New Delhi: In comments that can seen as a warning to China, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering has said no side should do anything near the tri-junction point between India, China and Bhutan "unilaterally". In an interview to The Hindu newspaper, Tshering said that as long as the status quo was maintained, "there will be peace and tranquility in the region".
The comments point to alignment in the views of India and Bhutan on the military standoff between India and China in 2017 which was triggered by China trying to build a road on Bhutan’s Doklam plateau. The move was first objected by Bhutan and then by India. Indian troops were then involved in a face-off with Chinese soldiers for 73 days before both sides withdrew.
Tshering’s comments also show that attempts by China to draw Bhutan closer into its sphere of influence have not worked. The remarks can also be seen as evidence of the fact that though some quarters in Bhutan had been advocating equidistance between India and China, Thimphu views India as its closest neighbour and security guarantor.
India has been making special efforts to ensure its special ties with Bhutan are strong. Bhutanese prime minister Tshering was one of the eight foreign leaders from South and Southeast Asia invited to Prime Minister Modi’s swearing-in on 30 May. During his first term in office, Modi chose Bhutan as the destination of his first visit abroad, underscoring the special ties between the two countries. After taking over, India’s new foreign minister S Jaishankar made Bhutan the destination of his first visit abroad last week.
Modi is expected to make visit to Bhutan soon.
In his interview, the Bhutanese prime minister said boundary talks between China and Bhutan had made good progress with 25 rounds completed. When asked if the talks could lead to diplomatic ties being established, he reiterated Bhutan’s policy of not establishing ties with any permanent member of the UN Security Council – a policy followed by Bhutan to keep out “big power rivalry."
Tshering also called on India and Pakistan to work together for the growth of South Asia and said it was “too early" to call the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) unviable. The comments follow reported calls by Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena and Nepal’s Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli to revive the SAARC, which has not held a summit since 2014 due to the tensions between India and Pakistan.