India and Bhutan Progress Toward Border Agreement, Easing Concerns with China
The recent strides towards a border agreement between India and Bhutan have raised questions about potential friction with China. However, these discussions are not expected to strain the amicable relations between India and Bhutan. Prior agreements on trade, technology, and cross-border transport, which both nations have previously signed, are poised to fortify their ties. This evolving dynamic presents a potential challenge to China.
During a week-long visit to India, King Jigme Khesar of Bhutan met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and both leaders issued a joint statement underscoring the significance of the new agreements. This comes amid speculation about a possible shift in Bhutan’s position and efforts to resolve border disputes with China. Nonetheless, the deepening bond between India and Bhutan suggests that Bhutan is unlikely to enter into agreements with China that could be detrimental to India’s interests.
Prime Minister Modi has reassured King Jigme Khesar of India’s steadfast commitment to supporting Bhutan’s development. Discussions have also revolved around the final location survey for the rail link between Kokrajhar in Assam and Gelephu in Bhutan, with construction set to commence shortly. Additionally, plans are in motion for a rail link connecting Banarhat in West Bengal with Samtse in Bhutan, facilitating trade between Bhutan and Bangladesh.
Indian Railways has initiated work on the India-Bhutan rail link, having completed the initial 57-kilometer segment between Kokrajhar and Gelephu. The two nations have agreed to upgrade the Dadagiri Check Post to enhance trade. The joint statement underscores India’s commitment to offer bridge financing for Bhutan’s 12th and 13th five-year plans. Bhutan stands to gain substantially from the allocation in India’s 2023-24 budget, with a substantial portion earmarked for Bhutan’s development.
Furthermore, the two countries will collaborate on enhancing skill development for Bhutanese citizens, increasing the number of MBBS seats for Bhutanese students in Assam’s medical colleges, and bolstering cooperation in wildlife and environmental protection. King Jigme Khesar’s visit will also encompass meetings with prominent Indian business leaders in Mumbai.