Chinese and Bhutanese leaders have expressed willingness to establish formal diplomatic ties following a first-ever meeting between the heads of government of the two countries on 21JUN12, Chinese State media reported.
Bhutan, which neighbours both India and China, does not have diplomatic ties with Beijing, although it has held 19 rounds of talks over a border dispute that has strained relations between the two countries.
Thursday’s meeting marked the first instance of a statement from the heads of both governments indicating the two countries were willing to establish diplomatic relations. Mr. Wen told his counterpart “China is ready to forge formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence,” the State-run Xinhua news agency reported on 22JUN12.
Mr. Wen told him that China was” willing to complete border demarcation with Bhutan at an early date,” telling his counterpart that Beijing “a foreign policy of good-neighbourliness.”
Bhutan, which enjoys close diplomatic, political and military relations with India, has in recent years begun to widen its diplomatic engagement, establishing relations with another country in the region, Myanmar, earlier this year. Bhutan also has diplomatic ties with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Maldives, but does not have formal relations with either the United States or the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Bhutan, which borders Tibet, has looked to improve relations with Beijing, taking forward talks on the border dispute and also voicing its support to China on the Tibetan issue. Mr. Wen said on Thursday China “highly appreciates Bhutan’s staunch support of China’s position on issues concerning Taiwan and Tibet.”
Bhutan and China held the 19th round of border talks in Thimphu in January 2010, when both countries pledged to look for “a just and reasonable solution” to the border dispute and to push forward relations. The talks appeared to make progress following the previous round with China offering a package solution, including recognising Bhutanese claims over 495 sq. km. of disputed land, and the two sides deciding to conduct joint field surveys.
Bhutan is vital to India’s security calculus not only vis-a-vis China, but also in tackling some of the north-east insurgent groups like its crackdown on the ULFA groups in 2004. Bhutan’s position in the Chumbi Valley, the tri-junction with India and China, makes its border resolution decisions key from a security point of view for India.
In other news, Japan has announced it will open its diplomatic mission in Bhutan by 2014, a commitment given to the young royal couple, when they visited Japan in November. Bhutan’s sovereign investment institution is wooing FDI in data centre related businesses, renewable energy, organic farming as well as alternative building materials to reduce dependence on timber for construction. Bhutan is also pitching itself as the least corrupt country in South Asia, which is a big draw for foreign investors. China is also an attractive source of investment for the Himalayan nation, and most Indian officials are unhappily aware that Beijing can secure a quick advantage over India with its obvious strengths.