Bhutan discusses Doklam situation with China in Delhi

14 October 2017

Even as China continues its road-building in the Doklam region - though away from the site of the showdown with India - Bhutan has reportedly again discussed the situation with the Chinese mission in New Delhi.

Diplomatic sources told The Times of India that Bhutan's ambassador to India Vetsop Namgyel met Luo Zhaohui, his Chinese counterpart, at the Chinese embassy in Delhi on 27 September to discuss the Chinese activities in the region.

This was exactly a month after India and China announced disengagement of their troops from the standoff on the Doklam plateau near Sikkim which both New Delhi and Thimpu say is located in Bhutan, but is claimed by China.

As the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement earlier this month, there is no fresh activity at the faceoff site or its vicinity and the status quo remains.

But China's People's Liberation Army troops remain stationed around 800-900 meters from the faceoff site though Beijing has shifted road construction equipment from that site. As reported earlier, China is currently building a road network 10-12 km north of the standoff site (See: China resumes road building near Doklam, but away from standoff site) .

Bhutan and China are also learnt to have discussed the possibility of holding another round of border talks soon.

Under its treaty with Bhutan, India is responsible for the external affairs and defence of the tiny Himalayan Kingdom. With Beijing apparently looking to wean Bhutan away from India's influence, any move which Thimpu makes on the issue of the disputed Bhutan-China-India tri-junction is of immense significance to India.

The Bhutan envoy's meeting with Luo coincided with reports that China remained active in the Doklam region, looking probably to improve its access from Yatung, where the PLA has a base, to the territory which is disputed between China and Bhutan.

Bhutanese authorities remained uncommunicative during the 74-day Sino-Indian standoff - after they issued a demarche to China in June, but after the disengagement was announced, Thimpu welcomed the development expressing hope that this would lead to "maintenance of peace and tranquillity and status quo along the borders of Bhutan, China and India in keeping with the existing and agreements between the respective countries".

There is a 2012 agreement between India and China that tri-junction could only be established by holding consultations with Bhutan.

An op-ed in China's Global Times recently said that road construction in Doklam area was going to be "a new trend".

Chinese control of Doklam leading up to where Beijing believes the tri-junction is, Mount Gipmochi, will render India's Siliguri Corridor vulnerable but the government has to ensure that it works in harmony with Bhutan.

During the standoff, Chinese media had sought to create an impression that Bhutan had been forced to take a position favouring India. This, Indian officials say, is not borne out by facts, according to the TOI report.

Bhutan has never in the past accepted China's claim over Doklam, and in fact raised the issue of its sovereignty over the area in each of the over 20 rounds of boundary talks it has had with China.

(Also see:  Indian Army to step up road-building along Chinese border)

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