External Affairs

As India and China Square Off, Bhutan Sees Value in Silence

Saying too much about the boundary dispute might turn Bhutan into a punching bag for both its giant neighbours, says a Bhutanese editor.

Map of disputed area at Bhutan-India-China trijunction. Credit: The Bhutanese

There are good reasons why the Royal Government of Bhutan has issued a démarche and a statement from the foreign ministry and then kept quiet on the Doklam issue.

There are good reasons why all Bhutanese political parties, that usually pounce on every issue, are as quiet as door mice, even with a general election at the door step.

With a heated situation between Indian and Chinese troops on the Bhutanese border, and with war clouds on the horizon, I would say Bhutan has done well, so far, to avoid both the fire from the Dragon on our heads and also the Elephant’s tusks in our soft underbelly. We must keep it this way.

However, this is not to take away from the fact that we are in an unenviable situation with the current situation showing how our usually advantageous geo-strategic location can sometimes turn into a potential liability.

It goes against every natural instinct of mine – as a journalist used to doing ‘exposés’ – to not reveal the confidential information, maps, claim lines, negotiations, strategic moves, explosive information, etc., on the boundary issues that I have access to or have very detailed knowledge of, starting from 1984 to the 2016 talks.

However, sometimes, when national security and so many other things are at stake, especially for a small country, the best thing to do is to swallow your ego, keep shut and wait for the war clouds to pass.

This is one reason why I have declined to appear on panel discussions or interviews on three different leading Indian news channels, and also turned down offers to give interviews or write under my name for multiple Indian national print and online publications.

The upside of accepting such offers would have been a lot of recognition and possibly even a lot of love from my fellow citizens.

The downside will be potentially stark consequences for my country. This is because it is one thing for ordinary people to say things on social media, and quite entirely another for the head of an established media house in Bhutan to say something sensitive.

Even a straightforward recent story of mine giving an analysis on Bhutanese, Indian and Chinese positions, along with the strategic value of Doklam and some historical context of boundary talks, was misrepresented by a few in Bhutan. I was lambasted by some people for mentioning the Indian position, but this is what reporters do by putting forward all the claims and facts, and ultimately letting the readers decide.

Even Chinese publications mentioned the Indian position, but that does not make them an Indian government mouthpiece.

I am citing this only to give an example of how even factual stories can be twisted to fit in with the opinion or notions of some people.

Now imagine this happening at the national level between India and China, with them taking umbrage at hot potato statements coming from the Bhutanese media, which they will inevitably associate with the RGoB.

Very soon, instead of both countries sidestepping Bhutan and fighting each other, we might become the convenient punching bag from both sides.

Yes, I do recognise and even genuinely feel for some of the more sensible things our people are saying. Believe me, I know, as I have been raising some of these issues myself in my paper during ‘normal times’.

However, as history is witness, logic and good sense go out of the window when big power play is in motion.

In a region of ever clashing giants, Bhutan has always been nimble footed and smart in dealing with the situation, usually to our advantage. A lot of credit for that goes to our far sighted kings.

So on this one, let us get behind our king and country, and support them in the best way we can.

Tenzing Lamsang is editor-in-chief of The Bhutanese, on whose Facebook page this comment was first published.