By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, July 2: A new border row between China and Bhutan over the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) came up at the virtual meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in the first week of June. Beijing objected to a grant for the wildlife sanctuary in eastern Bhutan’s Tashigang district claiming that the area was disputed.
The disputed area bordering India and China has become a new contention zone. The GEF Council gathered to allocate funding on various environmental projects across the world and was shocked by China’s objection but quickly dismissed it. The majority of the council members supported Bhutan’s view and the draft summary was approved by the council despite China’s objection.
The draft summary of the chair mentioned in the footnote, “China abstains and does not join Council decision on this project.” The Bhutanese government has since issued a formal letter to the GEF Council where it strongly opposed China for questioning the sovereignty of Bhutan and its territory in the documents of the council’s session. It has urged the council to remove all references to the baseless claims made by China in the meeting.
Since 1984, Bhutan and China’s border tension includes three disputed areas: Jakarlung and Pasamlung areas in North Bhutan and one in West Bhutan. However, Sakteng is not part of any of the three disputed places. Beijing has been aggressively attempting to alter the status quo in the East China Sea, South China Sea, and recently with India in Arunachal and Ladakh.
In June 2017, treaty-bound India and China stood eye to eye at the Doklam plateau in Bhutan after Indian forces intervened against China building roads near the strategic tri-junction area. The ensuing standoff lasted 73 days, followed by disengagement after talks between the two sides.