Chinese and Bhutanese leaders have expressed willingness to establish formal diplomatic ties following a first-ever meeting between the heads of government of the two countries on Thursday, Chinese State media reported.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao held his first meeting with Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley on Thursday in Rio de Janeiro, on the sidelines of the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.

Bhutan, which neighbours both India and China, does not have diplomatic ties with Beijing, although it has held 19 rounds of talks over a border dispute that has strained relations between the two countries.

Thursday’s meeting marked the first instance of a statement from the heads of both governments indicating the two countries were willing to establish diplomatic relations. Mr. Wen told his counterpart “China is ready to forge formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence,” the State-run Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

Mr. Thinley was quoted as saying Bhutan “wishes to forge formal diplomatic ties with China as soon as possible” as well as settle border issues “in a cooperative manner.”

Mr. Wen told him that China was” willing to complete border demarcation with Bhutan at an early date,” telling his counterpart that Beijing “a foreign policy of good-neighbourliness.”

Bhutan, which enjoys close diplomatic, political and military relations with India, has in recent years begun to widen its diplomatic engagement, establishing relations with another country in the region, Myanmar, earlier this year. Bhutan also has diplomatic ties with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Maldives, but does not have formal relations with either the United States or the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Bhutan, which borders Tibet, has looked to improve relations with Beijing, taking forward talks on the border dispute and also voicing its support to China on the Tibetan issue. Mr. Wen said on Thursday China “highly appreciates Bhutan’s staunch support of China’s position on issues concerning Taiwan and Tibet.”

The Bhutan Prime Minister was quoted as Xinhua by saying his talks with Mr. Wen “carry great historic significance as it marks the first meeting between the heads of the two governments.” He also assured Mr. Wen on Bhutan’s support on the Tibetan issue, saying the government “firmly sticks to a One China policy”. Ties between the two countries have been strained, with Bhutan closing its border to Tibet after thousands of Tibetan refugees fled to the country following the Dalai Lama’s journey to exile in India in 1959.

Mr. Thinley said Bhutan “highly appreciate[d] China’s endeavour to safeguard the common interests of developing countries in international and regional affairs,” adding that the country was willing to enhance bilateral economic and trade cooperation.

Bhutan and China held the 19th round of border talks in Thimphu in January 2010, when both countries pledged to look for “a just and reasonable solution” to the border dispute and to push forward relations. The talks appeared to make progress following the previous round with China offering a package solution, including recognising Bhutanese claims over 495 sq. km. of disputed land, and the two sides deciding to conduct joint field surveys.

RELATED NEWS

Too much Dragon, too little KingdomJuly 16, 2013

More In: International | News