China and Bhutan have reached a consensus to move forward with the implementation of their three-step boundary negotiation roadmap, fifteen months after it was first agreed upon. The specifics of the roadmap have not been made public, but past talks between the two countries have focused on disputed areas in the west and north of Bhutan. In recent years, China has also claimed ownership of a wildlife sanctuary in Bhutan’s east near the border with India. Despite the progress made in these negotiations, China and Bhutan do not have formal diplomatic relations.
Doklam, a region near India’s Siliguri corridor, was the location of a prolonged confrontation between Indian and Chinese military forces in 2017. As a result, any developments in China’s boundary negotiations with Bhutan will be closely monitored by India. This was reinforced by the recent statement of the Army chief, General Manoj Pande, that the Indian army is closely observing the situation in Doklam and keeping a close watch on Chinese activities there.
A joint statement by China and Bhutan announced that the 11th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on China-Bhutan boundary issues was held in the Chinese city of Kunming from January 10-13. During the meeting, both countries had a constructive, cordial, and frank exchange of views on implementing the MoU on the Three-Step Roadmap for Expediting the China-Bhutan Boundary Negotiations and reached a positive consensus.
“The two sides agreed to simultaneously push forward the implementation of all the steps of the Three-Step Roadmap,” it said, adding that the two sides also agreed to increase the frequency of the EGMs and to “keep contact through diplomatic channels on holding the 25th Round of China-Bhutan Boundary talks as soon as possible at mutually convenient dates”.
The Chinese representatives at the Kunming talks were headed by Hong Liang, the head of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Bhutanese delegation was led by Dasho Letho Tobdhen Tangbi, the Secretary of International Boundaries of Bhutan.
Source: The Indian Express