In the first high-level visit by a senior Chinese official after the border stand-off at Doklam last year, Bhutan is hosting Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou who is on a three-day visit that started Sunday.
Kong has met Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, according to Bhutanese officials.
Bhutan’s Foreign Minister Damcho Dorji and Kong also held discussions on “matters of mutual interest”, officials said. Kong, incidentally, visited India twice in last six months.
Sources in New Delhi told The Indian Express that Bhutan had kept India “in the loop” about the visit of Kong, who holds a position equivalent to India’s Foreign Secretary.
The timing of the visit is significant since polls are likely to be held in Bhutan in October.
While Bhutan has formal diplomatic relations with 53 countries, it does not have official bilateral relations with its northern neighbour. The Chinese Ambassador to India liaises with Bhutanese Ambassador in New Delhi for official communication.
Sources said Prime Minister Tobgay had briefed India about Bhutan’s current state of relations with China during his visit earlier this month.
Bhutan and China have unresolved border issues, and the two countries are in negotiations to resolve the dispute.
They have held 24 rounds of boundary talks so far — the last round took place in in August 2016. The 25th round could not take place in 2017, because of the two-and-a-half-month border stand-off.
Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui had visited Thimphu in January 2017.
While India has been supportive of Bhutan’s outreach to the world, it has always been cautious when it comes to Thimpu’s ties with Beijing. In June 2012, the then Bhutanese PM Jigme Thinley met Chinese Premier at the time, Wen Jiabao, setting off alarm bells in Delhi.