China and Bhutan have reached a “positive consensus” to push forward the implementation of the agreement to expedite negotiations to settle their border dispute through a three-step roadmap.
The 11th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the China-Bhutan Boundary Issues was held in China’s Kunming city from January 10 to 13, according to a joint statement issued by both countries. Bhutan shares a 477 km-long border with China and the two countries held 24 rounds of boundary talks in a bid to resolve the border dispute.
China and Bhutan don’t have diplomatic relations but maintain contact through periodic visits by officials.
India and Bhutan are the two countries with whom China is yet to finalise the border agreements, while Beijing resolved the boundary disputes with 12 other neighbours.
At the 11th EGM, the two sides, “in a frank, cordial and constructive atmosphere, had an in-depth 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 joint statement issued on Friday said.
“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”.
“In a show of goodwill and friendship, the Chinese government had donated a batch of supplies to Bhutan, and the Bhutanese side expressed appreciation. The two sides held a brief handover ceremony during the meeting,” the statement said without providing details of the assistance.
Both countries signed an MOU for Expediting the China-Bhutan Boundary Negotiation in 2021 firming up a three-step roadmap to speed up border talks and establishment of diplomatic ties.
The Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao, who signed the agreement, said he “believes that the MoU signed today will make a meaningful contribution to speeding up the negotiation on demarcation and promoting the process of establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries”.
China in recent years stepped efforts to establish diplomatic contacts with Bhutan and to expedite negotiations to reach a settlement for the vexed border dispute which was exasperated by Beijing’s attempts to claim Doklam despite Thimphu’s assertions that the area belonged to it.
China’s attempt to build a road in the Doklam plateau in 2017 resulted in a major India-China standoff, triggering tensions between the two neighbours.
India had strongly opposed the construction of the road by the Chinese military at the Doklam tri-junction as it would have impacted its overall security interests since it runs close to the narrow Siliguri Corridor also known as the Chicken Neck connecting India with its north-east. The standoff ended after Beijing dropped its plan to build the road.
Also in 2020, China made a surprising claim on Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan at the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council by opposing funding for the project.
Bhutan had lodged a demarche to the Chinese Embassy in India over China’s claim over the sanctuary made at the GEF meeting.
China has also ramped up efforts to develop the villages located along borders with India and Bhutan and Nepal with infrastructure development and preferential policies.
The Chinese delegation at the Kunming EGM talks was led by Hong Liang, Director-General of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China while the Bhutanese delegation was led by Dasho Letho Tobdhen Tangbi, Secretary of the International Boundaries of Bhutan.