumbi valley are equally vital for India. Subsequent bilateral talks yielded no results. China began construction of roads and infrastructure in these regions [Photo1]. It led to a decisive Sino- Bhutan agreement in 1998 called “Agreement on The Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility in the Bhutan- China Border areas-1998”.

Photo1 taken on 2008: The construction of roads by Chinese authority in the disputed region in western Bhutan. The further extension of the road construction has paused but the upgrading and maintenance is going on

In 2007, without having rational discussion on such important matter as the disputed border, Bhutan government published a revised map of the country excluding Kulakangri (KK), the tallest mountain of Bhutan, truncating the glacial reserve of mountain ecosystem in Bhutan Himalaya.  There was no official response from China. Google map shows this region in the north with red lines (MAP0). In this altruistic attempt, Bhutan ‘generously’ ceded mountain KK (1754m) to China. The first sitting of the parliament under the fifth monarch that signed and rectified a palace drafted constitution thus inked the loss of territory for good. This has not solved the border issue with china.

Map 1: Google map shows the region excluded by Bhutan since 2007 with red in the North. The red marked region in the west is still under dispute
Photo 2: Kula Kangri 7,538 m in the Northern Gasa, Bhutan what was made to no man’s land since 2007, after excluding it from the map of Bhutan

As long as China cannot have 100 sq Km of Doklam in West, no other gift seem to please her. As the differences kept growing, China kept increasing her claim deeper down the northern border. Now diplomatically challenged Bhutan is left with too many creases to iron. Bhutan’s parliament, the responsible body to decide the border remains misinformed with responsibilities spilled off.

The Bhutanese parliamentarians are only informed that after excluding KK (Photo2) there are three regions under controversy with China (MAP1). The map, China has been using to claim the area within Bhutan, is kept away from their research and literary truth. Chinese claim map shows seven controversial overlapping regions (MAP2).

Map 1: Google map shows the region excluded by Bhutan since 2007 with red in the North. The red marked region in the west is still under dispute
Map2: A deformed map of Bhutan showing the region of differences, presented to the parliamentarians. The rhino horn in the northern Gasa was removed since 2007

1) Mountain ridge from Batangla to Merukla/Merugla upto Sinchela; 2) The mountain ridge from Sinchela to River Amo; along River Amo from River Amo to its confluence with River Langmarpo;

3) Region along the River Langmarpo from the confluence of River Lang-marpo and River Amo up to the confluence of Docherimchang; along River Rong from River Docherimchang confluence to Gomla; Gomla ridge from Gomla to Pankala, and Pankala ridge from Pankala to Dramana ridge; Dramana ridge from Dramana to River Tromo and River Zhiu confluence, River Zhiu from River Tromo- River Zhiu confluence to Lungkala; 4) The mountain peaks from Lungkala across Tremola, Jhomolhari, Wagyela, Gankar Punsum, Monla Karchung to Dompala; 5) The Paksamlung mountain peaks from Dompala to Chhoigongla, Yanjula and Neula upto Tshozam along; 6) The Menchhuma boundary from Tshozam upto Bodla and 7) along the mountain peaks, east from Menchhuma.

The Chinese claim is much more in area and specificity. She claims 7 regions from West to East. If Bhutan fails to handle China or if China succeeds to achieve her claims, Bhutan will lose up to 4500 Sq Km or more than 10 percent of the total land.  Until 1990, the total area of Bhutan was 47,000 sq km. It is much less today. It may be noted that in 2008, each member of the parliament was requested to discuss the issue and reach to a conclusion at the earliest

  • The sources of the maps and photos are kept confidential on request of the provider

Editor’s Note : Govinda Rizal, originally from Lodrai, Gayglegphug is one of the Contributing Editors of the Bhutan News Service. He writes about the Bhutanese people in the country and in exile, and about Bhutan’s international border. He blogs at: http://redroom.com/member/govinda-rizal  

12 Comments

  1. “While China has border disputes with most of her 13 neighbors, relation with Bhutan has been out of bound to media. ”

    Typical lies that is easy to refute. Check on these sources:

    http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/podcasts/India_China_Border.mp3

    http://www.gregoryclark.net/redif.html

    http://gbtimes.com/tibet-today/jean-paul-desimpelaere-second-look-tibet

    Anybody who go to Hong Kong or Taiwan and ask the people there will find out that people there didn’t know that Xizang (the name used by people in Hong Kong, Taiwan or mainland China refer to what Westerners called Tibet) was NOT part of China. They all regard Xizang to be part of China for many centuries. In fact, most people didn’t know what you are talking about if you say Tibet instead of Xizang.

    On the other hand, India did annex Sikkim and South Tibet. Judging by India’s past behavior, I bet India grabbed some land from Bhutan also.

  2. A comprehensive study of China border settlements show that China is more than reasonable in settling its border with its neighbors. It has settled 12 of its 14 neighbors, except India and Bhutan. China couldn’t settle with Bhutan because India wouldn’t allow it. It is hardly the kind of image portrayed by this author, which obviously wrote it with ulterior motives:

    http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i8782.pdf

    India, on the other hand was trying to sikkimize Bhutan in the 1990s but was caught red handed by the New York times.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1990/10/07/world/india-based-groups-seek-to-disrupt-bhutan.html?src=pm

  3. Govinda bhai, very well written piece with lot of authentic information. I am impressed with your concern regarding Bhutan’s border and the way things are developing it looks like Bhutan could be easily swallowed by China in some decades. I am not sure if there is way that Bhutan could take a stronger stand so that its limited remaining land does not gradually disappear. I wonder what India is thinking on this as they would know what is happening. Interesting evidence and worth pondering.

  4. Good work Govinda Bhai. You are a true patriot and committed towards Bhutan’s well being. Everybody should join hands to accomplish this mission forever.
    Thank you
    DB Adhikari
    Tucson, USA

  5. At ཆོས་རྒྱལ,
    What a white lier!!! Learn from the experience buddy…
    If someone says ” I have been undergoing several- severe -traumatic stressful life since 1952, he is either lying or he is a Bhutanese”.
    Your references seem like ‘made in China’ goods… Cheap and a less durable.
    Regards
    Chirang..

  6. At Chirang,

    So you believe that 97% of the Sikkimise voted to join the ‘land of the open defecation’ in 1975?

  7. In the new political context, how the Chinese overtures towards Bhutan in all respects will be received is million dollar question. Under absolute monarchy, Bhutan steadfastly tried remaining with India on almost all international and regional developments. The monarchy always resisted the tempting offers made by China since late 1950s which even included bulky financial assistance.The inherent problems of the political transformation of Bhutan from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy will soon see factional fights within the political elites easing China further to intrude not only the land skirmishes but in Bhutanese politics in the near future. Bhutan then will see that its present tactics of licking Chinese boots will be of little use.

  8. Nil says:
    … The inherent problems of the political transformation of Bhutan from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy will soon see factional fights within the political elites easing China further to intrude not only the land skirmishes but in Bhutanese politics in the near future.

    Under that situation, Bhutanese will again hold the roots of Monarchy for security against the northern giants. But I fear that Bhutanese sovereignty by then will have already trained to fit under the Chinese definition of Tibet… Bhutanization program of the government (begun by Tsa-Wa-Sum babu in the state of madness) in that sense is more dangerous for the Bhutanese than the Chinese aggression unless we liberate our northern neighbourTibet.

  9. King Palden Thondup Namgyal, the Chogyal of Sikkim was in his palace on the morning of 6 April, 1975 when the roar of army trucks climbing the steep streets of Gangtok brought him running to the window. There were Indian soldiers everywhere, they had surrounded the palace, and short rapid bursts of machine gun fire could be heard. Basanta Kumar Chhetri, a 19-year-old guard at the palace’s main gate, was struck by a bullet and killed-the first casualty of the takeover. The 5,000-strong Indian force didn’t take more than 30 minutes to subdue the palace guards who numbered only 243. By 12.45 it was all over, Sikkim ceased to exist as an independent kingdom.

    Captured palace guards, hands raised high were packed into trucks and taken away, singing: “Dela sil, li gi, gang changka chibso” (may my country keep blooming like a flower). But by the, the Indian tri-colour had replaced the Sikkimese flag at the palace where the 12th king of the Namgyal dynasty was held prisoner. “The Chogyal was a great believer in India. He had huge respect for Mahatma Gnadhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Not in his wildest dreams did he think India would ever swallow up his kingdom,” recalls Captain Sonam Yongda, the Chogyal’s aide-de-camp. Nehru himself had told journalist Kuldip Nayar in 1960: “Taking a small country like Sikkim by force would be like shooting a fly with a rifle.” Ironically it was Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi who cited “national interest” to make Sikkim the 22nd state in the Indian union.

    In the years leading up to the 1975 annexation, there was enough evidence that all was not well in relations between New Delhi and Gangtok. The seeds were sown as far back as 1947 after India gained independence, when the Sikkim State Congress started an anti-monarchist movement to introduce democracy, end feudalism and merge with India. “We went to Delhi to talk to Nehru about these demands,” recalls CD Rai, a rebel leader. “He told us, we’ll help you with democracy and getting rid of feudalism, but don’t talk about merger now.” Relenting to pressure from pro-democracy supporters, the 11th Chogyal was forced to include Rai in a five-member council of ministers, to sign a one-sided treaty with India which would effectively turn Sikkim into an Indian
    “protectorate”, and allow the stationing of an Indian “political officer” in Gangtok.
    As a leader of international stature with an anti-imperialist role on the world stage, Nehru did not want to be seen to be bullying small neighbours in his own backyard. But by 1964 Nehru had died and so had the 11th Chogyal, Sir Tashi Namgyal. There was a new breed of young and impatient political people emerging in Sikkim and things were in ferment. The plot thickened when Kaji Lendup Dorji (also known as LD Kaji) of the Sikkim National Congress, who had an ancestral feud with the Chogyal’s family, entered the fray. By 1973, New Delhi was openly supporting the Kaji’s Sikkim National Congress. Pushed into a corner, the new Chogyal signed a tripatrite agreement with political parties and India under which there was further erosion of his powers. LD Kaji’s Sikkim National Congress won an overwhelming majority in the 1974 elections, and within a year the cabinet passed a bill asking for the Chogyal’s removal. The house sought a referendum, during which the decision was endorsed. “That was a charade,” says KC Pradhan, who was then minister of agriculture. “The voting was directed by the
    Indian military.”

    India’s “Chief Executive” in Gangtok wrote: “Sikkim’s merger was necessary for Indian national interest. And we worked to that end. Maybe if the Chogyal had been smarter, and played his cards better, it wouldn’t have turned out the way it did.”

    It is also said that the real battle was not between the Chogyal and Kaji Lendup Dorji, but between their wives. On one side was Queen Hope Cook, the American wife of the Chogyal and on the other was the Belgian wife of the Kaji, Elisa-Maria Standford. “This was a proxy war between the American and the Belgian,” says former chief minister, BB Gurung. But there was a third woman involved: Indira Gandhi in New Delhi.

    Chogyal Palden met the 24-year-old New Yorker, Hope Cook, in Darjeeling in 1963 and married her. For Cook, this was a dream come true: to become the queen of an independent kingdom in Shangrila. She started taking the message of Sikkimese independence to the youth, and the allegations started flying thick and fast that she was a CIA agent. These were the coldest years of the Cold War, and there was a tendency in India to see a “foreign hand” behind everything so it was not unusual for the American queen to be labelled a CIA agent. However, as Hope Cook’s relations with Delhi deteriorated, so did her marriage with the Chogyal. In 1973, she took her two children and went back to New York. She hasn’t returned to Sikkim since.

    Then there was Elisa-Maria, daughter of a Belgian father and German mother who left her Scottish husband in Burma and married LD Kaji in Delhi in 1957. The two couldn’t have been more different. Elisa-Maria wanted to be Sikkim’s First Lady, but Hope Cook stood in the way. “She didn’t just want to be the wife of an Indian chief minister, she wanted to be the wife of the prime minister of an independent Sikkim.” With that kind of an ambition, it was not surprising that with annexation, neither Hope Cook nor Elisa-Maria got what they wanted.

    Meanwhile in New Delhi, Indira Gandhi was going from strength to strength, and India was flexing its muscles. The 1971 Bangladesh war and the atomic test in 1974 gave Delhi the confidence to take care of Sikkim once and for all. Indira Gandhi was concerned that Sikkim may show independent tendencies and become a UN member like Bhutan did in 1971, and she also didn’t take kindly to the three Himalayan kingdoms, Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal, getting too cosy with each other. The Chogyal attended King Birendra’s coronation in Kathmandu in 1975 and hobnobbed with the Pakistanis and the Chinese, and there was a lobby in Delhi that felt Sikkim may get Chinese help to become independent.

    In his book on the Indian intelligence agency, Inside RAW, The story of India’s secret service, Ashok Raina writes that New Delhi had taken the decision to annex Sikkim in 1971, and that the RAW used the next two years to create the right conditions within Sikkim to make that happen. The key here was to use the predominantly-Hindu Sikkimese of Nepali origin who complained of discrimination from the Buddhist king and elite to rise up. “What we felt then was that the Chogyal was unjust to us,” says CD Rai, editor of Gangtok Times and ex-minister. “We thought it may be better to be Indian than to be oppressed by the king.”
    So, when the Indian troops moved in there was general jubilation on the streets of Gangtok. It was in fact in faraway Kathmandu that there were reverberations. Beijing expressed grave concern. But in the absence of popular protests against the Indian move, there was only muted reaction at the United Nations in New York. It was only later that there were contrary opinions within India-Morarji Desai said in 1978 that the merger was a mistake. Even Sikkimese political leaders who fought for the merger said it was a blunder and worked to roll it back. But by then it was too late.

    Today, most Sikkimese know they lost their independence in 1975, and Siliguri-bound passengers in Gangtok still say they are “going to India”. The elite have benefited from New Delhi’s largesse and aren’t complaining. As ex-chief minister BB Gurung says: “We can’t turn the clock back now.”

  10. Quote “There were Indian soldiers everywhere, they had surrounded the palace, and short rapid bursts of machine gun fire could be heard. Basanta Kumar Chhetri, a 19-year-old guard at the palace’s main gate, was struck by a bullet and killed-the first casualty of the takeover. The 5,000-strong Indian force didn’t take more than 30 minutes to subdue the palace guards who numbered only 243. By 12.45 it was all over, Sikkim ceased to exist as an independent kingdom”. Unquote

    Against the glaring facts of above report, the Bhutanese authorities do not cease to blame hindu subjects of posing risks to national sovereignty. The Sikkim case had its victim on a hindu subject before its king. Is it not toeing the same line in Bhutan that expelled hundreds of thousands of the hindu subjects from the country creating condition to reach its king?

    It is not greater sovereignty the Himalayan nations seek on others’ territory as accused but GREATER THREATS of the regional BIG BROTHER financing destabilization, dividing the people and government! Is it too difficult to understand and interpret the omens?

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