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Bhutan’s three-step roadmap for occupied-Tibet-border settlement with China could be a protracted one

(TibetanReview.net, Oct15’21) – India said Oct 14 that it had taken note of the fact that its strategic northern neighbour Bhutan had signed an agreement with China on a “three-step roadmap” to expedite negotiations to resolve their boundary dispute. Any settlement, which involves Chinese occupied Tibet’s territory, will have significant strategic implications for India, which has a particularly special relationship with Bhutan.

The signing of the pact came four years after the Indian and Chinese armies were locked in a 73-day standoff at the Doklam tri-junction after China tried to extend a road in the area that Bhutan claimed belonged to it, noted the Indianexpress.com Oct 15.

Bhutan has said in a statement that its Foreign Minister, Lyonpo Tandi Dorji, and China’s Assistant Foreign Minister, Wu Jianghao, had on Oct 14 signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the “three-step roadmap” for expediting the Bhutan-China boundary negotiations.

The agreement to sign a three-step roadmap was stated to have been reached during the 10th Expert Group Meeting between the two sides in Kunming in April this year.

But this does not mean that a settlement will be reached any time soon. China has made similar sounding deals with India in the past, only to see their border dispute getting even worse and protracted.

In fact, only a month after the Kunming meeting, reports emerged that Bhutan had reservations about the three-step roadmap proposal, one of which related to China’s new claim over the Sakteng wildlife sanctuary in eastern Bhutan (close to the Arunachal border).

Bhutan’s Foreign Minister, Lyonpo Tandi Dorji, signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the “three-step roadmap” for expediting the Bhutan-China boundary negotiations. (Photo courtesy: Twitter)

It is not clear yet to what extent China has taken into account those amendments as the text of the roadmap has not been made public. However, Bhutan has said it will provide fresh impetus to the boundary talks and that it expects that the implementation of this roadmap will bring the boundary negotiations to a successful conclusion.

“The negotiations which have been conducted in a spirit of understanding and accommodation have been guided by the 1988 Joint Communique on the Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the Boundary and the 1998 agreement on the maintenance of peace, tranquillity and status quo in the Bhutan-China Border areas,” the Bhutanese foreign ministry has said.

Bhutan shares an over 400-km-long border with Chinese occupied Tibet and the two sides have held over 24 rounds of boundary talks in a bid to resolve the dispute.

Bhutan has so far not accepted the Chinese 1996 “package deal” that offered to exchange territory in central Bhutan for Doklam, located dangerously close to India’s Siliguri Corridor. China reiterated this land swap offer last year, noted the timesofindia.com Oct 15.

China has also for long been seeking to open a diplomatic presence in Bhutan’s capital Thimpu and could very well tie this to a border settlement.

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