(TibetanReview.net, Apr03’23) – Ahead of its king’s visit to India beginning Apr 3, Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering of Bhutan has clarified that there has been no change in Bhutan’s position on border dispute with China and there has been nothing new in what he had said on the issue on Mar 25 to the Belgian newspaper La Libra during his visit to Brussels.
Lotay Tshering’s remarks that Bhutan hoped to complete the demarcation of territories with China within “one or two meetings”, that the problem was not a big one, while calling Beijing an equal partner for the settlement of the Doklam trijunction raised speculations and concern in India that the country may be about to accept a package deal being held out by China since the 1990s. The deal has grave implications for India’s strategic concerns.
The package deal will in theory give China control of disputed areas in Bhutan’s west, where Doklam is located, in return for Bhutan securing its claim areas along the northern border.
“I have said nothing new and there is no change in position.” thebhutanese.bt Apr 1 quoted the prime minister as saying.
In that interview, which appeared in French, Lotay Tshering had said: “Doklam is a junction point between India, China and Bhutan. It is not up to Bhutan alone to solve the problem. We are three. There is no big or small country, there are three equal countries, each counting for a third. We are ready. As soon as the other two parties are also ready, we can discuss. India and China have problems all along their border. We are therefore waiting to see how they will resolve their differences.”
The PM has told thebhutanese.bt that the three countries were mentioned as the three countries meet at the trijunction area, a geographical fact.
In fact, Tibet expert Professor Robert Barnett of the SOAS sees Lotay Tshering’s comments as a reiteration of Thimphu’s position that discussions over the trijunction will involve India and not happen bilaterally with China. This is seen as a reassurance to New Delhi, noted the scroll.in Apr 3.
However, Barnett wonders why the prime minister was claiming that there had been no Chinese incursion when at least 10 Chinese villages show up within what Bhutan’s own maps mark as its borders.
“This suggests either longstanding Bhutanese, Chinese and international maps of the border have all been wrong, … Or it could mean that Bhutan has agreed to cede these areas to China,” the report said.
However, Barnett has said later that Lotay Tshering’s comments seemed to be about areas other than Doklam.
Still, such observations heightened concerns in India that Thimphu was possibly making room to cede territory to China under the so-called package deal, the report said.
Meanwhile, India’s foreign ministry has said the Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s visit was in line with “the long-standing tradition of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries”, suggesting it was not anything out of the ordinary.
And the Indian Express reported, quoting unidentified persons aware of the development, that the king’s visit had been planned for some time and should “not be linked with recent Doklam comments”.