Expanding diplomatic relations is not a priority right now: Foreign Minister

Q&A: You are the third foreign minister in seven years. The ministry has been able to function without a minister and also without a secretary. Some would say this is because this ministry is not as important or functional as the others. How would you respond to such an observation?

The absence of the minister and secretary in the foreign ministry was due to a turn of unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances. That does not mean we should underestimate the importance of the foreign ministry, which has a very important role and mandate. The very fact that the ministry has been able to function smoothly in the absence of a minister proves that the institution is strong and robust. The Ministry has very capable officers and staff who have been rendering professional service to the nation, irrespective of the absence of a minister or secretary. Moreover, Lyonchoen was looking after the affairs of the ministry. However, there is no denying the fact that this ministry cannot go on any longer without a full time minister and therefore, this government has taken the decision to appoint a new minister.

What might be some of the first issues you will look to address as minister for foreign affairs?

At this stage I am meeting with heads of departments and divisions and getting to know about their roles and mandates and the challenges each one is facing. I would like to see how we could work well as a team within the ministry and with our embassies and missions abroad. I am open to ideas and suggestions. I am also getting briefed on important visits and events ahead.

As minister for foreign Affairs, what will Bhutan’s foreign policy be for the remainder of your term? Kuensel asks this because the previous government exercised a policy of exerting or using “soft power”, to the extent where even a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council was sought. In what ways will you be looking to make Bhutan visible and active in the international arena?

As the minister of one of the most important institutions of the government, I will draw inspiration from and follow the path laid down by our kings with regard to Bhutan’s foreign policy. Our monarchs ensured that Bhutan pursued a realistic and pragmatic foreign policy without compromising Bhutan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Within that ambit Bhutan prospered, kept our environment and culture intact and transitioned smoothly into parliamentary democracy, much to the wonder and amazement of the world.

I am not sure becoming a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council is an extension of soft power because there you have to maintain international peace and security, which is a difficult and complex business.

But I can definitely say that GNH is Bhutan’s true soft power, which was conceived by His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo as a development philosophy, which was well received by the international community. Today politicians, scholars, institutions and governments continue to be inspired by this noble philosophy of Gross National Happiness.

Bhutan has currently suspended expanding diplomatic relations until issues at home are addressed, like the economy, for one. Has the overall situation improved enough for Bhutan to begin expanding its diplomatic relations? Is Bhutan considering establishing diplomatic relations with any country this year or allowing the establishment of diplomatic missions in Bhutan?

The economy has seen tremendous improvement ever since the government took numerous fiscal and monetary measures and other corrective measures. However, the economy is still not out of troubled waters and we will need to work hard to get it back on a more reliable track.

Expanding diplomatic relations is not a priority right now. We are focusing more on consolidating our relations with countries with which we already have diplomatic ties. There has to be sound logic and rationale when we decide to expand diplomatic relations, which is normally determined by political, economic and strategic interests.

Lyonpo will be leaving soon for the UNGA. What will be some of the Bhutan’s views or messages to the UNGA for this session?

First and foremost, the RGOB intends to join other member states of the United Nations in celebrating the organisation’s 70th anniversary with an even stronger commitment to multilateralism, international cooperation and global solidarity. RGOB will remain ever mindful of the significance of multilateralism to the interests of small developing states like ours.

The priority of the 70th Session will be the successful adoption of the Post 2015 Development Agenda that will define the next generation of international development goals when the MDG framework concludes in December 2015. The new framework, firmly grounded on the three pillars of sustainable development, i.e. development, environment, and economy, will set the parameters and goals for all development cooperation and partnerships for the next 15-year period.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will constitute the centrepiece of the Post 2015 Development Agenda. RGOB delegations have consistently advanced issues of priority to RGOB during discussions, and worked to ensure that the outcomes of these processes will acknowledge and address the specific concerns, challenges and needs of countries in special circumstances, especially LDCs and LLDCs.

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