S Jaishankar visits Bhutan amid reports of Chinese aggression near Doka La; first high-level meet since standoff

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar discussed key bilateral and regional issues with top Bhutan leaders on Wednesday, barely a month after a bitter military face-off between India and China came to an end in Doka La.

The visit comes amid reports that China is again amassing troops in the tri-border region, according to a report in The Hindu. The Chinese army reportedly transgressed into disputed zones of the Bhutan-China border over the last week, the report said.

File image of S Jaishankar. PTI

File image of S Jaishankar. PTI

This is the first high-level visit from India after the standoff between the armies came to a peaceful conclusion at Doka La, a strategically located area in the state of Sikkim.

Reports of Chinese aggression surface just ahead of the Communist Party Congress, which will see the re-election Chinese president Xi Jinping to a second term. The move, as mentioned by a report in The Economic Times, could be the People's Liberation Army's attempt to show off its strength. If that is the case, this will not be the first time Beijing's domestic posturing has affected ties between India and Bhutan.

Meanwhile, Jaishankar, who began his four-day visit to Bhutan on Monday, met King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and Foreign Minister Damcho Dorji, besides holding wide-ranging talks with his counterpart Dasho Sonam Tshong, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.

The MEA said besides holding wide-ranging discussions on boosting bilateral cooperation, the two sides also "shared their perspective on regional and other issues of mutual interest".

Asked whether the Doka La standoff figured in the talks, MEA officials refused to comment. However, The Hindu report states that establishing a mechanism to discuss issues between the three nations is likely to figure in the foreign secretary's agenda.

Indian and Chinese troops were locked in a 73-day-long standoff at Doka La since 16 June after the Indian side stopped the building of a road in the disputed area by the Chinese Army.

Bhutan and India were in touch with each other during the course of the face-off that ended on 28 August. The MEA said the aim of the visit was to expand the "unique ties" between the two neighbours.

The foreign secretary held discussions on a complete range of bilateral relations, including implementation of the ongoing India-assisted projects under Bhutan's 11th five-year plan, it said.

The ministry said Bhutan's priorities for the 12th five-year plan and bilateral cooperation in areas of trade and economic ties, hydropower cooperation, and people to people contacts, were also discussed. "Both sides reviewed preparations for the celebrations of 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2018," the MEA said.

It said unique relations between India and Bhutan are characterised by deep understanding and mutual trust and the foreign secretary's visit was in keeping with the tradition of regular high-level exchanges to strengthen and expand the "unique ties". Incidentally, US Charge D'Affaires in the embassy in New Delhi, MaryKay Loss Carlson, is also currently visiting Bhutan.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Oct 04, 2017 21:31 PM

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