External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj met with Bhutanese foreign minister Damcho Dorji on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC ministerial meeting, but this did not lead to any public or joint statements on the China-India stand-off at Doklam.
New Delhi: Even as the India-China Doklam standoff entered its eighth week, Indian and Bhutanese foreign ministers met in Kathmandu for a bilateral meeting but refused to comment on whether the crisis with China was even discussed.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj met with Bhutanese foreign minister Damcho Dorji on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC ministerial meeting. This was the first high-level meeting between the two close neighbours since the Doklam incident came into surface in late July.
Bhutan has, so far, remained largely silent on the Doklam crisis – except for one statement put out by its foreign ministry on June 29.
The bilateral meeting also did not lead to any clarifying public remarks from Bhutan to address the recent barbed verbal attacks by China.
In a passing remark to India Today TV, Dorji said, “We hope the situation in Doklam will be resolved peacefully and amicably”. However, it was no indication that the current stand-off was discussed in the meeting.
A briefing by the Indian ministry of external affairs did not yield any further insight.
“This conversation focused on BIMSTEC-related cooperation in the context of what all the foreign ministers have concluded in the meeting,” said MEA joint secretary (north), Sudhakar Dalela while answering a specific question as to whether the Doklam stand-off was discussed.
He went on to add: “And they reviewed different aspects of India Bhutan relations which is very wide-ranging and covers nearly all aspects of human endeavour”.
The bilateral meeting highlights Bhutan’s reluctance to get into a public spat with China after its June 29 statement. Bhutan does not have diplomatic relations with China, but has regular interactions over boundary negotiations.
Bhutan’s reticence was more evident as it came after a senior Chinese foreign ministry official told visiting Indian journalists that Bhutanese government had informed Beijing that Doklam was Chinese territory. There was no proof provided for this assertion, with the official claiming that her views were based on Bhutanese blogs which had “more convincing information”.
Ashok Kantha, director of Delhi-based Institute of Chinese studies and former Indian ambassador said that while Bhutan does not want to antagonise its northern neighbour, it also does not need to go beyond the June 29 statement, which squarely put the blame on China for violating two bilateral border treaties of 1988 and 1998.
“The Chinese factsheet did not have a single mention of the Bhutanese foreign ministry statement, which showed a kind of arrogance,” said Kantha.
While the factsheet did not mention the Bhutan, a senior Chinese embassy official cast doubt over the June 29 statement, by questioning the delay in issuing the public position. He did not, however, engage directly with the crux of the Bhutanese foreign ministry statement.