Army Chief meets King of Bhutan in Thimphu. Focus on developing sustainable strategic relationships.

Army Chief General Manoj Pandey has met Bhutanese King Jagme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and other senior Bhutanese civil and military leaders in Thimphu with a focus on developing “sustainable” strategic ties. General Pandey’s visit to Bhutan comes amid growing concerns in India over China’s relentless efforts to build up military infrastructure around Bhutanese territory in the Doklam plateau.

People familiar with General Pandey’s engagements in Bhutan said regional defense and security challenges, Chinese activities in the plateau and adjacent areas and ways to enhance bilateral defense cooperation were among his discussions. The Army Chief’s visit to Bhutan coincides with India’s decision to allow Bhutan to export 5,000 metric tonnes of wheat and 10,000 metric tonnes of sugar to meet Thimphu’s needs.

Earlier this year, India banned the export of both commodities to strengthen India’s food security. Apart from meeting the King, the Army Chief also met the Fourth King of Bhutan, Jagme Sange Wangchuck.

“General Manoj Pandey #COAS met King Jagme Khesar Namgyel Wangchak of Bhutan and discussed aspects of enhancing sustainable bilateral relations between the two countries,” the army said in a tweet. It states that he was also given an “impeccable guard of honour” at Thimphu.

General Pandey held extensive discussions with his Bhutanese counterpart Lt. Gen. Bito Tshering on all important issues, including the overall situation at Doklam Tri-Junction, the said people said. In 2017, Indian and Chinese troops were locked in a 73-day stand-off at the Doklam tri-junction after China tried to extend a road in the area that Bhutan claimed belonged to it.

General Pandey also met Indian officials engaged in capacity building of the Bhutanese Army. India has been providing significant support to the Bhutanese armed forces, including in the areas of training. The army chief’s visit to Bhutan came as new satellite images emerged showing China building a village on the Bhutan side east of the Doklam Plateau, a region considered to be of strategic interest to India.

After the images surfaced, the Ministry of External Affairs said that India constantly monitors all developments affecting national security and takes necessary steps to protect its interests. Over the past few years, India has focused on strengthening its infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), including the Sikkim sector.

In October last year, Bhutan and China signed an agreement on a “three-step roadmap” to speed up negotiations to resolve their growing border dispute. Bhutan shares more than 400 kilometers of border with China and the two countries have held border talks more than 24 times to resolve the dispute.

Doklam tri-junction is considered important from the point of view of India’s security interests. Tensions between India and China over the Doklam Plateau in 2017 even raised fears of war between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Bhutan said that the area where China tried to build the road belongs to it and India supported Bhutan’s claim.

India had strongly opposed the construction of the road at the Doklam tri-junction as it would affect its overall security interests. After several rounds of face-to-face talks between India and China, it was resolved.

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