Beijing | China has asked Bhutan to establish diplomatic ties with it and resolve the boundary issue “as soon as possible” to transform the relations between the two neighbours into “legal form”.
Bhutanese Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji who is currently visiting Beijing to take part in the boundary talks between the two countries met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday during which Wang said restoration of diplomatic ties will serve the long-term interests of both countries, a Foreign Ministry press release here said.
“The conclusion of boundary negotiations and the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Bhutan fully serve the long-term and fundamental interests of the country and nation of Bhutan," Wang said.
“China is ready to work with Bhutan in the same direction, seize the historic opportunity, complete this important process as soon as possible, and fix and develop China-Bhutan friendly relations in legal form," Wang, also a member of the powerful Political Bureau of the ruling Communist Party, told Dorji.
The Bhutanese Foreign Minister is in Beijing to hold the China-Bhutan boundary talks, the release said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry press release quoted Dorji as saying that Bhutan and China have enjoyed a traditional friendship.
He thanked China for its strong support and assistance to Bhutan.
Bhutan firmly abides by the one-China principle meaning Taiwan and Tibet are part of China and stands ready to work with China for an early settlement of the boundary issue and advance the political process of establishing diplomatic relations, it said.
China and Bhutan do not have diplomatic relations but maintain contact through periodic visits by officials.
While Beijing resolved the boundary disputes with the 12 other neighbours, India and Bhutan are the only two countries China has yet to sign the border agreements.
China in recent years stepped up efforts to establish full-fledged diplomatic ties with Bhutan and to expedite negotiations to reach a settlement for the vexed border dispute which was complicated by Beijing’s attempts to claim Doklam despite Thimphu’s assertions that the area belonged to it. China’s attempts to build a road in the Doklam plateau in 2017 resulted in an India-China stand-off triggering tensions between the two neighbours.
India strongly opposed the construction of the road by the Chinese military at the Doklam tri-junction as it would have impacted its overall security interests since it runs close to the narrow Siliguri Corridor also known as the Chicken Neck connecting India with its north-east.
The standoff ended after Beijing dropped its plan to build the road.
Also in 2020, China made a surprising claim on Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan at the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council by opposing funding for the project.
Bhutan has lodged a demarche to the Chinese Embassy in India over China’s claim over the sanctuary made at the GEF meeting.
China has also ramped up efforts to develop the villages located along borders with India Bhutan and Nepal with infrastructure development and preferential policies.
Beijing and Thimphu held their 13th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on the Bhutan-China Boundary issues in Beijing in August this year.
After the talks, the Bhutanese Foreign Ministry has said the discussions were “candid, friendly and constructive discussions on continuously implementing the MoU on the Three-Step Road Map for Expediting the Bhutan-China Boundary Negotiation," according to Bhutanese Foreign Ministry press release.
Dorji’s current visit to Beijing comes in the backdrop of remarks by Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering in March this year that Bhutan hopes to complete the demarcation of territories with China within “one or two meetings”.
“We do not encounter major border problems with China, but certain territories are not yet demarcated. We still have to discuss it and draw a line,” Dr Tshering told Belgian newspaper La Libre in an interview published during his visit to Brussels in March this year.
As Tshering’s remarks raised concerns in India considering the close ties, Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck visited New Delhi in April and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi during which the two leaders resolved to expand the close ties between the countries.
Briefing the media on the talks between Prime Modi and Bhutan King Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra said the two countries share ties characterised by “trust, goodwill, mutual understanding.” “India and Bhutan remain in close touch relating to our shared interest, including security interest,” he said.
After his interview stoked controversy, Tshering told The Bhutanese newspaper that he had said nothing new in his statements to the Belgian paper on Doklam and the Bhutan-China boundary talks.
“I have said nothing new and there is no change in position,” he said.
In his talks with Dorji on Monday, Wang also said China always prioritises neighbourhood diplomacy in its overall diplomacy and adheres to the principle that all countries, big or small, are equals.
He claimed that China respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries and the legitimate aspirations and concerns of small and medium-sized countries apparently referring to concerns among China’s neighbours about Beijing’s expansive territorial claims.
The Chinese press release also said Dorji expressed Thimphu’s backing for President Xi Jinping’s Global Security Initiative (GSI), the Global Development Initiative (GDI) and the Global Cultural Initiative (GCI) to further Beijing’s strategic initiatives. “Bhutan highly appreciates and supports the three major global initiatives proposed by President Xi Jinping, which have delivered benefits to all parties, especially its neighbours, including Bhutan”, the Chinese press release said without mentioning the names of the initiatives.
After its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China is pushing for global support for the three initiatives proposed by Xi.
Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" during his visit to Beijing in September declined to endorse GSI which advocates joint security saying that it is not in the interest of Nepal to maintain a strategic balance between India, China and the US.
He however backed GDI for its orientation on development.
Sri Lankan President, Ranil Wickremesinghe who took part in this month’s Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in China however supported all three initiatives.
Sri Lanka firmly supports and actively participates in the GDI, GSI, and the GCI proposed by China, a joint statement issued after Wickremesinghe's visit said.