European human rights activists criticise China’s bullying of Bhutan
Geneva, June 29: China’s threat to the sovereignty of Bhutan and its unilateral action to alter the status quo on bilateral boundary issues related to the Doklam Plateau has been strongly criticized by human rights activists in Europe and in other parts of the world.
Attempts were being made by Beijing to construct a road from Doklam (referred to by China as the Donglang Area of Yadong County in the Tibetan Autonomous Region) to an army camp in the Zomplri Area.
A concerned Bhutanese government, through its embassy in New Delhi, had to hand over a strongly-worded demarche to China’s Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui to ask Beijing to order its troops to cease construction activity immediately, withdraw from the area and refrain from changing the status quo.
Objections to Beijing’s building activity were also raised by India and its troops, who moved into the area to urge China to restrain itself and be responsible for its behavior. Indian troops are said to have informed their People’s Liberation Army (PLA) counterparts that construction activity was taking place in a border area near the Chumbi Valley, where India has strategic and defense interests. This resulted in a stand-off between the forces of the two neighbors.
London-based human rights activist Peter Gary Tatchell told ANI, “China’s actions are threatening and destabilizing. There should be no change in the status quo before a final agreement on border issues is secured. China should deescalate the tension by halting road construction and fast-tracking talks to resolve the territorial dispute”.
France-based activist Colette Boutard said China is playing a dirty game with Bhutan and India.
“China is becoming more and more intolerant of any form of different faith or philosophy and behaves like Pakistan. Moreover, this tiny very poor country (Bhutan) has difficulties in asserting its identity and has chosen to maintain its strong traditions and typical culture. It is a great achievement to have succeeded in remaining an independent country despite an attempt of invasion by China in the past,” Colette said.
In a consequent action, China also denied entry to hundreds of Indian pilgrims thru Sikkim’s Nathu La Pass to visit the sacred Kailash Mansarover Lake in Tibet, leaving them stranded midway through their pilgrimage. This was clearly a retaliatory move against India’s efforts to bring calm in the area. The route and this people-centric initiative were agreed upon during President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in September 2014.
“There is no legitimate reason for China to block pilgrims. This looks like a petty attempt by Beijing to assert its authority. It is not conducive to peaceful co-existence and good relations between China and neighboring countries,” Tatchell said.
Bhutan and China have had a long-standing boundary dispute over the Doklam Plateau or the Donglang Area, and have not been able to resolve it even after 24 rounds of bilateral talks, the last one of which took place in August 2016.
Though China and Bhutan don’t have diplomatic relations, Thimphu maintains there are written agreements that clearly state that no change will take place and peace in the area will prevail till a resolution is achieved.
China claims 89 square kilometers of the Doklam Plateau or Donglang area which overlooks the strategically-located Chumbi Valley. Control over the Doklam Plateau would allow the PLA to freely conduct military maneuvers aimed at blocking the Siliguri Corridor on the India-Bangladesh border, which would definitely worry India.
China, which currently controls 764 square kilometers of Bhutan territory in the north, has reportedly told Thimphu that it is ready to give up some of its claim in this area provided the Doklam Plateau is ceded to it. Bhutan quite obviously has rejected this overture despite the bullying by its very powerful neighbor – China – which is developing a reputation of trampling over the rights of smaller states.