Q&A: The ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to India, Luo Zhaohui, was recently in the country for a five-day official visit. Kuensel’s Tshering Dorji spoke to the ambassador. Excerpts of the interview.

What was the purpose of your visit to Bhutan? 

As  Chinese ambassador in New Delhi, one of my responsibilities is to strengthen relations because we don’t have diplomatic ties. And this is my first official courtesy visit after I took my new portfolio. I really appreciate the hospitality provided by the government, Monarchs and also the foreign ministry. I bring a deep appreciation from the Chinese people and best regards of the Chinese government to the people, government and Monarchs of Bhutan.

My last trip to Bhutan was 12 years ago. since then Bhutan has made tremendous change positively.

I got a chance to call on the Prime Minister, foreign minister and His Majesty The Fourth King.

China and Bhutan, we are divided by the Himalayas but the Chinese people have a friendly sentiment towards the Bhutanese people and that’s why the Chinese people know you have a great King and that you have GNH. That’s why many tourists visit here and promote people-to-people interaction. Many Chinese stars, from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan visited Bhutan for their wedding ceremonies. So this is a big promotion of your country.

I got a chance to call on your Prime Minister. It impressed me a lot. All of the leaders here, they catch heart with hand and they follow their words. That is why your country’s economy is booming and has changed a lot, politically.

You visited Bhutan 12 years ago, what are some of the changes you’ve noticed?

Economic development. Twelve years ago, there were no five-star hotels and not many cars on the streets. And also you see so many shops, small businesses and the streets are so clear. Of course the sky is still blue and the water is still very clean.

A cultural troupe also performed in Thimphu during your time here?

The ministry of culture of China arranged a cultural troupe to India and Bhutan. I bring this cultural troupe from New Delhi. This is important for people-to-people interaction and cultural cooperation.

Bhutan and China, the engagement of two countries, the history can be traced back a few thousands years. We share quite a similar history, culture, religion and even some languages. In a contemporary society, we need more cooperation and more people-to-people interaction.

We don’t have diplomatic ties but this doesn’t matter. You see, the cooperation of friendship between the two countries is actually much better than China’s relation with some countries with whom it has diplomatic ties. We really appreciate that.

China-Bhutan relations is based on a comprehensive perspective not only in culture but people-to-people interaction, trade and tourism. I am happy to see such kind of progress compared to 12 years ago.

At the end of last year, your agriculture minister visited China and talked about cooperation in mushroom cultivation and Tibetan mastiffs. Maybe it is a small issue but small cooperation together can lead to big progress and this will help people to upgrade their lives. China will be happy to host some training programmes in these areas of cooperation.

Religion, we know that Bhutan is known for the Kagyu sect and China is also following Mahayana Buddhism. End of last year a very high level Chinese Buddhist delegation visited here and we also invited a Buddhist delegation from here to visit China. I am happy to see such kinds of cooperation.

What other potential areas of collaboration between the two countries are feasible?

We can do a lot of things. I am so happy to see the talks on the border has made progress. We maintained peace and tranquillity on our border area and the discussion is going on.

Also in terms of culture, tourism and people-to-people interaction, we can do a lot.

In education, we can do something. I went to the Royal University of Bhutan and had an in-depth exchange of views with the vice chancellor. We would like to see more Bhutanese students studying in China. The Chinese government can offer three to four scholarships for degree studies in language, medicine, history and the discussion is going on. I would also like to see if it is possible for the Royal University of Bhutan to have some relations with Chinese universities.

I would also like to see some Chinese study Dzongkha. When I joined service 25 years ago, one of my colleagues could speak Dzongkha. Unfortunately no one can speak Dzongkha (apart from him) and that’s because we don’t have diplomatic ties and not much people-to-people interaction.

I found some young guys in Bhutan could speak Chinese. I’m so happy to see that.

So I wish, in future, some Chinese can also speak Dzongkha and we understand each other better.

I also visited the Kuensel head office. When I just joined the Foreign Service in the mid 80s, Kuensel was the only window through which I got information to understand Bhutan. I discussed about some kind of cooperation with the Chinese media and for journalists to participate in some seminars in China. More media exchange and cooperation is important. Media can play a very important role.

Bhutan has been receiving more Chinese tourists every year, how do you think this sector can be improved? 

This is an area where a positive momentum has been maintained. I wish more Chinese tourists visit Bhutan but maybe the facilitation here is not enough. It’s good but not enough. Last year, more than 100 million Chinese went abroad as tourists. They (Chinese tourists visiting Bhutan) bring more information from here to China. So this is an important step to enhance cooperation between the two countries. I also wish more Bhutanese tourists and officials visit China. There are some special temples in Tibet. This morning I went to the Tiger’s Nest and the lama told me he wanted to pay a pilgrimage to a Tibetan temple-Samay. I think that more people-to-people interaction will lay a solid foundation.

What are your views on Bhutan’s approach to the environment and its pledge to remain carbon neutral?

Bhutan is a small country but has made a great contribution to the world. GNH is a great concept and plays a leading role in environment protection. We are talking about green development to prevent climate change only in the recent years but Bhutan did it long before. In this area, not only China and Asia but the world should learn and share Bhutan’s experience. It takes more time and we know that the United States has got a new administration and maybe we will see some new ideas in the area of climate change. But what your country has done is in the right direction. We wish your country to continue with that policy and set an example to all the developing and developed countries. I found blue sky, green forest and clean water everywhere in Bhutan. It’s so beautiful.

As an observer nation to SAARC, what is China’s view of SAARC? What advice would you have?

SAARC is a very good mechanism, established in the mid 80s and has done a lot in education, economy and connectivity.  But comparing with other regional cooperations, for example, East Asia and South-East Asia regional cooperations, the speed of SAARC is relatively slow. China, as an observer country, we really wish that member countries of SAARC can do more. Other countries outside the SAARC are also ready to cooperate. We are ready to help SAARC wherever possible.

How has Bhutan-China relations fared in recent years?

Both Bhutan and China are UN members and China attaches great importance to China-Bhutan relations. We respect the sovereignty and independence of each other. We still remember Bhutan supported China for UN membership in 1971. Bhutan always supported the One-China policy. We really appreciate that.

Some concrete cooperation is going on and cooperation is a win-win situation. So we wish to expand more areas of cooperation with Bhutan. We also wish to resolve the border issues as soon as possible. We don’t have much problem. Discussion is going on.

I also visited the family of my old friend, your former secretary for international boundaries, Late Dasho Pema Wangchuk. Unfortunately he passed away last year. I visited his family members to pay my deepest condolences. He has made a great contribution to China-Bhutan relations, especially on the border talks.

Any additional comments?

Next week we have the Chinese lunar new year, we call it the year of the rooster. I know that your losar is also around the same time. We convey our best wishes for the new year to the Bhutanese people and wish for Bhutan-China relations to go forward.