At the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council meeting in early June China for the first time made an illegal claim to Bhutan’s Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary calling it disputed territory. The GEF Council had met to decide on funding for various environmental projects around the world. The GEF was established on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to help tackle this planet’s most pressing environmental problems.
The GEF Council comprises 32 members appointed by constituencies of GEF member countries (14 from developed countries, 16 from developing countries and 2 from economies in transition).
The Council, which meets twice annually, develops, adopts, and evaluates the operational policies and programs for GEF-financed activities. It also reviews and approves the work program (projects submitted for approval), making decisions by consensus.
By claiming Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary as Chinese, China wanted all funding for this sanctuary to be allotted to Beijing instead of Thimpu. Since 1992, the GEF has provided close to $20.5 billion in grants and mobilized an additional $112 billion in co-financing for more than 4,800 projects in 170 countries. Through its Small Grants Program (SGP) the GEF has provided support to nearly 24,000 civil society and community initiatives in 133 countries.
The GEF Council was shocked by China’s illegal claim and cleared funding for the Sakteng sanctuary after Aparna Subramani, the World Bank official representing Bhutan, as well as India, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka, said that Bhutan totally rejected the claim made by China.
The Council refused to record China’s reason for objection, saying that the footnote would only record that China objected to the project.
According to media, Bhutan’s Embassy in New Delhi has issued a demarche to the Chinese Embassy over Beijing’s claim over the sanctuary since China does not have diplomatic relations with China. However, China has reiterated its claim over the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and has suggested a package territory solution with Bhutan.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin stated during a media briefing, “China’s position remains consistent and clear. The boundary between China and Bhutan has not been delineated and there are disputes in the middle, eastern and western sections, and this is why China calls for a package solution to resolve the dispute. China is opposed to making an issue of these disputes at multilateral forums and China remains in communication with the relevant parties on this issue”. China has never ever claimed any Bhutanese territory in Eastern Bhutan. Hence, Wang Wenbin’s assertion that China’s position remains consistent and clear and that there are disputes in the middle, eastern and western sections is a pack of lies. But then compulsive lying is in the blood of China’s Communist Party (CCP) that has made China a rogue nation.
The biggest joke is Chinese embassy in New Delhi issuing a statement on July 27 that countries like India should firmly resist “hegemonism and power politics” of the US – witness the cheek of Chinese ambassador Sun Weidong with PLA intrusions in Eastern Ladakh. He obviously is as much a “Wolf Warrior” unleashed on to India as his predecessor Luo Zhaohui who had the audacity of threatening India during the Doklam standoff, while his number two in the embassy air dashed to Thimpu.
Bhutan and China have a border dispute since 1984 and have held 24 rounds of talks between 1984 and 2016. Talks between Thimphu and Beijing have been limited to three areas of dispute (two in North Bhutan — Jakarlung and Pasamlung areas — and one in West Bhutan). Sakteng was never part of any of the three disputed areas. China and Bhutan have had 24 rounds of boundary talks without resolution. Over the years, China has been enlarging her illegal territorial claims.
In 2017, despite China-Bhutan agreement to not disturb the status quo, China began constructing roads in Doklam Plateau of Bhutan which actually belongs to the royal family of Bhutan. Bhutan issued a demarche to China and the PLA intrusion led to a 73-day India-China standoff. However, after the standoff was called off China has occupied the Doklam Plateau less the small standoff area. A PLA brigade plus has been deployed in the area and development of roads and defences have continued since.
There can be many reasons why China has suddenly laid claim to the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary of Bhutan. This is unlikely mere compulsive hegemonic action that China is indulging in all around after her worldwide China Virus biological attack. But it is definitely linked to pressure Bhutan into the ‘package solution’ Beijing has in mind though no details of the package proposal have been divulged.
Pressuring Bhutan before the 25th round of Bhutan-China boundary talks has advantage – more weight with the new illegal claim. The 25th round of talks would be in the offing, which were delayed due to the pandemic after Kong Xuanyou, China’s vice prime minister, visited Bhutan in July 2018 to meet the King, Prime Minister and other officials.
There had been speculation that China wanted Bhutan to give up its claim to the Doklam Plateau in exchange to China ceding some territory to Bhutan in the central sector. Apparently, China plans a new package solution for China-Bhutan boundary dispute because it is already in occupation of the Doklam Plateau.
The intriguing part is why China has laid claim to Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary which can only be accessed through India and not through China. Notably, this sanctuary is in proximity of Arunachal Pradesh which China illegally claims as ‘South Tibet’. If China is claiming this sanctuary, it could be with a view to proposing a package solution to Bhutan to part with not only the sanctuary but also areas east and north of it contiguous to Arunachal Pradesh.
Alternatively, China could be planning intrusion (s) through Bhutan and/or Arunachal Pradesh in India to open a route to the Sakteng Sanctuary. In conjunction the Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh, China has mobilized the PLA all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and can be expected to make intrusions in the central sector as well as in the northeast to keep India under pressure constantly.
Bhutan is one of the five fingers of the palm of China – Tibet as defined by Mao Zhedong, which required to be annexed. China will pull out all stops to assimilate Bhutan like Nepal or through salami slicing Bhutanese Territory. In addition to illegally occupying Doklam Plateau, China is also in illegal occupation of the Bhutanese enclave of Tconsists of Darchen (Dar chen) Labrang etc near Mount Kailash (Gangs rin po che, Ti se) used by Bhutanese and Indians for periodic pilgrimage to Lake Mansarovar and Mount Kailash. China wants to open a diplomatic mission in Thimpu and will use every possible means, fair or foul, to pressure Bhutan.
With Nepal in the bag, China could use the one lakh Bhupalese in Nepal headed by a fugitive officer of Royal Bhutan Army to destabilize Bhutan into submission – so called “people’s war” same way communists bagged Nepal. An Eastern Ladakh type of PLA aggression in Bhutan cannot be discounted either to capture more territory forcing India into another standoff. Finally we must acknowledge that whatever Bhutanese Territory China is eyeing, its main focus remains the Siliguri Corridor and our northeast aimed at dismembering India. Indian policy makers would do well to take all this into consideration.