Foreign secretary begins 3-day Bhutan visit amid Thimphu-Beijing border talks | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Foreign secretary begins 3-day Bhutan visit amid Thimphu-Beijing border talks

Jan 29, 2024 06:01 PM IST

The visit will be the first high-level contact with the new government in Thimphu amid reports that Bhutan is close to finalising an agreement with China

NEW DELHI: Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra on Monday embarked on his first official visit to Bhutan since the election of the new government led by prime minister Tshering Tobgay, against the backdrop of reports of Thimphu and Beijing moving towards a pact to settle their disputed boundary.

General view of the Tashichho Dzong Buddhist monastery and fortress in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu. (AFP FILE PHOTO)
General view of the Tashichho Dzong Buddhist monastery and fortress in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu. (AFP FILE PHOTO)

During the three-day Kwatra will meet Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Prime Minister Tobgay and foreign minister DN Dhungyel. Kwatra will also meet foreign secretary Pema Choden and other senior officials of the Bhutan government, the external affairs ministry said in a statement announcing the visit.

“The visit is in keeping with the tradition of regular high-level exchanges between Bhutan and India,” the statement added.

Kwatra’s visit assumes significance as it will be the first high-level contact between the Indian side and the new government in Thimphu amid reports that Bhutan is close to finalising an agreement with China to demarcate the disputed border between the two countries.

China and Bhutan held the 25th round of boundary talks in Beijing late last year and signed a cooperation agreement on the “Responsibilities and Functions of the Joint Technical Team (JTT) on the Delimitation and Demarcation of the Bhutan-China Boundary”.

The two countries held their last round of border talks in 2016 and the new agreement builds on a three-step roadmap finalised in 2021 for resolving the boundary issue. The first technical talks on delimiting the boundary were held in August 2023, and experts believe this was an indication that Bhutan and China have agreed on a possible alignment for their disputed border.

The Bhutan king’s week-long visit to India last November was seen as an opportunity for the Bhutanese side to clear the air on the boundary talks with China, since any possible settlement will have ramifications for the strategic Doklam region located at the tri-junction of the three countries.

During the king’s visit, India and Bhutan agreed on several new initiatives to bolster collaboration in trade, technology and cross-border connectivity, including a survey for the first rail link between the two sides to be built with Indian support. Besides carrying out the “final location survey” for the planned cross-border rail link between Kokrajhar in Assam and Gelephu in Bhutan, the two sides decided to consider establishing another rail link between Banarhat in West Bengal and Samtse in Bhutan.

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