By Linus Garg
First publised on 2020-07-16 08:52:35
When India started applying pressure on China to restore status quo ante, as it existed in April 2020, at the LAC, China tried to exacerbate the problem by picking on Bhutan and claiming a part of its territory. India has now hit back by offering to build a strategic road in Bhutan that will pass through the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and connect Trashigang in Bhutan with Lumla in the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh in India.
With this bold move, India has sent many strategic signals. To China, it has shown that even though it will talk to it to settle the LAC dispute amicably, it will also keep an eye on its expansionist policies in the region and will not allow it to bully small neighbours with whom India has long-standing and cordial relations and who are also vital to India's security. To other countries in the region, this move shows that while China has designs on their land, India is willing to cooperate in building infrastructure in their countries in a spirit of friendship and will keep their security concerns in mind.
For India, this road will help in reducing the travel distance between Guwahati and Tawang by 150 kilometres. Since China has consistently eyed Arunachal Pradesh, it makes sense to have quicker access to the region for faster military deployment in case of conflict. Other than that, the quicker route will also be a boon for commerce and travel and tourism.
But if Bhutan gives its consent and the Border Roads Organization starts building the road, China is sure to object. For, it claims that the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is in disputed area and Bhutan has no rights over it. It had blocked a grant from the United Nations' Global Environmental Facility (GEF) to Bhutan for developing the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in June for this reason. Bhutan has already countered China's claim. India will now have to partner with Bhutan to make a strong case and foil China's designs. That will assure other countries in the region that India can help them counter China's expansionist policies in the region. It will also put China on the back foot.