Development of India-Bhutan Relations


India and Bhutan have a one-of-a-kind relationship founded on a long history of cultural, economic, and political connections.

Bhutan, despite its small size, holds a strategic position in South Asia and has been an important ally of India in efforts to promote regional cooperation.

Recent attention has focused on Bhutan's border disputes with China and its relations with India, raising concern that the nation might turn away from its longtime ally. Even though Bhutan has been in talks with China about its territorial disputes, recent events seem to indicate that continuity still plays a significant role in Bhutan-India relations.

How Do Recent Developments in China-Bhutan Relations Affect India?

Border Conflicts:

  • Border disputes between Bhutan and China have remained for a long time, with China claiming a significant portion of Bhutanese territory in the west.
  • This region is also strategically significant because it is close to India's Siliguri Corridor, which connects the country's mainland to its northeastern states.
  • The security of India might be in jeopardy if China makes any progress in this area.
  • China and Bhutan disagree on the following territories: Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys in the north, and Doklam, Dramana, and Shakhatoe valleys in the west, as well as Yak Chu and Charithang Chu, Sinchulungpa, and Langmarpo valleys.
  • Because of its perilous location so near to the Siliguri Corridor, the Doklam trijunction is essential for India.
  • China has asserted ownership of the Sakteng sanctuary, which is located on Bhutan's eastern border but does not border China.

Impact on the Region:

  • Bhutan is among India's closest friends in the area, and India has traditionally supported Bhutan militarily and economically. China has been strengthening its political and economic connections with Bhutan, meanwhile, and this might potentially reduce India's regional sway.

China's Self-Assertion:

  • China's foreign policy has grown more assertive, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • This has caused friction with a number of countries, together with India.
  • If China uses its growing influence in Bhutan to further its strategic goals, it could pose a threat to India's regional security.

What is Bhutan's significance to India?

In terms of strategy:

  • Bhutan has borders with both India and China, making it an important buffer state for India's security interests.
  • India has helped Bhutan maintain its sovereignty and territorial integrity by providing assistance in areas such as defense, infrastructure, and communication.
  • India has assisted Bhutan in the construction and maintenance of border infrastructure such as roads and bridges in order to strengthen its defense capabilities and ensure its territorial integrity.
  • Bhutan played a critical role in allowing Indian troops to enter its territory to resist Chinese incursions during the Doklam standoff in 2017.

Economic Relevance:

  • The largest trading partner and principal market for Bhutan's exports is India.
  • The hydropower potential of Bhutan is an important source of income for the nation, and India has played a key role in helping Bhutan develop its hydropower projects.
  • Bhutan also receives financial assistance from India for development projects.

Cultural Relevance:

  • As both nations are predominantly Buddhist, Bhutan and India have close cultural ties.
  • India has helped Bhutan preserve its cultural heritage, and many Bhutanese students study in India.

Considering the environment:

  • Bhutan has made the commitment to remain carbon-neutral, making it one of the few nations in the world to do so. India has been a crucial partner in Bhutan's efforts to accomplish this goal.
  • Bhutan has received aid from India in areas including such renewable energy, forest conservation, and responsible tourism.

What are the Issues Affecting India-Bhutan Relations?

China's Increasing Power:

  • India is concerned about China's growing presence in Bhutan, particularly along the disputed border between Bhutan and China. Bhutan's closest ally, India, has played a critical role in ensuring Bhutan's sovereignty and security. 
  • India's strategic interests in Bhutan are jeopardized by China's expanding economic and military influence in the area.

Border Conflicts: 

  • The 699 km border between India and Bhutan has largely been free of hostilities.
  • In recent years, Chinese forces have occasionally crossed international borders, though.
  • The 2017 Doklam standoff was a major flashpoint in the India-China-Bhutan triangle. Any escalation of such disputes could strain relations between India and Bhutan.

Hydroelectric Projects:

  • India has been a significant partner in the development of Bhutan's hydropower sector, which is one of the country's main economic pillars.
  • The terms of some of the hydropower projects, which were perceived as being overly favorable to India, have raised some concerns in Bhutan, though.
  • As a result, there has been some public opposition in Bhutan to Indian involvement in the sector.

Trade Concerns:

  • Bhutan's largest trading partner, accounting for more than 80% of total imports and exports. However, Bhutan has expressed concern about the trade imbalance, with Bhutan importing more from India than it exports.
  • Bhutan has been seeking greater access to the Indian market for its products, which could help to reduce the trade deficit.

The future Perspectives

Interchange of Cultural Values:

  • To encourage a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other's cultures, art, music, and literature, India and Bhutan might support cultural exchange initiatives.
  • People from both nations being able to travel without a visa can improve sub-regional collaboration.

Economic cooperation:

  • By making investments in sectors like tourism and infrastructure development, India can assist Bhutan in growing its economy. Not only would this promote Bhutan's independence, but it will also give its citizens job possibilities.
  • The recent decision to establish the first Integrated Check Post (ICP) near the border's major trading hubs, Jaigaon and Phuntsholing, will aid in fostering trade between the two nations.
  • Another important step in the right direction is the choice to hasten the operationalization of Bhutan's third international internet gateway.

Strategic Partnership:

  • To address common security issues, India and Bhutan might deepen their strategic partnership. They can cooperate to fight transnational crimes including drug trafficking, terrorism, and others.

Skill-building and Education:

  • By offering scholarships to Bhutanese students and training programmes to improve the professional abilities of Bhutanese, India may assist Bhutan in the areas of education and skill development.
  • The number of Bhutanese students pursuing higher education in India has decreased, from 2,468 in 2012–13 to 1,827 in 2020–21, making up barely 3.8% of all international students, down from 7% a decade earlier, according to the All India Surveys of Higher Education (AISHE).

Renewable Energy:

  • Bhutan has a huge potential for hydropower production, and India may assist Bhutan by funding renewable energy initiatives.

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