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Territorial aggression: Is it Chinese belligerence or Bhutan’s benevolence?

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Bhutan has active borders with its Northern neighbour. China’s annexation of Tibet in 1959 brought China to the door step of Bhutan.  Since, then China has been laying claims on areas hither-to-fore integral sovereign territory of Bhutan. Before Tibet’s annexation by China, there were pockets of dispute with Tibet, but nothing that could not be resolved amicably. China and Bhutan sharing common land borders led to disputes magnifying multifold. Bhutan has been in talks with China to resolve boundary dispute in Western, Central & Eastern Bhutan since four decades. Despite protracted negotiations and parleys between the two governments, there seems to be no inclination on part of China to settle the boundary. This is a larger strategy by China to keep changing facts on ground in their favour and keep enhancing claims during every negotiation. Through ‘Salami Slicing’ & nibbling actions, China has deep ingresses into Bhutan in almost all sectors.

         China’s unabated territorial aggression in Doklam Plateau, Western Bhutan and Central Bhutan are a testimony of its policy of unilaterally changing facts on ground, despite agreements & sustained boundary talks since 1984. Doklam Plateau in its entirety has been militarised by China and occupied, despite it being part of Bhutan. Creation of a village to the South of Asam, within Bhutanese territory should have evoked a strong diplomatic & political response from Bhutan. Similarly, areas of Western Bhutan have been slowly but surely encroached upon by China with a view to secure its feeder & provide depth to Chumbi Valley. A large number of military infrastructure has been seen in satellite imageries in Central Bhutan & Eastern Bhutan. Unrelenting Chinese infrastructure development in Bhutanese territory should be a cause of concern to not only elected government in Bhutan but also its population, which has lost large tracts of their motherland.

         While, Chinese belligerence is well understood as it is based on its expansionist designs, however meek reactions of Bhutanese are difficult to fathom! Is it that China has been able to bully Bhutan into acceptance or is it complicity on part of Bhutan to cede a huge chunk of real estate without even a whimper among its citizens or internationalisation of the issue? Either the government is keeping its citizens unaware of the developments along its Northern borders or it is benevolence of the government with some secret understanding with the Chinese. A democracy is by the people and for the people, therefore it is not clear whether citizens of Bhutan are naïve or they have reconciled to the loss of territory & thereby, sovereignty to the Chinese. These questions are pertinent and should have been the basis of debate among the Bhutanese society.

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         Citizens of Bhutan are empowered and have been raising myriad fundamental socio – political issues from time to time over diverse media platforms, however, absence of chatter on this issue does not augur well for democratic vibrancy that Bhutan is embarking on. Although, governments of the day are not duty bound to discuss policy issues in public domain, yet matured democracies take their citizens on-board on issues of national security. Debates only strengthen democracy.

An Opportunity Missed

         Royal Government would miss an important opportunity; in case it fails to apprise its population of the expansionist designs of China. This would have put to rest the debate as to why trade with China is not good? Why, till date Bhutan does not have direct diplomatic relations with China? The larger population, in any case revers the government of the day, however a public acknowledgement of Chinese aggression would have shaped perception of the intelligentsia in Bhutan. Government in Bhutan must understand that voice of its citizens will find better resonance among the world in pushing back nefarious designs of China in comparison to their timid diplomatic demarches. Bhutan may not be able to push back bully China militarily, yet it has its unique culture, identity as independent peace loving country, fountain of Buddhist philosophy which should be leveraged against China.

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Competition: EU and China meet during 22nd Competition Week to discuss competition policy priorities

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Officials and experts from the EU and China will meet online from 29 November to 2 December 2021 to discuss about their co-operation on competition law and enforcement. The discussions will focus on the green transition and how China's Fair Competition Review System and the EU's State Aid framework can contribute to it. Participants will also discuss mechanisms to control potentially anti-competitive acquisitions in the digital sector and the practical challenges of investigating digital markets. In addition, there will be updates on the proposed revisions to China's Anti-Monopoly Law and recent regulatory and competition policy developments in the EU.

The 22nd EU-China Competition Week follows the longstanding tradition of biannual competition dialogue between the EU and the anti-monopoly enforcement agencies in China. It is part of the Competition Co-operation project, a five-year EU funded programme offering technical co-operation to competition authorities in Asia. It also provides a platform for exchanges on competition policy between the European Commission Directorate-General for Competition (DG Competition) and the Chinese State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR). The objective is to exchange experiences and strengthen convergence in competition policy, to the benefit of citizens and businesses in both the EU and in Asia. More information about the European Commission's bilateral dialogue with China in the field of competition policy is available on the Commission's website.

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US invites Taiwan to its democracy summit - China angered

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The Biden administration has invited Taiwan to its "Summit for Democracy" next month, according to a list of participants published on Tuesday, a move that infuriated China, which views the democratically governed island as its territory, write Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Humeyra Pamuk.

The first-of-its-kind gathering is a test of President Joe Biden's assertion, announced in his first foreign policy address in office in February, that he would return the United States to global leadership to face down authoritarian forces led by China and Russia.

There are 110 participants on the State Department's invitation list for the virtual event on 9 and 10 December, which aims to help stop democratic backsliding and the erosion of rights and freedoms worldwide. The list does not include China or Russia. Read more.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said the government would be represented by Digital Minister Audrey Tang and Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan's de facto ambassador in Washington.

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"Our country's invitation to participate in the 'Summit for Democracy' is an affirmation of Taiwan's efforts to promote the values of democracy and human rights over the years," the ministry added.

China's Foreign Ministry said it was "firmly opposed" to the invite.

"U.S. actions only go to show democracy is just a cover and a tool for it to advance its geopolitical objectives, oppress other countries, divide the world and serve its own interests," ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing.

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The invite for Taiwan comes as China has stepped up pressure on countries to downgrade or sever relations with the island, which is considered by Beijing to have no right to the trappings of a state. Read more.

Self-governed Taiwan says Beijing has no right to speak for it.

Sharp differences over Taiwan persisted during a virtual meeting earlier this month between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

While Biden reiterated long-standing US support for the 'One China' policy under which it officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei, he also said he "strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," the White House said.

Xi said that those in Taiwan who seek independence, and their supporters in the United States, were "playing with fire", according to state news agency Xinhua.

Rights groups question if Biden's Summit for Democracy can push those world leaders who are invited, some accused of harboring authoritarian tendencies, to take meaningful action.

The State Department list shows the event will bring together mature democracies such as France and Sweden but also countries such as the Philippines, India and Poland, where activists say democracy is under threat.

In Asia, some US allies such as Japan and South Korea were invited, while others like Thailand and Vietnam were not. Other notable absentees were US allies Egypt and NATO member Turkey. Representation from the Middle East will be slim, with Israel and Iraq the only two countries invited.

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Xi tells south-east Asian leaders China does not seek 'hegemony'

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (pictured) told leaders of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a summit on Monday (22 November) that Beijing would not "bully" its smaller regional neighbours, amid rising tension over the South China Sea, write Gabriel Crossley, Rozanna Latiff and Martin Petty, Reuters.

Beijing's territorial claims over the sea clash with those of several Southeast Asian nations and have raised alarm from Washington to Tokyo.

But Xi said China would never seek hegemony nor take advantage of its size to coerce smaller countries, and would work with ASEAN to eliminate "interference".

"China was, is, and will always be a good neighbour, good friend, and good partner of ASEAN," Chinse state media quoted Xi as saying.

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China’s assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea has set it against ASEAN members Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.

The Philippines on Thursday (18 November) condemned the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that it said blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed towards a Philippine-occupied atoll in the sea.

The United States on Friday called the Chinese actions "dangerous, provocative, and unjustified", and warned that an armed attack on Philippine vessels would invoke U.S. mutual defence commitments.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told the summit hosted by Xi that he "abhors" the altercation and said the rule of law was the only way out of the dispute. He referred to a 2016 international arbitration ruling which found China's maritime claim to the sea had no legal basis.

"This does not speak well of the relations between our nations," said Duterte, who will leave office next year and has been criticised in the past for failing to condemn China's conduct in the disputed waters.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Xi told the summit that China and ASEAN had "cast off the gloom of the Cold War" - when the region was wracked by superpower competition and conflicts such as the Vietnam War - and had jointly maintained regional stability.

China frequently criticises the United States for "Cold War thinking" when Washington engages its regional allies to push back against Beijing's growing military and economic influence.

U.S. President Joe Biden joined ASEAN leaders for a virtual summit in October and pledged greater engagement with the region.

The summit was held without a representative from Myanmar, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Monday. The reason for the non-attendance was not immediately clear, and a spokesperson for Myanmar's military government did not answer calls seeking comment.

ASEAN sidelined Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, who has led a bloody crackdown on dissent since seizing power on 1 February, from virtual summits last month over his failure to make inroads in implementing an agreed peace plan, in an unprecedented exclusion for the bloc.

Myanmar refused to send junior representation and blamed ASEAN for departing from its non-interference principle and caving to Western pressure.

China lobbied for Min to attend the summit, according to diplomatic sources.

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