According to a Press Release issued by the Prime Minister’s office, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley met the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on 21st June 2012 at the sidelines of the Rio summit.
The release from the Prime Minister’s office said, “The meeting carries great historic significance as it marks the first meeting between the heads of the two governments.”
It also said “They discussed bilateral issues of mutual interest and multilateral cooperation including Bhutan’s bid for a non permanent seat on UN Security Council for the term 2013-2014, elections for which are to be held in fall this year.”
According to a host of international news reports which included prominent Chinese and Indian news agencies Wen Jiabao and Prime Minister, Jigmi Y Thinley on Thursday are reported to have expressed willingness to establish formal diplomatic ties between the two countries. The news reports were flashed widely on numerous prominent media outlets especially in India and China generating interest among foreign policy watchers in both the giant neighbors of Bhutan.
However, the Media Attache of the Bhutan Prime Minister’s office claimed that ‘local Chinese media had misreported that Bhutan and China will establish diplomatic ties.”
Lyonchhen was quoted by Xinhua news agency and other news agencies as saying Bhutan “wishes to forge formal diplomatic ties with China as soon as possible” as well as settle border issues “in a cooperative manner.”
According to the Press Trust of India report, Wen told Thinley that China values the traditional friendship between the two nations and respects Bhutan’s choice for its developmental path according to its own national condition
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 Chinese Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.
China is willing to complete border demarcation with Bhutan at an early date and strengthen exchanges in various fields so as to push bilateral ties to a higher level, Mr. Wen said, appreciating “Bhutan’s staunch support of China’s position on issues concerning Taiwan and Tibet”.
According to the Indian Express, Zee News and Press Trust of India reports Thinley told Wen that Bhutan is willing to enhance bilateral economic and trade cooperation and people-to people contact and cultural exchanges, and carry out close communication and coordination in international and regional affairs.
Mr. Wen told Lyonchhen that China was,” willing to complete border demarcation with Bhutan at an early date,” telling his counterpart that Beijing has “a foreign policy of good-neighborliness.”
Lyonchhen is also quoted as saying that he is highly appreciative of ‘China’s endeavor to safeguard the common interest of developing countries in international and regional affairs.
Wen told Thinley that China values the traditional friendship between the two nations and respects Bhutan’s choice for its developmental path according to its own national conditions.
Bhutan firmly sticks to a one-China policy and has strong desire to strengthen understanding of and friendship with China, Lyonchhen said.
Bhutan and China have had 19 rounds of border talks so far.
Meanwhile, in Thimphu there was some confusion in the Foreign Ministry with most senior officials away in Brazil.
A Foreign Ministry official on the condition of anonymity said, “It is unlikely that Bhutan and China will have diplomatic relations soon. There are certain policies when it comes to the Permanent five of the United Nations security council.”
Bhutan traditionally has not established any direct diplomatic relations with the P-5 members.
Another official said, “as far as diplomatic relations are concerned not only China per se, the Government is gradually expanding its diplomatic relations which is considered on a case by case basis.”
With regard to the international reports, the senior official said that he will not be able to comment on it as the story has appeared in Rio and that he will try to ascertain the veracity of the story.
“We have no official report from Brazil and that is why we cannot confirm,” said a third foreign ministry official.
In September, 2008 a publication called ‘Council on Foreign Relations’ published a detailed interview with Lyonchhen in which one question was on diplomatic relations with China.
Lyonchhen is quoted as saying, “Well, everything will happen in good time. We do have good relations with China. China is our other neighbor. We have only two neighbors, contiguous countries neighboring Bhutan, and these are China and India. Because of historical and economic reasons, our relations with India have tended to grow. On the other hand, China being across the Himalayas, our relations have not developed in an equal way. But in a globalizing world, and given the good relations that we already have, formalization is something that will come in good time.”
The meeting between the Bhutanese Prime Minister and the Chinese Premier comes in the regional backdrop of growing military tensions between India and China along large areas of its unresolved Himalayan borders.
While the official denial has been issued to the Bhutanese Media at home news of a ‘diplomatic relations’ gaffe in the International media could create some ripples in the carefully calibrated Indo-Bhutan relationship.