CHINA BHUTAN BORDER TALKS
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Context: Both sides agree to increase the frequency of the expert group meetings and to keep contact through diplomatic channels on holding the 25th Round of boundary talks at the earliest
- Officials from China and Bhutan agreed to “push forward” a three-step roadmap as an expert group meeting held boundary talks in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming.
- A joint release said the two sides “had an in-depth exchange of views on implementing the MOU on the Three-Step Roadmap for Expediting the China-Bhutan Boundary Negotiations, and reached positive consensus.”
- Bhutan and China in October 2021 signed an agreement on a “Three-Step Roadmap For Expediting the Bhutan-China Boundary Negotiations”.
- So far, 11 expert group meetings and 24 rounds of talks have been held since the process began in 1984.
- Negotiations in the 24 rounds have focused broadly on two areas of dispute — Doklam and areas along the western borders of Bhutan and near the India-China-Bhutan trijunction, and the Jakarlung and Pasamlung valleys along Bhutan’s northern borders.
- However, China has recently appeared to broaden the scope of the dispute by also bringing in areas along Bhutan’s eastern borders in Sakteng wildlife sanctuary, which borders India’s State of Arunachal Pradesh.
- Some observers viewed that move as a pressure tactic to push Bhutan to accept China’s earlier reported offer of a swap of Doklam in the west, which Beijing views strategically, in exchange for Bhutan to retain its northern territories.
- The western areas, measuring 269 sq. km, are a particularly sensitive bone of contention given the proximity to India, especially after the 2017 stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops in Doklam.
- Since the stand-off, China has stepped up its military presence in the disputed plateau.
- The Jakarlung and Pasamlung valleys along Bhutan’s northern borders with Tibet measure 495 sq. km.
- Beijing has recently launched an infrastructure push in Tibet to build what it calls “xiaokang” (moderately prosperous) frontier villages, to establish civilian settlements in areas, including disputed ones, along the Tibet-Bhutan border.