Against the backdrop of renewed focus on the Doklam tri-junction, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck on Tuesday held talks focusing on a five-point broad roadmap to expand the “time-tested” relations besides delving into shared national security interests.
At a media briefing after the talks, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said India and Bhutan closely coordinate on shared national and security interests and that security concerns of both sides are intertwined and indivisible.
The talks between Modi and the visiting King took place days after Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said that China has an equal say in resolving the border dispute relating to the strategically-located Doklam tri-junction.
When asked whether the Doklam issue figured in the talks, Kwatra said India-Bhutan ties are based on mutual respect, trust, close understanding and sensitivity to each others concerns, adding Modi and the King covered the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation including issues of “respective national interests”.
“Now besides this exemplary and unique relationship that India and Bhutan have, we also have a time-tested framework of security cooperation,” he said.
“And as part of that, both countries maintain a longstanding tradition of very close consultations on matters relating to their mutual interest and, of course, security also. Now in this context the intertwined and indivisible nature of our security concerns is self-evident,” he said.
Kwatra said India very closely follows all developments having a bearing on its national interest and it takes all necessary measures to safeguard them as necessary.
“As regards the recent statements and the related commentary to them is concerned, I would say that one — India and Bhutan remain in close touch relating to our shared interests including our security interests,” he said.
“I would only reiterate our earlier statements on this issue which very explicitly and very clearly bring out our position on the determination of the tri-junction boundary points,” he added.
In 2017, India said that the boundary issues at tri-junction points such as Doklam must be resolved with the involvement of all three countries.
The Doklam plateau is considered an important area for India’s strategic interest.
The Indian and Chinese armies were locked in a 73-day stand-off at the Doklam tri-junction in 2017 after China tried to extend a road in an area that Bhutan claimed belonged to it.
In October 2021, Bhutan and China signed an agreement on a “three-step roadmap” to expedite negotiations to resolve their festering boundary dispute.
Bhutan shares an over 400-km-long border with China.
“If you look at the framework of your question, look at context of the framework, look at the centre of that context and perspective, then naturally, Indias national interests, Bhutans national interests, and the interest of India-Bhutan relationship comes up at the centre of all that,” Kwatra said.
He was asked about the Bhutanese PMs comments and whether the Doklam issue was discussed at the talks between Modi and the Bhutan King.
“Like I said at the beginning, there are some core fundamentals of India-Bhutan relationship,” Kwatra said.
“These fundamentals are shared values, trust, as I said, mutual respect and a close understanding and sensitivity to each others interests and concerns,” he said.
In a tweet, Modi described his meeting with the Bhutanese King as “warm and productive”. The prime minister also hosted a lunch for the visiting dignitary.
“Pleased to receive His Majesty the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. We had a warm and productive meeting. Deeply value our close friendship and the vision of successive Druk Gyalpos in guiding India-Bhutan relations to new heights,” Modi said.
Kwatra said the proposed rail link project between Kokrajhar (Assam) and Gelephu (Bhutan) will be expedited and that it would be the first ever rail link between the two countries.
The foreign secretary said there were five broad points that were identified to expand the ties.
The first point was on economic and development partnership which included cooperation for Bhutans 13th Five Year Plan that begins next year.
Kwatra said India’s support would include relevant financial assistance for the reform process in Bhutan and for projects based on development partnership.
The second bucket of issues was relating to trade, connectivity and investment cooperation, which in turn included discussions on infrastructure connectivity, rail links, air connectivity and inland waterways among others.
The third one related to elements pertaining to long term and sustainable trade facilitation measures that India and Bhutan could take, which would link to the economic growth and prosperity of both economies.
While the fourth point was related to new paradigms of cooperation in areas of energy which also provides for cooperation in areas of non-hydro-renewable space.
The last one related to cooperation in new sectors, which included space and startups.
Highlighting various aspects of the bilateral ties, Kwatra said both sides are examining and considering setting up of the first Integrated Check Post (ICP) along India-Bhutan border, which would be somewhere near Jaigaon.
He said it was agreed that India would step up its support to Bhutan’s upcoming 13th Five Year Plan.
“The specifics of the support, its distribution into different projects, that is something which is to be worked out between the two systems going forward,” he said.
“At Bhutan’s request, India would work to extend an additional standby credit facility. This would be over and above the two existing standby credit facilities that are operating between the two countries,” he said.
Kwatra said India would work to shape long term sustainable arrangements for export of agricultural commodities from Bhutan and develop bilateral arrangements for supply of critical commodities to that country which would include petroleum, fertilizers, and coal.
“In the field of hydro-power specifically, which has been the cornerstone of our economic relationship, we have agreed to an upward revision of the tariff of the Chhukha hydro-electric project,” he said.
“Besides the existing range of hydropower projects and also exploring the non-hydro-renewable space, we would also try and expedite the finalisation of modalities for new hydroelectric projects, hydropower projects, including the Sankosh hydroelectric project,” he added.
Kwatra said India and Bhutan share an “exemplary” relationship, which is characterised by trust, goodwill, mutual understanding.
The foreign secretary said the King briefed the prime minister on his significant transformation and reform initiative that Bhutan is currently undertaking.
“The prime minister, on his part, reiterated India’s continued and full support to the socio-economic development in Bhutan based, of course, on the priorities of the royal government and in keeping with the transformation initiatives and reform process as per the vision of His Majesty,” he said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Federal staff and is auto-published from a syndicated feed.)