As the stand-off between the Indian and Chinese militaries enters its third month at Doklam, it is not just Bhutan that is keenly anticipating the potential fallout. The entire neighbourhood is watching. There is obvious interest in how the situation plays out and the consequent change in the balance of power between India and China in South Asia. India’s other neighbours are likely to take away their own lessons about dealing with their respective “tri-junctions” both real and imagined, on land and in the sea. A Chinese defence official was hoping to press that nerve with India’s neighbours when he told a visiting delegation of Indian journalists this week that China could well “enter Kalapani” — an area near Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand that lies along an undefined India-Nepal boundary and a tri-junction with China — or “even Kashmir” with a notional India-China-Pakistan trijunction.
Buzzword is equidistance
Perhaps, it is for this reason that governments in the region have refused to show their hand in the Doklam conflict. “Nepal will not get dragged into this or that side in the border dispute,” Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara said ahead of a meeting with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who had travelled to Kathmandu for the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) regional summit. Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang will be in Kathmandu next week, and Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in Delhi the week after. Making a similar point while speaking at a conference on public relations this week, a Sri Lankan Minister in Colombo contended that India and China are “both important” to Sri Lanka. Bhutan’s Foreign Ministry has stuck to its line, blaming China for violating agreements at Doklam, but not mentioning India. Columnists in the country too are increasingly advocating that Bhutan distance itself from both Indian and Chinese positions.