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The sanctuary is located in the easternmost part of Bhutan, covering 650 sq km. (Photo: The Hindu)
China’s statement was made at the 58th meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council – a US-based global body established in 1992 to finance projects in the environment sector.
According to the published minutes of the council meeting, the Chinese representative said, “in light of the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in the project ID 10561 is located in the China-Bhutan disputed areas which is on the agenda of China-Bhutan boundary talk, China opposes and does not join the Council decision on this project.”
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement to the media that the boundary between China and Bhutan has never been delimited. There have been disputes over the eastern, central and western sectors for a long time, and there are no new disputed areas. China always stands for a negotiated package solution to the China-Bhutan boundary issue.
The sanctuary, located in the easternmost part of Bhutan, covers 650 sq km, and has not been disputed by China in the past.
Bhutan's western and middle sector have been in dispute with China. However, the eastern sector has not been part of the boundary talks and China had not claimed rights over Sakteng wildlife sanctuary earlier, India Today reported.
Bhutan’s strong objection
“Bhutan has sent a strong message to China,” The Hindu cited a source as saying, adding that Bhutan’s response was also given through the GEF council meeting where China had raised the issue.
According to the GEF Council Chairman’s summary, Aparna Subramani, the World Bank official representing Bhutan, as well as India, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka, had said that Bhutan totally rejects the claim made by the Council Member of China.
“Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is an integral and sovereign territory of Bhutan and at no point during the boundary discussions between Bhutan and China has it featured as a disputed area,”
“Bhutan hoped its response would close the matter,” the source added.
|Bhutan (Photo: India.com)|
Bhutanese experts pointed out that the claim on Sakteng will open new fronts of negotiation when the next round of boundary talks are held.
Such claims undermine the boundary talks and wild claims on either side by officials will only exacerbate issues as Bhutan too can lay claims far north, said Tenzing Lamsang, Editor of the Bhutanese newspaper in Thimphu, in a series of tweets last week. “Ultimately Bhutan and China need to resolve its boundary disputes or such false claims will come up as a pressure tactic,” he added.
It is learnt Bhutan has also conveyed its position to China through its embassy in New Delhi — since both countries don’t have embassies in each other’s countries and conduct their diplomatic communication through their missions in Delhi.
Sources said Bhutan and China have held 24 rounds of border talks, and if Beijing raises this issue in the next rounds of border talks, Thimphu will counter it.
The GEF Secretariat also objected to the Chinese claim and made it clear that Sakteng was well within Bhutan. When the Chinese representative insisted that Beijing’s objections should be recorded, the GEF agreed to do so in a diluted fashion. The GEF subsequently went ahead with finalising the summary of the meeting despite China’s demand for strong references to Sakteng.
The Chinese foreign ministry said “a third party should not point fingers” in the China-Bhutan border issue, referring to India and Indian media.
Former Indian Ambassador to China, Ashok K Kantha — who is currently Director of the Institute of Chinese Studies — told The Indian Express that China is expanding its territorial claims against Bhutan. Sakteng was not in disputed areas identified and jointly surveyed by Bhutan and China in western and central sectors.
Kantha said that this is “part of China’s pressure tactics against Bhutan” and also “part of pattern of China pursuing its contested territorial claims, old and new, against its neighbours, land and maritime.”
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In 2017, India and China were locked in an over 70-day standoff over Doklam, an area disputed between China and Bhutan that’s located near their tri-junction with India. While both sides engaged in intense diplomacy to end the fracas, India remained firm on the ground, signalling a strong approach.
This year, too, there have been reports that China had started building yet another road along Torsa/Amo Chu, apparently aiming for the Siliguri corridor in India. On July 3, the Chinese embassy, responding to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charge of “expansionism”, said China had sealed boundary agreements with 12 out of its 14 neighbours, Times of India said. /.
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