The Foreign Minister Lyonpo Tandi Dorji confirmed that Bhutan and China are scheduled to have boundary talks though there has been no formal date and formal requests yet.
Lyonpo said that Bhutan’s Embassy in New Delhi and the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi had informally discussed the need to have boundary talks.
He said the Chinese side felt it was time for talks and he said that the Bhutanese side also agreed at an informal level.
The minister said that there has been no formal request and no paper work on either side, which will need to happen before the final date and location for the talks can be fixed.
In terms of the content of the talks the Foreign Minister said that there has been no formal and official communication or decisions on either side and he said that the subject matter of the boundary talks will depend on the discussions in the past rounds.
The last boundary talks was the 24th round held in Beijing in 11th August 2016. The 25th round of talks were expected to happen in 2017, but did not happen.
This was in the backdrop of the Doklam standoff in June 2017 though neither the Chinese nor Bhutanese side have officially confirmed any link between the standoff and the delay in border talks between Bhutan and China by two years.
It was thought that talks may happen in 2018 but then Bhutan was in election mode and there was a transition in the government.
However, in a sign that ties were on an even keel Bhutan saw the visit of the Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou from 22nd to 24th July, 2018 accompanied by the then Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui and other officials.
The Vice Foreign Minister during his visit met with His Majesty The King, His Majesty The Fourth King, the then Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay and the then Foreign Minister Lyonpo Damcho Dorji.
A release from the Foreign Ministry in 2018 said that the Vice Foreign Minister met with the Foreign Minister and discussed matters of mutual interest.
The visit by the Vice Minister was his first to Bhutan after his appointment in January 2018.
The Foreign Minister said that in the past talks there were different proposals from both the Bhutanese and Chinese side but there were certain differences between the claims of Bhutan and China in the Western and Central sectors and the talks were on these areas.
Given the 24th round was hosted in Beijing it is likely that the 25th round will be hosted in Thimphu, though this is yet to be officially confirmed.
The Bhutanese side as usual will be led by the Foreign Minister Lyonpo Tandi Dorji and a mix of foreign ministry and boundary officials.
If the past is a precedent the Chinese side will be led by its Vice Foreign Minister Minister Kong Xuanyou and his delegation members.
On the break in the talks a Bhutanese official had earlier said that it is not compulsory that there are border talks every year.
He said that since the talks started from 1984 till date, a total of 35 years have passed but only 24 annual boundary talks have been held.
In the 24th Round of Bhutan – China Boundary talks held in Beijing on 11th August 2016 the former Foreign Minister Lyonpo Damcho Dorji and then Vice Foreign Minister of China Mr. Liu Zhenmin held in-depth discussions on the boundary issue.
According to a release in 2016 by Bhutan’s Foreign Ministry the talks at the time reviewed the progress on the boundary issue following the 23rd Round of Boundary Talks held in Thimphu in August 2015 and the two Expert Group Meetings held in December 2015 in Beijing and March 2016 in Thimphu.
The 24th Round of Boundary Talks endorsed the report of the Joint Technical Field Survey of the disputed areas in the Western Sector carried out by the Expert Group of the two sides. The meeting commended the Expert Group for successfully carrying out the joint survey.
The 24th meeting in 2016 also directed the two leaders of the Expert Group to continue discussions on the basis of the progress achieved thus far.
The two leaders at the time expressed satisfaction with the talks, which were held in a warm and friendly atmosphere.