Is Bhutan slowly turning tides against India because of India- China tensions?


Recently, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, India is facing tensions with its northern neighbours – Nepal, Pakistan, China and Myanmar. Out of all the other northern neighbours, Bhutan has been a reliable ally of India throughout the years. When PM Modi was elected as Prime Minister in 2014, Bhutan was the first country he travelled to in order to establish friendly relations between the two neighbouring countries. The mission was called

Recently, the COVID transmissions increased in Bhutan and there have been cases of community to community transmissions. Previously, there was just one case in Bhutan and the COVID cases were under control. Bhutanese citizens are blaming IMTRAT (Indian Military Training Team), responsible for training the Bhutanese Army, “Royal Army of Bhutan”. The citizens of Bhutan believe that COVID transmission is happening via IMTRAT which has easier norms for movement than those imposed on citizens. A recent article in The Bhutanese mentioned that the citizens of Bhutan have been questioning the government about COVID protocols which are being followed by IMTRAT. The comments section in the same Bhutanese article has discussions about removing the Indian Army from Bhutan altogether.

There have also been some cases of racism reported against citizens of India residing in Bhutan. According to sources, “The infrastructure projects in Bhutan which are made by Japan have a huge symbol of the government of Japan. The projects which are created by India have smaller symbols of the Government of India. The people of Bhutan are growing tired of their dependence on India.” An article by The Diplomat highlighted the growing tiredness of Bhutanese youth with Bhutan’s dependence on India. Bhutan owes a huge foreign debt to India and there is rising unemployment in the country. It is in Bhutan’s benefit to partner with China to improve the private sector in the country. While China comes off as a country with a dream of private sector investment, India is still struggling to create the same image.

Bhutan as a country also feels like it is getting dragged amidst the India – China tensions. Recently, China included “eastern parts” of Bhutan in their claims. Various overseas experts explain that China may have strategize against Bhutan because of Bhutan’s friendship with India. According to reports, there is little trust which Bhutanese citizens have in the Indian media. Bhutan is currently stuck between the tensions of its two large neighbours – India and China. Sources also mention that India is getting increasingly desperate to maintain it’s friendship with Bhutan. Currently, Bhutan is the only northern ally of India which has not developed a pro – China sentiment. Most of the other northern neighbours are a part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, and they owe large sums of debt to China.

In June, amidst the Galwan Valley clash between India and China, Thimphu had stopped releasing water in the channels to Assam, affecting thousands of farmers across 25 villages. However, Bhutan claimed that the transmission of water had stopped because of COVID 19 protocols to prevent community transmissions.

As a small nation of 7,00,000 people, Bhutan is walking a tightrope between the two giants. According to sources, Bhutanese citizens trust their King and they have maintained calm despite India – China tensions because of their faith in the King. However, there is a growing sentiment in Bhutan that they are getting punished because of their friendly relations with India. Since Bhutan is a peaceful country and has heavy dependence on India for army training and infrastructure, Bhutan is unlikely to take a stance with China officially. However, the growing dissent in Bhutanese youth against India can be fatal to India in the long run.

India may now need Bhutan on it’s side more than ever. We may just see the Indian Prime Minister making another trip to Bhutan when the pandemic ends.

Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna is a freelance journalist from Mumbai who covers international relations, defence, diplomacy and social issues. Her current focus is on India-China relations.


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