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Giant Strides in Bhutan-China Boundary Talks

By Rinchen Dorji

After almost four decades of talks, Bhutan and China this week inked an historic Three-Step  Roadmap to expedite the ongoing boundary talks.

The Foreign Minister of Bhutan, Lyonpo Tandi Dorji, and the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, Wu Jianghao, signed the Memorandum of Understanding between the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Three-Step Roadmap for Expediting the Bhutan-China Boundary Negotiations.

According to a press statement from the ministry of foreign affairs, the Memorandum of Understanding was signed in a virtual signing ceremony on October 14 this week.

MoFA stated that during the 10th Expert Group Meeting in Kunming in April this year, the two sides agreed on a Three-Step Roadmap that will build on the 1988 Guiding Principles and help to expedite the ongoing boundary negotiations.

“The Memorandum of Understanding on the Three-Step Roadmap will provide a fresh impetus to the Boundary Talks. It is expected that the implementation of this Roadmap in a spirit of goodwill, understanding and accommodation will bring the boundary negotiations to a successful conclusion that is acceptable to both sides,” the MoFA statement read.

Foreign Secretary Kinga Singye said the signing of the MoU is to expedite the ongoing boundary talks. He said the MoU is an important milestone in the boundary negotiations which began in 1984.

“After 37 years, 24 rounds of talks and 10 expert meetings, we have now reached a stage where we are able to agree on the roadmap,” the Foreign Secretary said.

Kinga Singye said the roadmap is an important development in the Bhutan-China boundary talks as it will enable both sides to have more focused and systematic discussions on the boundary issues in the spirit of goodwill and understanding.

“The two sides have agreed on the roadmap and the two sides will be able to reach an agreement on the pending issues, and finally bring the boundary negotiations to a successful conclusion which is acceptable to both countries,” the Foreign Secretary said.

He added that the boundary talks have always been held in a frank and cordial atmosphere, and that Bhutan is confident that with increased mutual understanding and consent the Bhutan-China boundary issue will be successfully demarcated.

China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao was quoted as saying by state media that the MoU “will make a meaningful contribution to speed up the negotiation on demarcation and promote the process of establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries.”

The Chinese media also quoted Bhutan’s Foreign Minister as saying Bhutan would “unswervingly push forward the negotiation on demarcation and be committed to strengthening bilateral relations”.

While no details of the three-step roadmap have been revealed, Mr. Wu revealed that the roadmap might follow the three-step process of the India-China border talks.

Senior Chinese officials, however, told the South China Morning Post that the steps “might include setting up a framework first, confirming the specific disputes with an exchange of maps, and then a resolution stage.”

Wu also told the Xinhua News Agency that ‘traditional friendship between the two peoples goes back to ancient times. It is expected that the MoU will make a meaningful contribution to speed up the negotiation on demarcation and promote the process of establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries.’

It is expected that the implementation of this roadmap in a spirit of goodwill, understanding and accommodation will bring the boundary negotiations to a successful conclusion that is acceptable to both sides.

Political analysts also said the MoU is of historic significance and is the result of years of joint efforts and sincere cooperation between the two sides, noting that it points out the direction for breaking the current deadlock and laying a foundation for the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Bhutan.

Boundary negotiations between Bhutan and China began in 1984 and the two sides have held twenty four rounds of Boundary Talks and ten rounds of meeting at the Expert Group level.

The negotiations which have been conducted in a spirit of understanding and accommodation have been guided by the 1988 Joint Communique on the Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the Boundary and the 1998 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace,Tranquility and status quo in the Bhutan-China Border Areas.

The Memorandum of Understanding will be exchanged between the two sides through a diplomatic channel.

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