Upset by China’s claims over the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhutan’s foreign ministry has issued a demarche to the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, saying the sanctuary was an “integral and sovereign territory of Bhutan”.
Both China and Bhutan don’t have embassies in each other’s countries and conduct their diplomatic communication through their missions in Delhi.
The western and middle sectors of Bhutan have been in dispute with China but the eastern sector has not been part of the boundary talks, India Today reported. China too had not claimed rights over Sakteng wildlife sanctuary – located in the easternmost part of Bhutan over an area of 650 sq km-- earlier, until now.
Trouble started when China, at the 58th meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Council, attempted to “oppose” funding to a project for the sanctuary and called it “disputed” territory.
“In light of the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in the project ID 10561 is located in the
China-Bhutan disputed areas which is on the agenda of China-Bhutan boundary talk, China
opposes and does not join the Council decision on this project," it said.
This angered Bhutan, which noted that the sanctuary was an “integral and sovereign territory”. The Council Member for the Constituency of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri
Lanka requested that the views of Bhutan be reflected as follows: “Bhutan totally rejects the
claim made by the Council Member of China. Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary is an integral and
sovereign territory of Bhutan and at no point during the boundary discussions between Bhutan
and China has it featured as a disputed area."
China, however, refused to back down and the foreign ministry said there had been “disputes over the eastern, central and western sections for a long time”. It added that “a third party should not point fingers” in the China-Bhutan border issue, in an apparent reference to India.
Ties between India and China have been strained since the Galwan Valley clashes in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed and casualties were also reported on the other side.