Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra embarked on a visit to Bhutan just days after officials from Beijing and Thimphu held wide-ranging talks on the settlement of their border last week. Kwatra, who landed in Paro Wednesday, will be visiting Bhutan from January 18-20. 

“During the visit, Foreign Secretary Kwatra will call on the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and also meet his counterpart Foreign Secretary Pema Choden to discuss issues of mutual interest. The visit is in keeping with the well-established tradition of regular exchange of high-level visits between Bhutan and India,” said a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan.

It added that the foreign secretary, who has been invited by his Bhutanese counterpart Pema Choden, will also co-chair the 4th India-Bhutan Development Cooperation Talks of the 12th Five Year Plan. 

This is Kwatra’s second visit to the Himalayan kingdom in less than six months. He had last visited that country in August 2022.

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“Welcomed Foreign Secretary @AmbVMKwatra on his arrival at Paro, for an official visit to Bhutan from 18-20 January. He will hold bilateral consultations with Foreign Secretary of Bhutan Aum Pema Choden and co-chair the 4th India-Bhutan Development Cooperation Talks,” said a tweet by the Embassy of India in Bhutan.

“Foreign Secretary Kwatra will also call on the Bhutanese leadership during the visit. The visit is in keeping with the tradition of regular high-level exchanges between India and Bhutan, and will provide an opportunity to the two sides to discuss the entire gamut of bilateral ties,” the mission said.

China-Bhutan Talks And What They Mean For India

During the visit both sides will be discussing the recent talks held between China and Bhutan on the settlement of the boundary since it has an impact on India as well due to its proximity with both the countries and the decades-long tensions around the issue, sources told ABP LIVE. 

India is already entangled in a bitter border standoff with China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since April-May 2020. 

Last week, China and Bhutan held yet another round of negotiations even as both countries agreed to “push forward” the talks with a “positive consensus” that concerns the 477-km-long border, which is also disputed.

The talks were held as part of the 11th Expert Group Meeting (EGM) between China and Bhutan from January 10-13.

According to a joint statement issued after the meeting, both sides also agreed to further implement the three-step roadmap for a settlement of the boundary – an MoU that was signed by Beijing and Thimphu in 2021.

For India, it is crucial to assess where the talks are headed because as per the understanding reached between both countries ever since the talks began decades ago is that China will give away some part of its territory in the north in exchange for certain portions in Bhutan’s west, which includes the Doklam region, according to the sources quoted above.  

This particular aspect is of crucial importance to India because if the Chinese are able to get a control over Doklam, Beijing will then have a strategic advantage over New Delhi by getting a direct access to its north-eastern flank, which forms the crucial ‘Siliguri Corridor’ or the ‘Chicken’s Neck’. 

Kwatra Agenda In Bhutan

During his visit, Foreign Secretary Kwatra is expected to raise India’s concerns over the territory issue, and also about the continuing threat from the Chinese in the trijunction area, which witnessed a 73-day military standoff in 2017. The trijunction area will be coming up for negotiations between China and Bhutan in the next EGM.  

Apart from this, the Foreign Secretary will also discuss issues concerning India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policies in which Bhutan’s role is crucial. 

India is also critical for Bhutan as a net security provider. The Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) is based in Bhutan to provide training to Bhutanese security forces. This has helped in boosting strategic and security ties between both neighbours since 1961.

Apart from defence and security issues, the foreign secretary will also discuss joint hydroelectricity projects that form the cornerstone of the relationship. He will take stock of the meeting that took place in October 2022 to review Bhutan-India hydropower cooperation. 

India and Bhutan have vowed to expedite work on the 600-MW Kholongchhu Hydro Electric Project Ltd (KHEL) in the Himalayan nation. The project is expected to be complete by 2025.

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