By K J M Varma
Beijing, Apr 9 (PTI) Senior officials of China and Bhutan have discussed a roadmap to expedite their boundary talks and agreed to continue to maintain peace and tranquillity along their border pending final settlement of their dispute, the foreign ministries of the two countries said on Friday.
The two countries do not have diplomatic relations but maintain contacts through periodic visits by officials.
China, which is yet to finalise border agreements with India and Bhutan, has resolved the boundary line with 12 other neighbours.
The India-China border dispute covers the 3,488-km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the two countries have held 22 rounds of Special Representatives-level talks so far to resolve the boundary dispute. The meeting took place in the backdrop of the military standoff between China and India in eastern Ladakh since May last year.
Bhutan shares over 400-km-long border with China and the two countries have held 24 rounds of boundary talks in a bid to resolve the dispute.
According to a joint statement issued by China and Bhutan on Friday, the 10th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on Bhutan-China Boundary was held in the country’s southwest Kunming city from April 6-9.
The EGM was held in a warm and friendly atmosphere, and held in-depth and fruitful discussions on the boundary issue in keeping with the close ties of friendship and cooperation between Bhutan and China, said the statement issued by the two foreign ministries after the talks.
“The EGM discussed a roadmap to expedite the Bhutan-China Boundary Talks. The two sides agreed to continue to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas pending a final settlement of the boundary issue,” the statement posted on the Bhutan Foreign Ministry website said.
The two countries have agreed to hold the 25th Round of Bhutan-China Boundary Talks and the 11th EGM as soon as possible at mutually convenient dates, it said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also posted the joint statement on its website.
In a show of goodwill and friendship, and to support Bhutan’s fight against COVID-19, the Chinese government donated Personal Protective Equipment and medical supplies, it said.
The Bhutanese delegation was led by Letho Tobdhen Tangbi, Secretary of the International Boundaries, while the Chinese delegation was led by Hong Liang, Director General of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.
The Boundary Talks between Bhutan and China began in 1984 and both the countries have signed the Guiding Principles on the Settlement of the Boundary Issues in 1988 and the Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the border areas in 1998.
These two agreements form the basis of the boundary negotiation between Bhutan and China, the statement said.
In July last year, China made a surprising claim on Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan at the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council by opposing funding to the project.
Bhutan lodged a demarche to the Chinese Embassy in India over China’s claim over the sanctuary.
The GEF Council has reportedly cleared the funding for the Sakteng sanctuary after Aparna Subramani, the World Bank official representing Bhutan as well as India, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka said Bhutan totally rejected the claim made by China.
China sought to defend its claims on Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, saying the boundary between the two countries is yet to be demarcated and it has proposed a package solution to resolve the border dispute.
“China’s position remains consistent and clear. The boundary between China and Bhutan has not been delimited and there has been disputes in the middle, eastern and western sections,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin had told a media briefing here.
“So, China advocates a package solution to resolve the dispute,” he said. PTI KJV CPS AKJ CPS