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When PM Narendra Modi chose Bhutan as his first foreign visit, it was done after careful deliberation of New Delhi’s immediate requirements in the neighbourhood.
Sources told HT that Thimpu had initially favoured keeping any substantive issue off the discussion table and leave tricky negotiations for a later date.
However, national security adviser Ajit Doval held several meetings with the external affairs ministry and RA&W and was convinced that New Delhi clearly outlined its concerns, particularly in view of the 22nd round of bilateral talks between Bhutan and China expected in July or August this year.
These talks, which began in 1986, are an effort to resolve the long-pending border dispute between the two nations. Thimpu is keen to use the talks to have a better relationship with Beijing.
The northern borders of Bhutan, which are disputed by China has three portions: East, West and Central. To the West is the area bordering Sikkim and to the East is the area bordering Arunachal Pradesh. Thimpu, sources said, is open to give this up to Beijing in exchange for a settlement in the central region of the border with China. It is this prospect that worries New Delhi.
“The delegation will impress upon the Bhutanese that New Delhi cannot accept a trade-off that is inimical to our interests, a senior official familiar with the visit told HT. “We have always maintained that if the Eastern and Western portions are traded off, it will allow China to dominate the Siliguri corridor or Tawang. Both are of critical interest to India."