Updated: Feb 18
While India China talks on resolution of the boundary issue have been in a limbo after the Special Representative Mechanism talks have not been held after 21 December 2019 and following the clash on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh in June 2020 apart from Chinese intrusions in May the same year, Bhutan is continuing the process. Prospects of any resolution in the near future appear to be dim due to a number of factors discussed herein.
Thus, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan Joint Press release indicated that 11th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the Bhutan-China Boundary Issues was held in Kunming city, China from 10th to 13th January 2023. The Bhutanese delegation was led by Dasho Letho Tobdhen Tangbi, Secretary of the International Boundaries of Bhutan, and the Chinese delegation was led by H.E. Mr. Hong Liang, Director-General of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.
“The two sides in a frank, cordial and constructive atmosphere had an in-depth exchange of views on implementing the MOU on the Three-Step Roadmap for Expediting the Bhutan-China Boundary Negotiations, and reached positive consensus. The two sides agreed to simultaneously push forward the implementation of all the steps of the Three-Step Roadmap. The two sides also agreed to increase the frequency of the Expert Group Meeting and to keep contact through diplomatic channels on holding the 25th Round of Bhutan-China Boundary talks as soon as possible at mutually convenient dates,” the Release indicates.
The Hindu reports that 11 expert group meetings and 24 rounds of talks have been held since the process began in 1984. While initially the negotiations were on two areas of dispute – Doklam or the Western Sector [269 square kms] near the India-China-Bhutan trijunction, and the Jakarlung and Pasamlung valleys in the Northern Sector [495 square kms], China has recently added claims to the Sakteng wildlife sanctuary in the East which borders Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Thus, China now refers to the disputes in “western, middle and eastern” sections.
China has thus created an additional leverage hoping to bargain a subsequent favourable swap. Given widening of the number of disputed areas two to three sectors, India’s core interest in the Western Sector providing depth to the Siliguri Corridor connecting Northeast India, an early breakthrough is not anticipated. However buildup of infrastructure and border villages on the Chinese side is expected to continue.
Coincidentally possibly as a prescheduled meeting Indian foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra was on a visit to Bhutan from January 18 to 20 at the invitation of Bhutan’s foreign secretary. It was his first visit to Bhutan.
The Foreign Secretary called on the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and discussed various issues of mutual interests with his counterpart foreign secretary and India's support to the 13th Plan was discussed amongst other issues.