The question of Bhutanese officials endorsing Chinese claims of Bhutanese territory on the basis of an outline of a Chinese map in their passport does not arise at all, foreign minister in-charge Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk told The Bhutanese yesterday.
“The total Chinese territory is over 9.6 mn sq km and the disputed area in the western sector is 269 sq km. Therefore, on the scale and size of the outlined map in the Chinese passports, it is not possible to say if the disputed area has been incorporated into Chinese territory,” Lyonpo Khandu said.
This statement comes as a response to a story published by this paper following a comprehensive research and comparison of Chinese and Bhutanese maps whereby it was found that a new Chinese passport displayed a map where 269 sq km of Bhutanese territory was shown as Chinese territory.
It also follows substantial coverage by the international media on controversial Chinese passport maps showing disputed territories with its neighbors like India, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Philippines being under China. The governments in all these countries protested and have started taking a variety of different remedial action from not stamping passports to giving different visas.
This paper had reported that Bhutanese Immigration and Visa officials, for the past few months have been unknowingly stamping official government seals on the new Chinese passports which show maps with parts of Bhutanese territory as being under China.
In this case the impasse for the involved countries is the stamping of these Chinese passports with official government seals could be seen as indirectly endorsing China’s new map.
China from the 1950’s started publishing official political maps showing the 269 sq km in Western Bhutan reflected as part of its own territory. It was this same map that was published in the passport and can be confirmed by closely examining the passport map and comparing it to a world map or Google earth map.
“Safeguarding Bhutan’s territorial integrity is the national priority of the Royal Government and it is one of the important foreign policy objectives. On the boundary between Bhutan and China, as we are all aware, the two governments are committed to resolving the boundary issue through dialogue on the basis of mutual understanding and accommodation,” Lyonpo Khandu said.
Millions of such new Chinese e-passports were issued in May 2012 and Bhutan in 2012 alone had 3,448 Chinese tourists visit as the third highest group after Japan and America. It is mandatory for Chinese tourists to have their passport and visa stamped by Bhutanese Visa and Immigration officials when they enter Bhutan.
“Pending the final settlement of the boundary, we are also aware that the two government s has agreed to maintain peace and tranquility on the border and to maintain status-quo on the border as before March 1959,” Lyonpo Khandu told The Bhutanese.
“Having said this, the article by The Bhutanese is therefore misleading and in many ways it can be construed as mischievous and does not represent the fact,” Lyonpo said.
The disputed areas are Bhutanese territory under Haa Dzongkhag and comprises four pasture areas of Doklam (89 sq km) and Giu, Sinchulumpa, Shakhateo and Dramana (180 sq km) coming to a total of 269 square km (see picture) all adjoining the Chumbi valley in China.
In the 20 boundary talks held till date between the two nations, Bhutan has upheld these areas as Bhutanese territory and is so reflected in maps issued by Bhutan. However, the Chinese representatives during the boundary talks laid claim to the 269 sq km on Bhutan’s Western Borders in addition to another 495 sq km area in Pasamlung, Bumthang which is also Bhutanese territory.
Lyonpo Khandu said “there is also agreement to refrain from taking any unilateral action to change the status- quo of the boundary. These agreements are reflected in the 1988 guiding principles for the settlement of the boundary and the 1998 agreement on maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas that you are all aware.”
He added that the agreements are strictly adhered to by the two governments. “We have both committed to adhering strictly to the agreement. Therefore, any unilateral action whether intended or implied to change the status-quo of the boundary issue will be in violation of this agreement,” he explained.
Bhutan and China have so far had 20 rounds of border talks with China since 1984 till 2012. The last was held earlier this year in the capital on August 10, led by Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk and the Chinese vice Foreign Minister, Fu Ying, where both the countries reaffirmed their commitment to resolve boundary issue at the earliest, which was more or less a repetition of many such meetings between the two countries.