China not an elephant in the room but a neighbour: Bhutan PM

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Thimphu: Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay on Friday said China is not “an elephant in the room” but a neighbour and expressed confidence that the border dispute with Beijing will be resolved through talks in a manner that is acceptable to the Bhutanese people.

“We have an issue that has been under negotiation for sometime as the boundary between the two countries has not been defined,” Tobgay said at a press conference after his talks with President Pranab Mukherjee.

“There have been several rounds of discussions and as many as 22 rounds of discussion have taken place since 1984.

These discussions will continue until we can resolve the issue of border in a manner as acceptable to the people of Bhutan,” he said.

Tobgay noted that “negotiating sovereign territory is always difficult and for a small country like Bhutan it is even more difficult.”

“Every negotiation, every discussion must and will be conducted very carefully,” he said.

Asked about how Bhutan viewed China, he said, “China is not an elephant in the room. China is our neighbour and we enjoy good relations with China.”

China and Bhutan held the 22nd round of boundary talks in Beijing in July to resolve issues surrounding disputed land, which also borders India’s northeastern states of Sikkim and Arunanchal Pradesh.

At that time, China had made a strong pitch to improve relations with Bhutan and expressed readiness for an early and “fair” solution to their boundary dispute.

Ahead of his visit, Mukherjee denied that his Bhutan visit has anything to do with the country’s border talks with China.

He said Indo-Bhutanese ties are independent of any third party influence and have great potential to scale new heights on their own.

“India-Bhutan relations stand on its own. We have been and continue to be close to each other. There is so much we are doing together and there is such great potential for us to scale new heights in the future,” Mukherjee said in an interview to Bhutanese daily Kuensel.

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