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Bhutan and China set up technical team for border delimitation amid continuing talks

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(TibetanReview.net, Aug27’23) – Talks between Bhutan and China over their disputed borders have been proceeding in pretty much the same way as the Sino-India border talks which also involves Chinese-occupied Tibet: a great deal of positive vibes about the talks themselves but very little or no progress on the ground. While Tibet when free had little or no territorial disputes with both the countries, these have assumed serious – in fact, alarming, in the case of India – proportions after its illegal annexation by China over half a century ago.

A joint press release from Beijing and Thimphu on Aug 24 said their 13th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) was held in Beijing from Aug 21 through Aug 24, and described as an “important outcome” the setting up of a Joint Technical Team on the Delimitation of the China-Bhutan Boundary, which held its first meeting along the sidelines of the EGM.

In recent months, both sides have portrayed the long-running talks as picking up speed and nearing towards a possible solution, which would have ramifications for India, noted thehindu.com Aug 25.

The report said the two sides agreed in Beijing to hold the next 14th round as soon as possible and to hold the 25th round of boundary talks to “keep the positive momentum”. However, no date was announced for the already much delayed 25th round of boundary talks, which have not been held since 2016, it pointed out.

The report cited experts in India as saying any deal between Beijing and Thimphu that accedes to a “swap arrangement”, long proposed by the former, between areas to Bhutan’s north (Jamparlung and Pasamlung valleys) with Doklam to its west would be of concern to India, given the latter’s proximity to its narrow “Siliguri corridor” that connects its northeastern states with the rest of the country.

India and China were involved in a military stand-off in Doklam near the India-China (occupied Tibet)-Bhutan tri-junction that lasted for 73 days in 2017.

In March this year, the Bhutanese Prime Minister said in an interview that the process of “demarcating territories” and “drawing a line” could be completed “after one or two more meetings,” which raised media concerns in India as this could only mean talks going China’s way.

But Bhutan also clarified that India being an interested party should be involved in any Doklam border dispute settlement.

The boundary talks between Bhutan and China began in 1984, and the 24th round was held in 2016. However, these have been stalled since 2016, especially after the 2017 Doklam stand-off, the report noted.

The Aug 24 joint statement said the two sides had talks on “continuously implementing the MoU on the Three-Step Road Map for Expediting the China-Bhutan Boundary Negotiations” and “agreed to expedite and take simultaneous steps to implement the Three-Step Road Map.”

The MoU was signed between the two countries in Oct 2021.

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