With less then a month left in the government’s term and with the 2018 general election approaching; the Bhutan-China boundary talks and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit will both have to wait.
According to a source, both the major diplomatic events will take place only sometime after the 2018 polls which are expected to end in October 2018.
This also fits into the unofficial government policy of not undertaking any major policy or other moves in its final months before finishing its term.
The 24th boundary talks were in August 2016 and though the 25th talks were expected to happen around the same time in 2017- it did not happen in the backdrop of the Doklam standoff last year.
Some Indian news media reports said that the Bhutan-China boundary talks are expected to happen around March 2018, but this was contradicted by a Bhutanese official, on the condition of anonymity.
March was when China held its National People’s Congress where all top Chinese officials are present.
The relevant officials from Bhutan and China have been in touch but both sides have not fixed a date for the boundary talks.
The agenda for the meeting is only shared once the dates are fixed.
It is conclusive now that the boundary talks will happen only sometime after the 2018 polls.
The reason is that any boundary talks needs time for both sides to prepare: time which the current government does not have.
The second reason is that in any boundary talks, the Bhutanese side is usually led by the Foreign Minister.
For the Chinese side too, it does not make sense to have extensive boundary talks with the government about to finish its term and head into elections. It would rather sit and discuss with a government who comes with a five-year mandate after the polls.
In the 24th Round of Bhutan – China Boundary talks held in Beijing on 11th August 2016 the 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 also directed the two leaders of the Expert Group to continue discussions on the basis of the progress achieved thus far.
Indian PM visit
The same logic also holds for the planned visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations.
Though no firm dates have been received or agreed to by both sides the visit was originally planned to coincide with the commissioning of the 720 MW Mangdechu project in June 2018.
Now that the project has been delayed till November 2018 it would make for an opportune time to visit to inaugurate the project.
November would be the same month by which a new Bhutanese government and National Assembly would be place.
Also given that the government is on its way out finishing its term on August 1st, it would not make much sense for a visit now- especially given the time required for both sides to prepare.
Though no dates have been fixed a reliable source said that the visit will happen only after the 2018 polls when a new government is in place.