Our correspondent in India, Special correspondent in France Yi Jian, Pan Liang
“Following the Doklam confrontation, India has focused on developing relations with Bhutan”. Reporting on this issue on the 10th, the Hindustan Times said that while India is planning to make use of the opportunity of the 50th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations with Bhutan to draw in Bhutan through activities this year. Last year, India transgressed the border in the Dong Lang (Doklam) area and engaged in a confrontation with China on the pretext (under the banner) of “protecting Bhutan”.
An official with an understanding of the situation told the Hindustan Times that “The two countries have arranged high-level exchanges, including Indian Prime Minister Modi to visit Bhutan. He has accepted the invitation and the date will be determined through diplomatic channels”. In 2014, when Modi assumed office of Prime Minister, his first visit to a foreign country was to Bhutan. Other initiatives to consolidate relations include India’s invitation to a spiritual leader hand-picked by the King of Bhutan to attend a large-scale prayer meeting and construction of a Bhutanese-Indian Friendship Tower and Monument, though the location of this monument has not yet been determined.
India is to also increase its development assistance to Bhutan this year, including the launch of hydropower and infrastructure construction projects. So far, India has built three hydropower stations in Bhutan. Through these projects, Bhutan has been able to export surplus power to India. Hydropower exports account for 40% of Bhutan’s domestic revenue and 25% of GDP.
Bhutan is not the only country India has been wooing in recent times in order to check China, India has further won over Bhutan. “India-France compact with an eye on China” has been a hot favourite theme in the international media over the last days. French President Macron visited India from the 9th to the 12th. Modi personally went to the airport to receive him and welcomed him with a big hug. The two leaders held talks on the 10th, and 14 agreements were signed at one go. In Modi’s words: “From Heaven to Earth, there is no area in which India and France will not cooperate.” Among these agreements, military cooperation enabling both sides to use the other’s naval bases was the one that attracted the greatest attention. “This military cooperation is entirely in China’s shadow”, India’s “Economic Times” said, while diplomatic circles widely believe that the agreement aims to curb China’s expanding influence in the Indian Ocean. Modi believes that the Indian Ocean will play a “very important role” in the future.
Apart from the diplomatic front, India’s infrastructure construction directed at China is also accelerating. The Times of India eported on the 11th that the Indian Army is stepping up its coordination with the Indian Railways to ensure that the military can quickly mobilize and deploy near the China and Pakistan border areas. In parts of Assam, “Arunachal Pradesh” (i.e. Southern Tibet), Indian is installing concrete ramps for tanks, howitzers, and infantry fighting vehicles. According to reports, the Army can rapidly redeploy several military vehicles, tanks and other equipment with the help of 750 to 800 trains. Training for that purpose is conducted every year. The Army allocates 20 billion rupees (about 2 billion renminbi) each year to the railway sector.