After holding fruitful discussions during the 25th round of border talks, China and Bhutan have formally signed a noteworthy “Cooperation Agreement” outlining the roles and duties of the Joint Technical Team (JTT) in defining and marking their mutual border.
Notably, the Bhutanese Foreign Minister Dr. Tandi Dorji’s visit to China marked the first official trip of its kind, and the convening of the much-anticipated 25th round of discussions signified substantial headway achieved by the expert teams of officials from both nations.
During the border talks, Dorji had discussions with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng on Tuesday and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday. In these meetings, they encouraged Bhutan to initiate diplomatic relations with China and expedite the resolution of the boundary matter to formalize the relationship between the two neighboring countries.
Both parties engaged in extensive deliberations regarding the boundary negotiations, acknowledging the advancements achieved in a sequence of Expert Group Meetings since the 24th Round of Boundary Talks in 2016, as stated in a joint press release from the Bhutanese Foreign Ministry.
Within the discussions, the leaders of the respective delegations formally signed the Cooperation Agreement delineating the roles and responsibilities of the Joint Technical Team (JTT) regarding the delineation and marking of the Bhutan-China boundary.
The Joint Technical Team (JTT) was set up during the 13th Expert Group Meeting to support the Expert Group in executing the Three-Step Roadmap’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Both parties have reached an agreement to persist in their collaborative efforts to advance all the stages of the Three-Step Roadmap concurrently. The statement further noted their shared commitment to capitalize on the favorable progress achieved thus far.
During his conversation with Dorji, Han expressed that both parties were in consensus about expediting the border delineation process and the initiation of diplomatic ties between China and Bhutan. Han emphasized that China and Bhutan, despite not having formal diplomatic relations, have a history of being friendly neighbors and have maintained amicable interactions over an extended period.
“China always respects Bhutan’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and is willing to strengthen exchanges at all levels and in all fields, expand practical cooperation on the economy, trade, culture and tourism, and accelerate the boundary demarcation process and the establishment of diplomatic relations with Bhutan to bring more benefits to the two countries and the two peoples,” Han said in a statement.
In 2020, China made an unanticipated declaration concerning the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan during a meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council, opposing the allocation of funds for the project.
In response to this development, Bhutan formally conveyed its objections to the Chinese Embassy in India regarding China’s assertion regarding the sanctuary during the GEF meeting.
Additionally, China has intensified its efforts to promote the development of communities situated along its borders with India, Bhutan, and Nepal through infrastructure investments and the implementation of favorable policies.
Foreign Minister Wang emphasized the importance of reestablishing diplomatic relations, underscoring how it aligns with the long-term interests of both nations. He expressed China’s willingness to collaborate with Bhutan in achieving these objectives and formalizing their amicable relations within a legal framework.
China and Bhutan, despite lacking formal diplomatic ties, maintain regular communication through official visits. Notably, Bhutan’s unresolved border disputes with China add significant weight to China’s efforts to establish comprehensive diplomatic relations with Bhutan.
Both parties have reached a consensus to maintain their collaborative efforts in advancing all the stages of the Three-Step Roadmap simultaneously.
The talks took place in a cordial and amicable environment, in line with the spirit of friendship and cooperation that characterizes the relationship between China and Bhutan. The two sides also exchanged viewpoints on enhancing their bilateral relations and addressing matters of mutual interest.