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China trying to create confusion before elections in Bhutan, building its soft power in the kingdom, say experts

8 July 2017 No Comment

by Saibal Dasgupta in The Times of India online, Jul 8, 2017 at 9.56 PM IST
BEIJING: China is trying to create political confusion in Bhutan ahead of the next general elections in the Himalayan kingdom, which is due next year, analysts said.
Beijing has strong reasons to force Bhutan to establish diplomatic relations with it even if it means trying to evoke fear by knocking at the kingdom’s border, and trying to influence the local political process as it has done in the case of Nepal, they said. Chinese troops had started building a road in the disputed Doklam plateau of Bhutan until they faced resistance from Indian soldiers leading to the ongoing standoff.
“It is a matter of prestige for the Chinese because Bhutan is the only country in China’s neighborhood with the possible exception of Taiwan, which does not have diplomatic relations with it,” Rajesh Kharat, a Bhutan expert and chair of the Center of South Asian Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University told TNN. “Besides, China cannot complete its encirclement of India without having full-fledged diplomatic relations with Bhutan”.
China is already taking a range of measures to expand its soft power influence in Bhutan. In Thimpu stands one the highest statues of Lord Buddha, which was donated by a Chinese businessman based in Hong Kong. “India should have built such a statue instead of letting pass this opportunity to expand influence and strengthen confidence,” Kharat said.
Beijing is already offering a large number of scholarships and jobs to Bhutanese youth, who go to China via Bangkok. It will not be long when China would start financing non-government organizations and other influencers inside Bhutan as it has did in the case of Nepal in the early years, analysts said.
In Bhutanese markets, Chinese goods are all over the place. They come either from Tibet through the Nathu La pass in Sikkim or enter via cities in West Bengal which are linked to Bhutan with roads. There are signs that China is trying to influence Bhutan as it did in the case of Nepal in early years.
India should do more than merely stopping Chinese troops from taking away Doklam plateau from Bhutan. “India has really not done enough,” Kharat said adding, “We should take measures to instill confidence in India among Bhutanese bureaucrats, intellectuals and others who are engaged in decision making. We have already burnt our fingers in Nepal and Sri Lanka. We cannot afford to lose Bhutan’s friendship”.
New Delhi should begin implementing an old proposal to build a railway line to Gangtok in Sikkim and link it to Bhutan. The last railway station is in Hashimara in West Bengal and even the promised railway to Gangtok has not been laid.
“China has supported a number of media portals, NGOs, China studies centers and Confucius Institutes in Nepal,” Pramod Jaiswal, a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi told TNN. China has also surpassed India in terms of foreign aid. In 2014-15, Chinese disbursement of official development assistance was $37.95 million while India sent a little over $22 million, Jaiswal pointed out.http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/china-trying-to-create-confusion-before-elections-in-bhutan-building-its-soft-power-in-the-kingdom-say-experts/articleshow/59506167.

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