China on Friday said the signing of a Sino-Bhutan memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the bilateral boundary dispute will make “significant contributions” to speed up boundary talks while it’s official media blamed India for “standing in the way” of resolving differences with the Himalayan country.
China and Bhutan on Thursday signed the MoU on a “three-step roadmap” to help speed up protracted boundary talks ongoing for over three decades.
The signing was done over video link by Bhutan’s foreign minister Tandi Dorji and China’s assistant foreign minister Wu Jianghao.
China’s ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, and Bhutan’s envoy to India, Maj Gen Vetsop Namgyel, joined the virtual event. The Chinese foreign ministry released a brief statement on the MoU without sharing details.
“China and Bhutan are friendly neighbors linked by mountains and rivers, and the traditional friendship between the two has a long history,” the ministry statement quoted Wu as saying.
“It is expected that the MoU will make a significant contribution to speed up the negotiation on demarcation and promote the process of establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries,” the statement added.
“China will follow Xi Jinping Thought on diplomacy, follow the neighbourhood diplomacy featuring amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness, and be a good neighbor, friend and partner of Bhutan on the principles of equality and peaceful coexistence,” Wu said.
China is a good neighbour, friend and partner of Bhutan, and the two countries should treat each other as equals, co-exist peacefully and seek mutual benefits and win-win results, said Wu.
The Chinese statement quoted Bhutanese foreign minister Dorji as saying that Bhutan will work with China to implement the MoU, unswervingly push forward the negotiation on demarcation and be committed to strengthening bilateral relations.
“The MoU is of historic significance and is the result of years of joint efforts and sincere cooperation between the two sides,” the nationalistic tabloid, Global Times, said in a report on the deal.
Chinese experts told state media that the meeting shows Bhutan’s willingness to manage border affairs independently, rebutting India’s claims of the “China threat”, and reducing the risk on its eastern China-India border.
“They noted that the territorial disputes between China and Bhutan are not significant but have not been resolved because India stands in the way as it has a special influence on Bhutan’s culture, defense and diplomacy,” the Global Times report said.
“At a time when India is pursuing hegemony by coercion over its neighbors, the MoU is a victory for the region. It demonstrates that respectable, bilateral diplomacy has triumphed over New Delhi’s attempts to dominate, control and bully its neighbors, showing India has little ability to regionally isolate China,” national broadcaster CGTN’s English website said in a commentary.
“The biggest lesson of the MoU for New Delhi ought to be that initiatives such as the Quad and anti-China metrics cannot reverse India’s growing isolation in South Asia,” it added.
China’s official stand on the border dispute with Bhutan is that the boundary between the two countries is yet to be demarcated and the middle, eastern and western sections of the border are disputed.
In June, 2020, Beijing stalled a request from Bhutan to develop the Sakteng wildlife sanctuary in the eastern sector’s Trashigang district during a virtual meeting of the US-based Global Environment Facility (GEF).
And, in July, 2020, China said it has a border dispute with Bhutan in the eastern sector, adding that Beijing and Thimphu were in communication on the issue. Beijing’s claim was seen as significant as the area in question borders Arunachal Pradesh, which also China claims as part of south Tibet.
In a statement to the Hindustan Times the same month, the Chinese foreign ministry had said “a third party should not point fingers” in the China-Bhutan border issue – an apparent reference to India.
“As far as I know, the China-Bhutan boundary issue was almost resolved 20 years ago. The two sides have a common understanding on how to sign the final agreement. But for Bhutan, it is difficult because of the India factor. That is the same reason why China and Bhutan have not signed the agreement,” Lin Minwang, assistant dean at the Institute of International Studies at Shanghai’s Fudan University, had told HT at the time.
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