China and Bhutan have this week held the first meeting of newly set up joint technical team on the delimitation of their disputed boundary, as officials from both sides met for four days in China and agreed to speed up a boundary resolution.
A joint press release from Beijing and Thimphu on Thursday said the 13th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) was held in Beijing from Monday through Thursday, and described as an “important outcome” the setting up of a Joint Technical Team on the Delimitation of the China-Bhutan Boundary, which held its first meeting along the sidelines of the EGM.
In recent months, both sides have portrayed the long-running talks as picking up speed and nearing towards a possible solution, which would have ramifications for India. They agreed in Beijing to hold the next 14th round as soon as possible and to hold the 25th round of boundary talks to “keep the positive momentum”. It did not however announce a date for the already much delayed 25th round of boundary talks, which have not been held since 2016.
While there was a two-year gap between the 10th round of the EGM held in April 2021 and the 11th round of the EGM held in January 2023, the last two rounds have been held in relatively quick succession.
Experts in India have said any deal between Beijing and Thimphu that accedes to a “swap arrangement” between areas to the North (Jamparlung and Pasamlung valleys) with Doklam to the West would be of concern to India, given the proximity to India’s narrow “Siliguri corridor” that connects northeastern states with the rest of India. India and China were involved in a stand-off in Doklam near the India-China-Bhutan trijunction in 2017.
In March this year, the Bhutanese Prime Minister said in an interview that the process of “demarcating territories” and “drawing a line” could be completed “after one or two more meetings.”
The boundary talks between Bhutan and China began in 1984, and the 24th round was held in 2016. The talks have largely focused on disputed areas to Bhutan’s north, and to its west, abutting the Doklam plateau. However, these have been stalled since 2016, especially after the 2017 Doklam stand-off.
Thursday’s statement said the two sides had talks on “continuously implementing the MOU on the Three-Step Road Map for Expediting the China-Bhutan Boundary Negotiations” and “agreed to expedite and take simultaneous steps to implement the Three-Step Road Map.”
“The two sides also agreed upon keeping the positive momentum of frequent Expert Group Meetings, holding the 14th Expert Group Meeting on the China-Bhutan Boundary Issues as soon as possible and maintaining communication on holding the 25th Round of China-Bhutan Boundary Talk,” it said.