New Delhi: Chief of Army Staff Gen Manoj Pande on Friday began a two-day visit to Bhutan amid China’s persistent attempts to enhance infrastructure around Bhutanese territory in the Doklam plateau.
The Indian Army said Gen Pande is scheduled to meet King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth king of Bhutan besides holding talks with his counterpart in the Royal Bhutan Army.
Gen Pande’s visit to Bhutan came days after new satellite images emerged showing China constructing a village East of the Doklam plateau on the Bhutanese side, a region that is considered important for India’s strategic interest.
After the images came out, the Ministry of External Affairs said India keeps a constant watch on all developments having bearing on national security and takes necessary measures to safeguard its interests.
It is learnt that the overall situation in the Doklam plateau as well as Chinese activities in the region are set to figure in Gen Pande’s talks with his Bhutanese interlocutors.
“This visit will further enhance the unique and time-tested bilateral relationship, characterised by utmost trust, goodwill and mutual understanding,” the Army said in a brief statement.
The Army said Gen Pande will commence his visit by paying homage at the National Memorial Chorten at Thimpu, built in the memory of the third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk.
“The Chief of Army Staff is scheduled to have an audience with His Majesty the King and His Majesty the Fourth King,” the Army said.
“The Army Chief will also engage in extensive discussions with his counterpart in the Royal Bhutan Army to exchange views on taking forward the strong cultural and professional bonds between both the armies,” it said.
The Doklam plateau is considered an important area for India’s strategic interest.
The Indian and Chinese armies 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.
In October last year, Bhutan and China signed an agreement on a “three-step roadmap” to expedite negotiations to resolve their festering boundary dispute.
Bhutan shares an over 400-km-long border with China and the two countries have held over 24 rounds of boundary talks in a bid to resolve the dispute.
The Doklam tri-junction is considered important from the point of view of India’s security interests.
The India-China stand-off in the Doklam plateau in 2017 even triggered fears of a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. Bhutan said the area belonged to it and India supported the Bhutanese claim.
India had strongly opposed the construction of the road at the Doklam tri-junction as it would have impacted its overall security interests.
The India-China face-off was resolved following several rounds of talks.
The Army Chief will conclude his visit by paying homage at the Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens at Dochula, which were established in honour of the fallen heroes of the Royal Bhutan Army.
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