China pulls back from disputed border with India as Beijing ‘eyes new contested area’


    Tensions erupted in violence last month when Chinese soldiers killed 20 Indian troops after attacking them with clubs and rods in the disputed Galwan Valley in the western Himalayas. The Chinese military was seen dismantling tents and structures at a site near to where the the clash took place and vehicles were seen withdrawing from the area, as well as two other contested border zones at Hotsprings and Gogra.

    Both sides said they had agreed to a significant disengagement of troops. India’s note also said both sides had agreed to respect the existing Line of Actual Control (LAC) after “a frank and in-depth exchange of views”.

    But Beijing is now seeking to open another front in the region’s territorial spat with India with a new claim in nearby Bhutan.

    India is “talking” to Bhutan amid China’s attempts to stoke a fresh dispute around a wildlife sanctuary.

    Security sources said India believes Beijing’s latest move over the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Bhutan is to “provoke” New Delhi.

    They said the sanctuary shares a border with Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state which China claims as its own.

    China’s sudden claim over the Sakteng sanctuary came to light last month during a virtual meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a multilateral, international initiative that works in partnership with the United Nations.

    During a discussion on a project for the sanctuary, China described it as a disputed territory.

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    The claim was immediately rejected by Bhutan, which said the sanctuary was “an integral and sovereign territory of Bhutan and at no point during the boundary discussions between Bhutan and China has it featured as a disputed area”.

    The sources said the Chinese claim was Beijing’s way of “punishing” Bhutan for the support it gave India during the 2017 stand-off in the Doklam plateau, which falls on the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction.

    Security experts agree the fresh Chinese claim is Beijing’s bid to “pressure Bhutan to provoke India”.

    “There are some major mistakes happening in China’s decision-making. First Nepal, now Bhutan, they are testing us, but by doing this they are only sullying their own image internationally.

    “Bhutan will now have to handle it well. During Doklam also they helped India but publicly they maintained distance.”

    Beijing’s position has taken some observers by surprise. as the two sides have tried to settle their differences over areas in western and central Bhutan.

    But this is the first time China has raised any claims to territory in eastern Bhutan and experts said it had simply not figured in any bilateral negotiations before now.


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