New Delhi: The foreign secretary, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, concluded his three-day Bhutan visit on Wednesday. This visit was significant as it was the first high-level contact between the Indian side and the new government in Thimphu amid reports that Bhutan is close to finalizing an agreement with China to demarcate the disputed border between the two countries.
India views an expeditious resolution of their festering boundary row that could have implications for India’s security interests, especially after the Doklam stand-off 2017. Although the Doklam stand-off was resolved, China went on to build permanent military infrastructure in the disputed valley that both Thimphu and Beijing claim as their territory.
Subsequently, Chinese troops encroached upon Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, in 2020, where there is a tense stand-off going on between Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army troops. Troops from both sides are also aggressively patrolling the line of actual control in Arunachal Pradesh.
It may be noted that China and Bhutan held the 25th round of boundary talks in Beijing late last year and signed a cooperation agreement on the “responsibilities and functions of the joint technical team on the delimitation and demarcation of the Bhutan-China boundary.” The first technical talks on delimiting the boundary were held in August 2023, and experts believe this was an indication that Bhutan and China have agreed on a possible alignment for their disputed border.
This development had alarmed India. Earlier, all Bhutan-China talks used to have India on board or were channelled through New Delhi.
However, the weeklong visit of the Bhutanese king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, to India last November was seen as an opportunity for the Bhutanese side to clear the air on the boundary talks with China, since any possible settlement will have ramifications for the strategic Doklam region located at the tri-junction of the three countries.
At the time, New Delhi and Thimphu agreed on several new initiatives to bolster collaboration in trade, technology, and cross-border connectivity, including a survey for the first rail link between the two sides to be built with Indian support.
During his visit, Kwatra met the Bhutanese king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck; the prime minister, Tshering Tobgay; and the foreign minister, DN Dhungyel. Kwatra also met the Bhutanese foreign secretary, Pema Choden, and other senior officials of the Bhutanese government.