There has been a curious trend among certain sections of the Chinese and Indian media, in their coverage towards Bhutan, since the Doklam crisis started from 16th June.
The Chinese state media went first bashing Bhutan over GNH – its happiness brand, and ultimately bringing up the issue of the people in the camps.
The icing on the cake was a Chinese writer doing an in-depth analysis of Bhutan based on his visit to Nepal.
Of late, there seems to be a number of articles in the Indian media starting to cast doubts over Bhutan and its disciplined silence.
One theory that started doing the rounds was on the visit of the Chinese Ambassador’s wife to Bhutan. Never mind that it happened a full 35 days before the 16th June standoff started. It was by all accounts a private visit wrapped up in two days – with no meetings with any government officials.
Not satisfied, sections of the Indian media, and even academia, started floating interesting and fantastical theories, based either on notions or piece meal information on Bhutan’s supposed ties and inclinations.
The latest round seems to be questions over Bhutan’s silence, which is being either questioned or misinterpreted by sections of the Indian and Chinese media.
Bhutan has made its position clear in the demarche and the Foreign Ministry statement, and there is nothing more to be said for now – unless there are additional standoffs or the situation on the ground changes.
Both Chinese and Indian media outlets should realize that while Bhutan, as a small country stuck between two giants, is behaving in the current way to avoid unnecessarily antagonizing either side, it is also in the interest of both India and China.
The First World War of 1914-1918 was triggered in part by an alliance system that involved small states, and any quarrel between small and big states held the potential for a bigger conflict. The First World War, in fact, started with an ultimatum from Austria-Hungary to tiny Serbia after the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand that eventually dragged in all the major world powers of the time.
Bhutan and its leaders can choose a very different and jingoistic tact from the current low key approach. It can also whip up and play to nationalist and hyper-nationalist audiences and sentiments at home, as general elections are due in a year.
However, that would neither be good for India or China. In fact, Bhutan’s low key approach while stating its position – gives ample space for ‘face saving’ measures by both India and China, and does not embarrass either side or paint them into a diplomatic corner.
To put it plainly, Bhutan does not want India and China to go to war, and it is avoiding doing anything that can heat up an already heated situation.
Coming back to World War I, long before the assassination or ultimatum to Serbia, the opposing Triple Entente and the Central Powers already had their differences and interests focused primarily on their need to balance each other’s powers coupled with competing economic interests and an arms race.
So the assassination and ultimatum to Serbia was only a pretext of long existing tensions.
In the case of India and China, there are larger issues and areas on which the two countries do not agree, apart from Doklam, along with historical differences.
There is no point pretending that it is Bhutan’s fault somehow or that Bhutan can do something to make it all go away.
Bhutan is providing the third leg holding up the Doklam stool- allowing both India and China the room for manoeuvre.
Remove the third leg and you have the real prospect of the whole stool coming crashing down – to the detriment of both India and China.
By Tenzing Lamsang
The author is the Editor of The Bhutanese, a private newspaper in Thimphu, Bhutan. He tweets @TenzingLamsang and the newspaper tweets @thebhutanese