BEIJING: China has said that its MoU with Bhutan firming up a three-step roadmap for expediting the boundary negotiations will make a "meaningful contribution" to speed up the border talks and establishment of diplomatic ties with Thimphu.
The two countries on October 14 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Expediting the China-Bhutan Boundary Negotiation in Beijing and Thimphu via video link.
China's Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao, who signed the pact, said he "believes that the MoU signed today will make a meaningful contribution to speeding up the negotiation on demarcation and promoting the process of establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries".
India on Thursday reacted cautiously to Bhutan and China signing the agreement on a "three-step roadmap" to expedite negotiations to resolve their festering boundary dispute.
The signing of the pact came four years after the Indian and Chinese armies were locked in a 73-day standoff at the Doklam tri-junction after China tried to extend a road in the area that Bhutan claimed belonged to it.
Bhutan shares over 400-km long border with China and the two countries have held 24 rounds of boundary talks in a bid to resolve the border dispute.
China and Bhutan do not have diplomatic relations but maintain contacts through periodic visits by officials.
India and Bhutan are the two countries with which China is yet to finalise the border agreements, while it resolved boundary disputes with 12 other neighbours.
Wu said that "China and Bhutan are friendly neighbours linked by mountains and rivers. The traditional friendship between the two peoples goes back to ancient times," according to a statement posted on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.
"China will follow (President) Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy, practice the philosophy of neighbourhood diplomacy featuring amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness, and be a good neighbour, friend and partner of Bhutan on the principles of equality, peaceful coexistence and win-win results," he said.
The Chinese statement quoted Bhutanese Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji as saying that the signing of the MoU is of historical significance.
"It is the result of joint efforts and sincere cooperation between Bhutan and China over the years. Bhutan will work with China to implement the MoU, unswervingly push forward the negotiation on demarcation, and be committed to strengthening bilateral relations," Dorji said.
The signing of the pact came amid continuing standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in several friction points in eastern Ladakh.
The India-China standoff in the Doklam plateau in 2017 even triggered fears of a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Bhutan said the area belonged to it and India supported the Bhutanese claim.
India had strongly opposed construction of a road at the Doklam tri-junction as it would have impacted its overall security interests.
The India-China face-off was resolved following several rounds of talks.
The boundary talks between Bhutan and China began in 1984 and they signed the Guiding Principles on the Settlement of the Boundary Issues in 1988 and the Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the border areas in 1998.
In July last year, China made a surprising claim on Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan at the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council by opposing a funding to the project.
Bhutan then issued a demarche to the Chinese Embassy in India over China's claim over the sanctuary.
The GEF Council has reportedly cleared the funding for the Sakteng sanctuary after Aparna Subramani, the World Bank official representing Bhutan as well as India, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, had said that Bhutan totally rejected the claim made by China.
China sought to defend its claims on the sanctuary, saying the boundary between the two countries is yet to be demarcated and it has proposed a package solution to resolve the border dispute.
"China's position remains consistent and clear. The boundary between China and Bhutan has not been delimited and there has been disputes in the middle, eastern and western sections," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin subsequently told a media briefing here when asked about the sanctuary.
"So, China advocates a package solution to resolve the dispute," he added.