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Don’t be intimidated by China: India to Bhutan

India told Bhutan “not to get intimidated” by Beijing’s angry rhetoric, while the neighbour asked Delhi to resolve the border stand-off with China amicably, sources at a multi-lateral gathering in Kathmandu said on Friday.

The sources at a meeting of BIMSTEC nations told The Indian Express that these were the broad contours of the discussion between Indian and Bhutanese leaders and officials. Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal are members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).

Officials from both sides met on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC meeting and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also met her Bhutanese counterpart Damcho Dorji — the first minister-level meeting between India and Bhutan since the Doklam border stand-off started in June.The sources said the two sides discussed the Doklam row and exchanged notes on the “way forward”.

Beijing has threatened escalation through its officials and through Chinese media. After the meeting, Bhutanese foreign minister Dorji said: “We hope the situation in Doklam will be resolved peacefully and amicably.” He did not get into specific details.

But the sources told The Indian Express that the Bhutanese foreign minister had shared the details of interactions and communications with Beijing over the last few weeks. Most of the interactions have happened between the Bhutanese and Chinese embassies in Delhi.

The sources said the Bhutanese side had expressed “its firm stand and determination” to stand up to the pressure mounted by Beijing. Bhutan has conveyed to the Chinese side, both on the ground and through diplomatic channels, that the construction of a road inside Bhutanese territory is a direct violation of agreements and affects the process of demarcating the boundary between the two countries. Bhutan said it hoped the status quo in the Doklam area will be maintained as before June 16, 2017, sources said.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted on the BIMSTEC meeting and posted a picture from it. “Time with a close friend and neighbour. The external affairs minister meets with foreign minister of Bhutan Damcho Dorji on sidelines of BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers’ meet,” the tweet said.

Sudhakar Dalela, the joint secretary (north) in the ministry of external affairs, said the two sides have a “very close and unique partnership” and they had “wide ranging discussions”.

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