Both Nepal and Bhutan find themselves increasingly cornered by China’s new land border laws
As Nepal attempts to pursue this delicate balance between the Asian giants, it will hesitate to question and scrutinise China, much to the latter’s advantage.Today, out of 15 Nepalese districts bordering China, over seven of them face land incursions from the latter. It includes the districts of Dolakha, Gorkha, Darchula, Humla, Sindhupalchowk, Sankhuwasa, and Rasuwa. China has also occupied Nepali villages in Darchula and Gorkha, with the Rui village being a recent example. In September 2020, China had even built 11 buildings in the remote borders of the Humla district. The pillars in this district were later found to be damaged or shifted by China. These Chinese incursions aren’t a new problem for Nepal though. But Nepal’s pusillanimity to confront China because of its geopolitical compulsions and political instability has been a long prevalent problem. Thus, neither of the countries have held a joint boundary inspection since 2006, as the issue of pillar 57 surfaced. However, ignoring this Chinese aggression became a common phenomenon as the former Nepalese Prime Minister KP Oli moved closer to China by burning bridges with India. With the new government, however, a study panel was initiated under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Its report confirmed China’s buildings and activities within Nepali borders. It also evaluated the Chinese obstructions and restrictions to the Nepali citizens’ day-to-day activities. Although the Nepali government has recently raised this issue with the Chinese authorities, there has been much caution and delay in registering this complaint. And this is despite the prevalent permanent mechanism established by both countries. The reason being that Nepal not only reaps economic benefits from China but also uses its proximity with the former to avoid over-dependence on India. The Chinese border law in this context poses a new challenge to Nepal. As Nepal attempts to pursue this delicate balance between the Asian giants, it will hesitate to question and scrutinise China, much to the latter’s advantage. China will, thus, use this opportunity to increase connectivity, settlements, village constructions, and salami-slicing tactics across its borders with Nepal. And much of the issue gets even more complicated to resolve once these Chinese villages and settlements are militarised and better connected.
|Beyul Menchuma Valley
|Cultural and identity significance for Bhutan
|Doklam Dramana and Shakhatoe Yak Chu and Charithang Chu valleys Sinchulungpa and the Langmarpo valley
|Closer to India’s strategic Siliguri Corridor/ “chicken’s neck”
|The region has no borders with China and the dispute was raised only in 2020; closer to Tawang, India
The Bhutanese military faces severe infrastructure and material limitations to confront the Chinese intrusions, villages and settlements.On the western side of the border, things haven’t been different either. In between 2006 to 2009, the western borders saw over 38 incursions from China. The former further entrenched its presence throughout the western borders after the Doklam standoff in 2017. In 2020, China had even built a well-connected and facilitated village called Pangda within Bhutan. And regardless of the recent MoU and its roadmap, four new Chinese villages are believed to have been constructed in western Bhutan between May 2020–November 2021. China has thus been violating agreements and MoUs against Bhutan for its own territorial and strategic gains. It aims to establish diplomatic ties with Bhutan, settle the border dispute, and, most importantly, checkmate India in the Siliguri Corridor. Currently, the Bhutanese military faces severe infrastructure and material limitations to confront the Chinese intrusions, villages and settlements. But, much of this disparity will only increase with this new law, as China will exploit the law to make additional territorial gains through border villages and then supplement them with more militarisation and connection.
Located between India and China and compelled by their unique balance policies, these small states are vulnerable to China’s salami-slicing tactics and incursions.The Chinese land borders law has, thus, unravelled a new set of challenges for the Himalayan countries of Nepal and Bhutan. The law, which intends to defend the Chinese territorial integrity, appears to be another instrument of Chinese aggression and expansion. Located between India and China and compelled by their unique balance policies, these small states are vulnerable to China’s salami-slicing tactics and incursions. In addition, having possessed weak material capabilities and strategic infrastructure, both the countries will struggle to undo or deter additional Chinese settlements and villages and their increasing connectivity and militarisation.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.
Aditya Gowdara Shivamurthy is an Associate Fellow with ORFs Strategic Studies Programme. He focuses on broader strategic and security related-developments throughout the South Asian region ...Read More +