Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his Bhutanese counterpart Jigmi Y Thinley had a surprise meeting on the sidelines of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development at Rio de Janeiro yesterday during which both the leaders expressed desire to establish diplomatic relations.
Thinley said his talks with Wen carry great historic significance as it marks the first meeting between the top leaders of the two governments, Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying.
Wen told Thinley that China values the traditional friendship between the two nations and respects Bhutan's choice for its developmental path according to its own national conditions.
China pursues a foreign policy of good-neighbourliness and is ready to forge formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, Wen informed the Bhutanese leader.
China is willing to complete border demarcation with Bhutan at an early date and strengthen exchanges in various fields so as to push bilateral ties to a higher level, he said, appreciating “Bhutan's staunch support of China's position on issues concerning Taiwan and Tibet”.
Stressing on the historic significance of their meeting, Thinley said that Bhutan wishes to forge formal diplomatic ties with China as soon as possible, the report said.
Thinley told Wen that Bhutan is willing to settle border issues with China in a cooperative manner, enhance bilateral economic and trade cooperation and people-to-people contact and cultural exchanges, and carry out close communication and coordination in international and regional affairs.
The Bhutanese, he said, highly appreciate China's endeavour to safeguard the common interests of developing countries in international and regional affairs.
Though neighbours, the two countries have not yet established diplomatic relations as Bhutan, a strongly ally of India, had remained aloof since 1951 after China took firm control of Tibet, which formed borders with Bhutan. Relations between Beijing and Thimpu have traditionally remained strained following border dispute.
The two countries share about 470 km long contiguous borders and have held several rounds of talks to resolve the dispute and signed for the first time an agreement promising to ‘Maintain Peace and Tranquillity on the Bhutan-China Border Areas,' in 1998.
Any settlement of the Bhutan-China border is significant for India as Chumbi Valley - a vital tri-junction between Bhutan, India and China border - is 500 km from Siliguri corridor and the “Chicken Neck” which connects India to its Northeast states and Nepal to Bhutan.
Indian strategic analysts say that the Chumbi Valley is of geo-strategic importance to China because of its shared borders with Tibet and Sikkim.