General Studies Paper 2

Context: The article discusses various issues with the Bhutan and China boundary demarcation and stand of India on the issue.

What are the issues with the demarcation of Bhutan-China boundary?

  • There are issues over the natural borders. The Chumbi Valley is one of them.
  • The valley is important for strategic and economic reasons and has a significant relational value given its proximity to the Amochhu river. The valley is also known as the Bhutanese route to Tibet. 
  • The valley reflects two broad principles guiding the demarcations of borders in the Himalayas:
  • The Thalweg Doctrine:It emphasises the idea of map-making by identifying rivers as the central point and measuring the boundary from the lowest point of a riverbed.
  • The water-parting principle:It identifies territory with a concerned watershed, where the boundary is determined by the highest elevation surrounding that particular lake or river segment.
  • These both principles have been merged in the ongoing border negotiations between China and Bhutan.
  • The dispute in the north-west sector of the China-Bhutan border has revolved around the watershed of the Chumbi Valley, and the height of certain Himalayan ranges such as Mt Gipmochi.

What are the issues over Mt Gipmochi?

  • China has legally claimed the boundary line from Mt Gipmochi, through the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890. The Amochhu river flows adjacent to Mt Gipmochi. 
  • However, both India and Bhutan have rejected these claims and stated that the boundary line should follow from Batangla, Merugla and Sinchula ranges as these peaks are higher than Gipmochi.
  • The Chinese have ignored these assertions and have continued to build villages along the west bank of Amochhu river.
  • Therefore, the Thalweg Doctrine is the compromise formula for solving the disputed claims.
  • How has India responded to the border dispute between Bhutan and China?
  • Since, the bilateral relations between Bhutan and China is of strategic importance to India, India has said that the tri-junction would be resolved trilaterally.
  • In this regard, the 15th round of Sino-Indian Special Representative (SR) dialogue, 2012,becomes significant.
  • The India-China agreement on the Working Mechanism on Consultation and Coordination was made in SR dialogue of 2012.
  • However, China has said that the SRs discussed bilateral, regional and global issues. Terms such as “tri-junction” and “consultation with third countries” are absent in the 15th round of SR dialogue of 2012.
  • China has also said that issue lies more with the 1890 Convention than with the SR dialogue of 2012.

Way forward:

  • It is important that a trilogue is initiated. Opening communication channels can minimise uncertainties as questions of peace and conflict cannot be resolved by potential stand-offs (like Doklam) in the future.
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