India’s Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal visited the Kingdom of Bhutan from July 22 to 24, 2003 to brief the Bhutanese King and leaders on the recent talks between Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and Chinese leaders.

“My visit was basically to brief His Majesty in person on our prime minister’s visit to China and all the perspectives on mutual relations between India and China,” Sibal told Kuensel, the English language newspaper of Bhutan.

“There is a great deal of international interest in our prime minister’s visit because some very important issues were discussed and are mentioned in the joint declaration between the two countries,” Sibal added.

King Jigme Singye Wangchuk has expressed his satisfaction with the close understanding that India and Bhutan shared on all issues and the bilateral cooperation, Kuensel reported on July 25, 2003.

Kanwal acknowledged that Bhutan had an interest in the outcome of India-China talks, particularly on matters concerning Tibet and the Bhutan-Tibet border.

“As we know, an important memorandum was signed between India and China on border trade between Sikkim and Tibet,” Sibal said adding, “On all these issues many of our close friends and others are interested in getting a perspective on the future of the Sino-India relations.”

Bhutan shares a long border with Tibet with which it had a traditional trade relation. However, the Bhutan-Tibet trade route was closed following Chinese takeover of Tibet. In recent times Bhutanese leaders have been visiting Tibet. Since 1984 Bhutan has been having direct bilateral discussions with China. Until then Bhutan’s case was taken up by India in its interaction with China.

Although the basic framework of India-Bhutan relations continues to be the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation of 1949 (Article II requires Bhutan to be guided by the advice of the Government of India with regard to its external relations), India has said that there is a difference in the interpretation of its scope. “This provision has been held by the King to be binding on Bhutan only with respect to matters concerning India’s interests, whereas out interpretation is less restrictive. However, this has not been allowed to become an irritant in bilateral relations,” says a fact sheet issued by the Indian Foreign Ministry.

Sibal said that he had discussed India’s contribution to Bhutan’s Ninth Five Year Plan and the issue of Indian militants operating from Bhutanese soil. India continues to provide the major portion of assistance for developmental projects in Bhutan.