Yearender/Foreign Affairs: Nepal was struck by a devastating earthquake in April and in an unprecedented show of support towards its neighbor, Bhutan contributed Nu 63 million (USD 1 million) for rehabilitation efforts there.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay travelled to Kathmandu a day after the earthquake, to hand over the money personally on behalf of the people of Bhutan.
Upon the command of His Majesty The King a 78-member relief team was also deployed to Nepal. The team based near the epicenter of the quake treated more than 2,000 victims during its two-three week stay there.
This was the first time Bhutan contributed such a significant amount to another country, and deployed a large relief team outside its borders.
A new foreign minister, Damcho Dorji, assumed control of the foreign ministry last year. The former home minister replaced Rinzin Dorje following the Lhakhang Karpo issue going to court.
The government maintained its policy of not expanding foreign relations under its new minister but on consolidating existing ones on grounds that the economy, while improved, was still not out of troubled waters.
For UN peacekeeping operations, the government continued to contribute more personnel, last year.
While Bhutan’s relations with India remain strong as always, efforts were made to further strengthen links, especially on the economic front, with the neighboring state of West Bengal.
The state’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee visited Bhutan in October, and assured that the railway line from Hashimara to Bhutan would be reviewed, among others.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay returned the gesture in January 2016, visiting Kolkata to attend a business summit.
India also assigned a new ambassador to Bhutan, Jaideep Sarkar, who replaced former ambassador, Gautam Bambawale, now the high commissioner to Pakistan.
We will be celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations with Japan, this year. Japanese tourists visiting Bhutan this year during the fall will not have to pay the required tariff and will be eligible for large airline and hotel discounts to mark the occasion.
A new Japanese ambassador to Bhutan and a new Japan International Cooperation Agency president have both assured that Bhutan will not only remain a top priority country for assistance but that support will be enhanced and expanded to other areas.
While Bhutan maybe only one of three countries not to have diplomatic relations with the USA, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay visited the USA twice last year. Once, for 10 days in March to promote and solicit funds for the Bhutan for Life initiative. Commitments of USD 40 million were obtained for the initiative to ensure sustainable financing for the conservation of Bhutan’s protected areas and biological corridors.
The second trip was to attend the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit and the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September. The Prime Minister also attended a dinner reception hosted by the US President, Barack Obama.
The Prime Minister called for the UN to be reformed and supported India’s bid for a permanent seat on the organization’s security council.
Prior to the US visit, the Prime Minister was in Luxembourg at the invitation of the European Commission to explore areas of potential cooperation, including satellite technology and the financial sector.
Earlier in the year, the Prime Minister was in Brussels, Belgium at the invitation of the President of the European Commission.
The EU also appointed a new accredited ambassador to Bhutan who recently told this paper that the EU is looking to further support Bhutan’s development.
Bhutan and China held the 23rd round of border talks in Thimphu. The Chinese foreign affairs vice minister said China will continue to respect Bhutan’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence, during his time here.
Gyalsten K Dorji