The year of the Rooster marked some of the significant milestones in foreign affairs for Bhutan.

His Majesty The King, Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen and His Royal Highness the Gyalsey visited India at the invitation of the Prime Minister of India in November.  This was His Royal Highness the Gyalsey’s first foreign visit, which earned Bhutan much love and affection.

Their Majesties also offered last respects to His Late Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, during the Royal Cremation Ceremony at Sanam Luang in Bangkok in October.

Due to the special relations between Bhutan and Thailand, and the deep admiration in Bhutan for His Late Majesty King Bhumibol, prayers were offered at Kuenselphodrang, presided over by His Holiness the Je Khenpo, for His Late Majesty. Members of the Royal Family attended the prayer ceremony.

Inspired by the visit of her parents 20 years ago to Bhutan, Her Imperial Highness Princess Mako of Akishino of Japan arrived in Bhutan on June 1. “Visiting Bhutan had been her childhood dream,” she said.

Regular visits by members of the Royal families have been instrumental in strengthening the bond between the two countries. Japan gifted Bhutan with 353 power tillers taking the tally to 3,592 farm machines in the past 30 years. Japan and Bhutan observed the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties in 2016.

Closer to home, the diplomatic relationship with Bangladesh went a notch up with the visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina in April. In 2016, the Bangladesh President arrived in the capital on a state visit.

The second of her three-day bilateral visit stood out as an atmosphere beyond protocol pervaded throughout the visit.

His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen granted an audience to the Prime Minister, and her delegation. Informality as a gesture was unprecedented when Her Majesty arrived early to welcome Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for the joint inauguration of the International Conference on Autism and Neuro-Development Disorders on April 19.

The 70-member Bangladeshi delegation, which included Sheikh Hasina’s family members, politicians and bureaucrats, advisors and PMO staff, diplomats, security and media, all said that they had not received such a warm and informal, yet meaningful welcome anywhere at such a level.

His Majesty The King graced the historic unveiling by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of a site for the construction of the Bangladesh Embassy at Hejo, Thimphu. The occasion was seen as a significant stride since the first ambassador of Bangladesh presented his credentials in 1979.

Bhutan and the Republic of Korea celebrated 30 years of diplomatic relations in 2017 after starting formal diplomatic relations on September 24, 1987. Bhutan presented the “Bhutan-Korea Friendship Offer” to the Republic of Korean nationals as part of the celebrations.

Despite last minute changes, thousands attended the first-ever Korean pop concert in Thimphu.

The Rooster year also marked another special occasion for Bhutan and Australia as it marked 15 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

To commemorate this special occasion, Bhutan presented the “Bhutan – Australia Friendship Offer” to welcome Australians to visit Bhutan in 2018.

The country emerged unscathed and stronger from the Doklam plateau standoff between the two neighbours guided by its farsighted and wise leadership.

The year also saw the appointment of new ambassadors and many ambassadors visiting the country and the foreign ministry continues to hunt for its permanent office space into the Dog Year.

The year of the Male Dog will mark 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Bhutan and India.

Bhutanese Consulate General Office in Guwahati, India officially opened on February 2. The consulate would not only cover Assam but also India’s north- eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Meghalaya. The office would be useful for patient referrals to Assam. The foreign minister expressed Bhutan’s commitment to strengthening political and socioeconomic cooperation with the government and people of Assam.

It was an apt beginning to the celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between Bhutan and India for which the logo was launched by the two foreign ministers on January 12.

The launch of the logo kicks off a year full of festivities in both the countries. The two countries have been working on a number of activities to be organised throughout the year. To celebrate the special, close and exemplary relationship in a befitting manner, apart from commemorating events such as cultural and sporting activities, the planned activities include inauguration of a number of infrastructure projects, new initiatives and numerous exchanges that is expected to take the relationship to the next level.

The idea is to generate peoples’ participation.

India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj in her speech at the logo launch attributed the success of the relationship to the vision, wisdom and foresight of political leadership in India and Their Majesties the revered Kings of Bhutan who laid the strong foundations for this special and unique relationship.

The nations look forward to a year of festivities.

Tshering Palden