Newsline , Society

China’s Land Grab in Bhutan is The New Face of War

Posted on Thursday, May 20, 2021
by Outside Contributor

What does a 21st-century land grab look like? China is giving the world a good illustration in Bhutan. In quietly seizing a chunk of land from its small Himalayan neighbor, Beijing is displaying the favored tactic of countries that want to alter the international order but aren’t ready to confront it head-on.

The land grab in question was revealed by researchers last week in Foreign Policy magazine. Over several years, China has sought to fortify its Tibetan border — and gain leverage on South Asian rival India — by stealthily constructing a complex of roads, villages and security installations on land that belongs to Bhutan.

It’s unclear whether the Bhutanese government realized that the People’s Liberation Army had effectively invaded a small, remote part of its territory, or if it knew but was powerless to respond. What is clear is that the Chinese presence isn’t going anywhere. Beijing has executed a fait accompli by creating facts on the ground.

It’s an increasingly familiar maneuver: This is the nature of territorial aggression in the modern world.

It wasn’t always this way. Before 1945, it was more common to see the outright, blatant conquest of entire nations. Just think of how many times Poland was wiped off the map by stronger powers. Since World War II, however, only a single internationally recognized country — South Vietnam — has disappeared because of military aggression. When North Korea tried to conquer South Korea, or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq temporarily swallowed Kuwait, the international community led by Washington restored the status quo.

Some scholars argue that a revolution in international law made the world safer for the weak. In nominally outlawing war, they contend, the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 turned the moral tide against aggression. In truth, the key was the post-World War II Pax Americana, rooted in military alliances and forward deployments that delivered unprecedented security to key regions of the globe. To allow unchecked military aggression, President Harry Truman explained to Congress in 1947, was to cast the world back into the dark anarchy that had just produced a cataclysm.

The result, though, was not to eliminate aggression. It was simply to moderate it through the force of American power. Revisionist nations find it more difficult to openly confront a U.S.-backed status quo, so they have to proceed more subtly. As research by Dan Altman of Georgia State University shows, the answer since 1945 has been the limited land grab, in which an aggressor quickly or covertly seizes what is often a fairly modest piece of terrain.

China has adopted a piecemeal, step-by-step approach to controlling the South China Sea, making moves — building an artificial island here, seizing a disputed reef there — that shift the status quo without triggering a major conflict with its neighbors or Washington. Beijing quietly sends troops onto pieces of inaccessible terrain claimed by India or Bhutan. It tests Japan’s control of the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea by applying consistent, low-grade military pressure with its coast guard.

The Russian playbook has similar elements. Although Moscow has openly used force for purposes of territorial revision, it has worked around the U.S. alliance system by attacking countries — Georgia and Ukraine — that are outside of it. When Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, it did so ambiguously, deploying forces without identifying markings, and quickly, before anyone could respond. Russia reportedly continues to stage slow-motion, low-visibility land grabs against Georgia by moving border posts in the dark of night.

In a way, the fact that aggression now happens mainly in this murky “gray zone” is a testament to what the U.S. and its friends have built since 1945. What Russia has done in Ukraine and Georgia is tragic. China’s sneaky conquest in Bhutan makes a mockery of its pledges that it will never seek hegemony or expansion. But these offenses are not as awful as what the smaller nations of the world once suffered.

Today’s revisionist powers largely respect, even as they resent, the American system of stability and deterrence, so they have confined their expansion to gambits that are unlikely to provoke a major war.

For now, anyway. Gray zone aggression is not simply about the piece or land or sea at issue. It is probing behavior, meant to determine how far an opportunistic power can go. When China received only mild criticism after it seized Scarborough Reef from the Philippines in 2012, and then commenced its island-building campaign in 2013, it accelerated its drive for primacy in the South China Sea. If it gets away with one land grab, why not try another?

And make no mistake: Russia and China do not like being hemmed in by American alliances and military power. That’s why they’ve been developing capabilities that might give them a good shot at defeating the U.S. military in the Baltic region, the Black Sea or the Taiwan Strait.

What keeps the world relatively orderly is not the absence of malign intentions but fear of the consequences that aggressive action will bring. The increase of gray-zone expansion by China and Russia indicates that this fear is slowly ebbing.

Land grabs in Ukraine, the South China Sea or even the Himalayas are troubling in their own right. They are more worrying still for what they reveal about an international order that is fraying at the edges.

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Mike S
Mike S
2 years ago

I haven’t heard a peep from the UNITED NATIONS. Just what goes on in that large building in New York City? My perception as a New Yorker, is that this organization is a waste. To change my mind, I would like some transparency, such as;
A list of accomplishments or just what they have done in the last six months, a year, five years?
Is this another organization bleeding the USA dry?
How much is it costing the US every year?
How much is contributed by the other countries represented around the globe?
Have they even addressed the stealth aggression that has been taking place?
I’d like too see some accountability!

2 years ago

China will continue to run roughshod and dominant against all its Asian neighboring countries … except the Ruskies. China is anathema to peace in the world … much along the lines of Nazi Germany and Japan in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. In order to make Communism work for the upper hierarchy in control, they must steal from outside countries to gain prosperity that Communism tends to drain off unhealthily from their controlled population. Communism comes about with the murder of large sections of a population that see it for what it is … a disguised form of a closed ruling class that rules … not governs.

2 years ago

Anybody out there old enough to remember Vaughn Meader’s “The First Family” albums? Meader impersonated JFK. In one skit JFK was hosting a summit meeting of world leaders and they were ordering sandwiches for lunch. When it came time for Khrushchev to order he said, “Don’t order for me, I’ll have a bite of everyone else’s.”
Looks like China’s taking a page from that old playbook.

Phil Hammersley
Phil Hammersley
2 years ago

Much of this started when Bill Clinton’s financiers gave US missile technology to China. Then Red China gave money to Clinton Foundation and of course funneled dollars to The Senile One through his crack-head son.

2 years ago

CHINA ON THE MOVE around the world….and Joe Biden is napping while VP Harris is having her nails done. What else is new? 

2 years ago

The Chinese communist party is looking more and more like the 1930s German National SOCIALIST Party, or short NAZI Party, in its treatment of other nations, its militaristic bent, censorship, its concentration camps, persecution of faith, genocide, and treatment of its own citizens. Maybe someone should remind Xi how the whole thing ended for the NAZIs. By the way, using bio weapons, and experimentation with diseases on humans without consent, and against their will, and coercing, or forcing others into taking unproven, and untested vaccines are violations of the Geneva Convention, and the Nuremberg Codes named after the the town where the trial against the NAZIs for crimes against humanity took place; reminder: there was only one specific, and very final penalty for each violation..

2 years ago

Well since the puppet Biden administration took power in January, the CCP has been busy expanding its power and influence around the world. Since China’s President Xi knows the United States in no longer an obstacle they have to be concerned about.

First the CCP took control of Hong Kong. Effectively ending the freedom and liberty of its inhabitants and imprisoning or ghosting anyone there standing in opposition to the imposition of communist rule. Crickets from the Biden administration.

Next the CCP sent multiple clear signals that they intend to “re-unify” Taiwan with communist China and that it was only a matter of when, not if, they will carry that out. Again, more crickets from the Biden administration, even though allowing China to seize the chip industry would essentially make the rest of the world hostage to China’s whims.

Now you see China just annexing another country’s lands. Can you guess the response from the Biden administration? Yes, more crickets.

This is what happens you replace a strong leader, who drew very clear red lines and was prepared to back them up, with a feeble minded puppet who is being controlled by people who not only won’t stand up to China, but actually voice active admiration for the CCP and its policies. Expect more such actions in the future from the CCP, as they know there will be no opposition from the one other nation on this planet capable of going toe to toe against China today. We’re busy purging our armed forces of those loyal to their oath to the Constitution and teaching the rest of our troops about CRT and how to be “woke”. President Xi and the CCP must be celebrating daily since Biden stumbled into the WH.

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