‘Bhutan-China ties won’t harm India’s interests’

July 17, 2022 12:00 am | Updated 05:41 am IST - NEW DELHI

Bhutan’s Foreign Minister on Doklam tri-junction and reopening post-COVID

Tandi Dorji

Tandi Dorji

India’s interests on the Doklam tri-junction will not be harmed or “compromised” by the agreement between Bhutan and China for a three-step “road map” to resolve their outstanding border disputes, Bhutan’s Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji said in an interview to The Hindu .

In the first interview since he signed the road map MoU in October 2021, and ahead of Bhutan’s decision to reopen its borders for tourists in September 2022, Mr. Dorji said that in both cases, it is necessary to learn the “lessons” of the pandemic. He said that neighbours must find the way to “resolve issues” between them, and that Bhutan and China were hopeful of resolving their disputes soon, and would later take up the tricky issue of the Doklam tri-junction area that involves India’s interests as well.

Bhutan has announced that after two-and-a-half years, the country would finally reopen its borders to tourists on September 23.

Dr. Dorji, a paediatrician by profession, said this was possible since all eligible Bhutanese had been administered COVID-19 vaccines, while children’s vaccination would soon be completed.

Bhutan, which saw about 60,000 COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths during the pandemic, has had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world since March 2020. Defending Bhutan’s latest decision, to triple its entry fee for other international tourists from $65 to $200 a day, as well as to implement for the first time, a daily sustainable development Fee of Rs. 1,200 for Indian tourists, Mr. Dorji said the government’s “high-value, low-volume” policy is for tourists who are sensitive to the environment and willing to pay more to visit Bhutan.

Mr. Dorji said that the pandemic had also shown how “connected” the world is, and the necessity of resolving the outstanding border disputes in the interests of “all three countries” — Bhutan, India and China.

The speed of talks last year took New Delhi by surprise, especially as they came after the 2017 Doklam stand-off between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Mr. Dorji said he had not formally discussed with New Delhi the “Expert Group meeting” in Kunming in April 2021, that finalised the roadmap, but that the Indian government was “aware” of the progress.

Since 1984, talks between Bhutan and China have largely focused on two separate areas of dispute, including Doklam and other areas in Bhutan’s west, near the India-China-Bhutan trijunction measuring 269 sq. km., and the Jakarlung and Pasamlung valleys located near Tibet to Bhutan’s north, which measure 495 sq. km. More recently, China has also laid claims to Bhutan’s eastern Sakteng region.

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