Amid differences, the government and the opposition are on the same page on the need to expand diplomatic relations.

Five years after the former government completely froze expansion of diplomatic relations, the prime minister in his State of the Nation report announced that Bhutan would establish at least one embassy or consulate this year.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering’s announcement was a policy reversal necessitated by the growing number of Bhutanese living abroad. In addition, he also announced that the government would explore establishing diplomatic relations with two countries.

The Opposition at the post-parliament press conference on July 5 welcomed the government’s announcement.

“In principle, we should be happy that the government is expanding our diplomatic relations and it should be like that,” Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said.  He said that all should welcome the government’s decision as a matter of policy.

The prime minister did not name the countries with which Bhutan would establish diplomatic relations. Countries like Australia and Malaysia are tipped to be in the list although the government is yet to confirm the speculations.

Bartsham Shongphu MP and the opposition’s foreign relations focal person, Passang Dorji (PhD), said the government has plans to establish diplomatic relations with at least five countries although the countries are not named.

“At the moment, we say that we have diplomatic relations with 53 countries. We actually have diplomatic relations with 52 countries, excluding the EU,” he said.

The MP said Bhutan had a standing foreign policy that it would not have diplomatic relations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. But there was no standing policy that the country would not expand diplomatic relations with other countries, he said.

Passang Dorji added that the more diplomatic relations the country has the better it would be. He reminded about the geopolitical sensitivities and the established foreign policy operations had to be considered. “We support the government’s decision to expand diplomatic relations,” he said.

During the opposition’s tenure as the government, expansion of diplomatic relations was a top priority and exercised a policy of using “soft power”, to the extent where even a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council was sought. Bhutan lost the bid.

However, the second elected government had reversed the policy, saying that economic environment at home was not favourable for expansion of diplomatic relations. It wanted to focus more on consolidating relations with countries with which Bhutan already had diplomatic ties.

MB Subba