China, Bhutan sign three-step roadmap for expediting boundary negotiations

Amid the border dispute with India, China on Thursday signed a three-step roadmap with Bhutan for expediting the boundary negotiations.

India is keeping a close watch on Bhutan and China’s negotiations, as in the past, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had made attempts to encroach upon strategic land mass of Bhutan in the Dhoklam area, near a trijunction border known as Donglang.

Currently, India and China are engaged in a 16-month border dispute along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh.

Bhutan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the Foreign Minister of Bhutan, Lyonpo Tandi Dorji, and the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, Wu Jianghao, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the three-step roadmap for expediting the Bhutan-China boundary negotiations.

“The MoU was signed in a virtual ceremony on October 14,” said Bhutan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Boundary negotiations between Bhutan and China began in 1984 and the two sides have held 24 rounds of talks and 10 rounds of meeting at the expert group level.

The negotiations, which have been conducted in a spirit of understanding and accommodation, have been guided by the 1988 joint communique on the guiding principles for the settlement of the boundary and the 1998 agreement on the maintenance of peace, tranquility and status quo in the Bhutan-China border areas.

“During the 10th expert group meeting in Kunming in April this year, the two sides agreed on a three-step roadmap that will be built on the 1988 guiding principles and help to expedite the ongoing boundary negotiations,” Bhutan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.

The MoU on the three-step roadmap will provide fresh impetus to the boundary talks. It is expected that the implementation of this roadmap in a spirit of goodwill, understanding and accommodation will bring the boundary negotiations to a successful conclusion that is acceptable to both sides, it said.

“The MoU will be exchanged between the two sides through diplomatic channel,” the ministry said.

Earlier on several occasions, Bhutan had objected to Chinese intrusion into their land.

The Doklam Crisis

In 2017, China was carrying out infrastructural development work at Doklam, the tri junction of three countries — India, China and Bhutan — to which India objected. China had then claimed that there was boundary dispute between Bhutan and China and to which India had no claims.

However, India had refuted the claim and stood guard there, matching the deployment of the Chinese troops for 73 days.

The standoff was triggered by China saying that it was constructing a road within its territory. This was disputed by India, which said that the road construction site was on the Bhutanese territory.

In Doklam, India feared that the Chinese road would give its military access to heights from where it could threaten the Siliguri Corridor, India’s tenuous link with its northeastern region.

The crisis was resolved with diplomatic maturity without losing any ground. There was no change in the status quo on the ground and the face-off ended on August 28, 2017.