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China’s media hail Bhutan deal as ‘breakthrough’ in border talks

A file photo of an Indian and Chinese soldier at the border in the Doklam area, a plateau and a valley at the trijunction between India, Bhutan and China. Doklam is surrounded by the Chumbi Valley of Tibet, Bhutan’s Ha Valley and Sikkim. Picture used for representational purpose only.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Thursday’s agreement between China and Bhutan on a “three-step roadmap” to speed up border talks will “break the deadlock” in negotiations, reports in the Chinese media have said.

Bhutan and China signed the agreement at a videoconference on Thursday. China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao said the MoU “will make a meaningful contribution to speeding up the negotiation on demarcation and promoting the process of establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries.” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The statement also quoted Bhutan Foreign Minister as saying Bhutan “will work with China to implement the MoU, unswervingly push forward the negotiation on demarcation, and be committed to strengthening bilateral relations.”

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While Bhutan’s Foreign Ministry issued a brief press release on the agreement, neither side has released details on the roadmap. The Chinese state media did, however, hail the MoU as the first “breakthrough” in the border talks, which began in 1984, with 20 rounds held.

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Wang Shida, a South Asia scholar at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a think-tank affiliated to the Ministry of State Security, told the party-run Global Times the MoU “is a milestone and would help break the deadlock.”

“The boundary issue between China and Bhutan is special because it not only relates to Bhutan but also has become a negative factor for China-India ties,” he said. “If China and Bhutan make progress in solving boundary disputes, India will have fewer chances and excuses to make trouble on border areas.”

Wang Se, another expert at CICIR, expressed the commonly held view in Beijing that India’s concerns over the Doklam plateau, the site of the 2017 stand-off with China, was one reason for negotiations stalling in the past couple of years, with New Delhi wary over a border deal that “would undermine its interests”. “After the Doklam stand-off, China and Bhutan did not hold a meeting for border talks for a long time, which shows India was exerting great influence on Bhutan,” he said.

As the talks go forward, it remains unclear to what extent China would be willing to make territorial concessions, which a settlement would require from both sides. Only last year, China appeared to widen its territorial claims, for the first time bringing in Sakteng in eastern Bhutan into the dispute.

Earlier negotiations had dealt with territories in Bhutan’s north and west, including Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys in the north and Doklam to the west. China had, according to reports, previously offered a package solution that would see Beijing controlling Doklam and ceding the northern valleys. The inclusion of Sakteng into the dispute last year was seen by some observers as a negotiating tactic to bring Bhutan back to the table.

Since the 2017 stand-off with India, Beijing has already strengthened its de facto control over much of the Doklam plateau, located strategically along the India-China-Bhutan trijunction. Barring the face-off site where India had objected to a road being built that would push the trijunction point further south, China has deepened its presence elsewhere on much of the plateau and faced little opposition from Bhutan in doing so. Chinese media last year even showed images of a newly built village in Doklam, in territory disputed by Bhutan and China, part of a broader effort in building “front line” border villages and moving in residents to secure territorial claims.

While no details of the three-step roadmap have been revealed, Mr. Wang added that the roadmap might follow the three-step process of the India-China border talks. It remains to be seen, however, if the border negotiations with Bhutan would be as tortuous. India and China completed the first step as early as 2005, agreeing political parameters and guiding principles. The second stage of negotiating a framework to solve disputes is still ongoing, and the final step will involve demarcation.

Qian Feng of Tsinghua University told the South China Morning Post that the steps “might include setting up a framework first, confirming the specific disputes with an exchange of maps, and then a resolution stage.”


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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 6:44:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/chinas-media-hail-bhutan-deal-as-breakthrough-in-border-talks/article37015898.ece

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