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India, Bhutan’s security concerns intertwined, indivisible: Foreign secy Kwatra

Apr 04, 2023 09:50 PM IST

India and Bhutan have a time-tested framework for security cooperation and are in close touch to coordinate on all matters related to “our shared interests, including security interests, foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra said

NEW DELHI: The security concerns of India and Bhutan are “intertwined and indivisible” and both sides closely coordinate on shared national and security interests, foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra said on Tuesday against the backdrop of a controversy over border talks between Thimphu and Beijing.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PIB Photo)

Briefing reporters after a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Kwatra said the national interests of the two sides are based on trust and sensitivity to each other’s interests and concerns.

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Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, during a recent trip to Europe, told Belgian newspaper La Libre in an interview that China will have a role, along with India and Bhutan, in resolving a boundary dispute at Doklam, which is located at the junction of the three countries. Some quarters in New Delhi contended that these remarks would give China an upper hand in the border dispute.

Kwatra did not specify during the media briefing whether the boundary dispute at Doklam, which is claimed by Bhutan, figured in the talks between the prime minister and the king, but said the national interests of India and Bhutan are based on “shared values, trust, mutual respect and close understanding and sensitivity to each other’s interests and concerns”.

He described the security concerns of the two sides as intertwined and indivisible and added: “Government of India very closely follows all developments which have a bearing on our national interests and we would take all necessary measures to safeguard them.”

India and Bhutan have a time-tested framework for security cooperation and are in close touch to coordinate on all matters related to “our shared interests, including security interests”, Kwatra said, while pointing to India’s earlier statements that spell out New Delhi’s position on the determination of tri-junction boundary points.

The Indian side has said in statements in 2012 and 2017 that boundary issues at tri-junction points such as Doklam must be resolved with the involvement of all three countries. The Doklam plateau is considered vital for India’s strategic interest.

Indian and Chinese troops were locked in a 73-day standoff at Doklam in 2017 after China sought to extend a road into territory claimed by Bhutan.

India’s concerns have grown since Bhutan and China signed an agreement in October 2021 for a “three-step roadmap” to expedite talks to resolve their boundary dispute. Bhutan shares a border of more than 400 km with China.

Kwatra said the discussions between Modi and Wangchuck focused on five key areas – the economic and development partnership, including India’s support for Bhutan’s 13th five-year plan beginning in 2024, trade, investment and connectivity cooperation, long-term and sustainable trade facilitation, new areas for energy cooperation, including work on non-hydropower renewable energy, and cooperation in new fields such as space, startups and STEM education.

“It was agreed that India would step up its support to Bhutan’s 13th five-year plan,” he said, adding that this aid will include financial support for reforms, institutional capacity building, and project-based development assistance.

At Bhutan’s request, India will extend a standby credit facility, which will be in addition to two existing facilities. India will also put in place long-term arrangements for the export of agricultural commodities from Bhutan and make arrangements for the assured supply of critical commodities such as fuel, coal and fertilisers to Bhutan.

Kwatra said work will be expedited on a railway line connecting Kokrajhar in Assam and Gelephu in Bhutan, the first rail link between the two sides. Both countries also plan to set up their first integrated check post (ICP) along the border near Jaigaon.

The Indian side also agreed to an increase in the tariff for power supplied from Bhutan’s Chhukha hydroelectric project, and to expedite the finalisation of new hydropower projects, including the Sankosh project.

In a post on Twitter, PM Modi described his meeting with Wangchuck as “warm and productive”. Modi, who hosted a lunch for the visiting dignitary, said: “Deeply value our close friendship and the vision of successive Druk Gyalpos in guiding India-Bhutan relations to new heights.”

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