Cooperation: While the KR-II grant assistance under which Bhutan received hundreds of power tillers in the past three decades ended earlier this year, Japan will continue to treat Bhutan as a top priority in its list of countries requiring support.

This was reiterated by the new Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) President, Shinichi Kitaoka, during his first visit to the country this week. Shinichi Kitaoka assumed the presidency of the NGO in October.

The president said that Bhutan had made good economic development progress which means it will graduate out of the lowest levels of assistance. He added that Japan had many other tools of assistance like grants, loans and technical assistance through which it would continue to support Bhutan. Consultations will be held with the government to determine the best way forward.

“Definitely Bhutan will remain in our top list of recipient countries in our priority,” Shinichi Kitaoka said.

While international cooperation is not an easy task, Mr Kitaoka said the development cooperation between Bhutan and Japan has been very successful. “We find that the Bhutanese government is very cooperative,” he said, which meant it displayed ownership and responsibility.

A stable political system, a capable government, and a development strategy of gradual change were factors attributed by the president for the successful cooperation so far.

At the 10th Annual consultations between the two countries held in August, the Japanese government announced that it is exploring ways to evolve relations between Bhutan and Japan into a horizontal one achieved through trade and investments.

Asked about this aspect, Shinichi Kitaoka said there are two issues related to a horizontal relationship.

He said JICA would welcome the establishment of a Japanese embassy in Bhutan. “We don’t want to apply any pressure to Bhutan for the issue of the embassy but if the Bhutanese government, if they decide to exchange embassies with each other, that’s very welcome for us,” he said. “But as of now, many issues are handled by our embassy in India and also to some extent by our JICA office” he added.

However, the president said there are some technical difficulties faced such as the Japanese embassy in New Delhi being “very far” and a complicated process for obtaining visas.

On investments, the president said this would not be determined by the Japanese government but by the companies themselves. Possible investments were not discussed during his visit to Bhutan.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay requested the Japanese government for 1,450 power tillers during his visit to the island state in 2014. The Japanese government had agreed in principle then to provide the power tillers.

JICA Chief Representative in Bhutan, Asakuma Yumiko said that a study team will visit Bhutan in January and work with the Agriculture Machinery Centre (AMC) to determine how many power tillers would be required.

On whether the 1,450 figure is final, the chief representative said that the number could be subject to change depending on the findings of the team.

“A satisfactory agreement will be reached very soon,” Mr Kitaoka said.

During his visit here, the JICA president also received audiences with His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo and His Majesty The King.

Mr Kitaoka pointed out that both Bhutan and Japan are constitutional monarchies. He said this provided the stabilityand basis of gradual change. He added that without stable politics and a realistic approach to economic growth, achieved in Bhutan’s case by focusing on agriculture, economic growth would have been difficult to achieve. He pointed out that some countries had attempted to jump directly to high levels of industrialization which had failed.

He also said that besides stable politics, the constitutional monarchy form of governance had provided for a strong national consciousness or identity among the Bhutanese people.

“I’m very optimistic about the growth of this country,” he said.

Gyalsten K Dorji