Bhutan, China hold expert group meeting on boundary dispute

Apr 09, 2021 02:57 PM IST

The meeting was held against the backdrop of the dragging standoff between India and China in the Ladakh sector, which began almost a year ago

Bhutan and China have agreed to hold the much-delayed 25th round of bilateral boundary talks, almost five years after the last meeting was held and in the wake of a fresh claim by Beijing in the eastern sector that borders India’s Arunachal Pradesh state.

Representational image. (AFP)
Representational image. (AFP)

The agreement was reached at the 10th expert group meeting (EGM) on the Bhutan-China boundary issue that was held in Kunming during April 6-9, according to a joint statement issued by the two countries on Friday.

The meeting was held against the backdrop of the dragging standoff between India and China in the Ladakh sector, which began almost a year ago. At the height of the standoff, China claimed for the first time in July last year that it has a boundary dispute with Bhutan in the eastern sector, a region that borders Arunachal Pradesh, which is also claimed by Beijing.

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The joint statement issued by Bhutan and China said: “The two sides agreed to hold the 25th round of Bhutan-China boundary talks and the 11th EGM as soon as possible at mutually convenient dates.”

The EGM discussed a roadmap to expedite the Bhutan-China boundary talks, the joint statement said without giving details.

Bhutan and China have held 24 rounds of talks between 1984 and 2016 to settle their border issue and, according to discussions in the Bhutanese parliament and other public records of these meetings, the discussions have only centred on disputes in the western and central sections of the boundary.

It couldn’t immediately be ascertained if China’s claim in the eastern sector with Bhutan – which was first raised in a statement issued to Hindustan Times by the foreign ministry in Beijing in July last year – had figured in the talks held in Kunming.

China had objected to a grant request for Sakteng wildlife sanctuary in eastern Bhutan’s Trashigang district at a virtual meeting of the Washington-based Global Environment Facility (GEF) in June last year. The sanctuary, located in the easternmost part of Bhutan, covers 650 sq km.

“The two sides agreed to continue to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas pending a final settlement of the boundary issue,” the joint statement said.

The EGM was held in a “warm and friendly atmosphere” and it had “in-depth and fruitful discussions on the boundary issue in keeping with the close ties of friendship and cooperation between Bhutan and China”, the joint statement said.

Boundary talks between Bhutan and China began in 1984, and the two sides signed the “Guiding Principles on the Settlement of the Boundary Issues” in 1988 and the “Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity” along border areas in 1998.

“These two agreements form the basis of the boundary negotiation between Bhutan and China,” the joint statement said.

The Bhutanese delegation at the EGM was led by Letho Tobdhen Tangbi, secretary of international boundaries, and the Chinese side was led by Hong Liang, director general of the department of boundary and ocean affairs of China’s foreign ministry.

Hong has also led the Chinese delegations that participated in several recent meetings of the India-China Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs.

As a goodwill and friendship, the Chinese government donated personal protective equipment and medical supplies to support Bhutan’s fight against Covid-19.

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