Although Bhutan is the only country in South Asia with which France does not have diplomatic relations, our informal relations are excellent, and the Dragon Kingdom is important in the eyes of France. The EU has become a major partner of Bhutan. As the second largest contributor to the EU budget, France is a de facto actor in the dynamics of Euro-Bhutanese relations which we wish to see move from aid to trade and multidimensional partnership.


On the bilateral front, there are several reasons that argue for intensifying Franco-Bhutanese relations

Itself a nation of both the Indian and the Pacific Oceans with several territories and more than 2 million citizens in the region, France was the first European country to craft an Indo-Pacific strategy. Based on inclusivity, mutually beneficial relations, and a broad-based approach, this strategy has four main objectives that could appeal to Bhutan:

– Contribute to a balanced geopolitical situation and maintain an international order based on the rule of law and the respect for the sovereignty of all States, whether large or small;

– Ensure sustainable economic development, with a special focus on physical and digital connectivity;

– Promote effective multilateralism, based on cooperative approaches and the rejection of coercion and the logic of blocs;

– Preserve our global commons, such as the climate, the environment and biodiversity.

Bhutan has garnered international attention not only for its breath-taking landscapes and its fascinating culture, but also for its unique approach to governance and nation-building. As the first carbon-negative country in the world, with a record of 60 percent forest cover, Bhutan commands respect as does its tradition of consensus, which emerged during the Zhabdrung era and has become the hallmark of the Bhutanese polity under the leadership of successive Druk Gyalpos. Such a feature and the tradition of tradition of Zhiwey Zhung yog could be a source of inspiration outside Bhutan, in a world overshadowed by a cloud of tensions. Identified as a core value of the Bhutanese way of life, Gross National Happiness (GNH) has already inspired many countries in the world, including France. Its holistic approach could help to tackle global challenges, such as climate change, if its principles were applied across nations, businesses, communities, and individuals.


Although their history and geography might appear different, France and Bhutan have much in common

The preservation of our language and culture is an integral part of our DNA. As mountainous countries (Mont Blanc is the pinnacle of the Alps and Western Europe), we face the challenge of melting glaciers. Preserving our agriculture while modernizing it is also a shared challenge. Each of our countries must find solutions adapted to the management of sustainable tourism (France is the world’s leading tourist destination). Last but not least, our future as independent nations lies in our ability to innovate in order to preserve our identity and maintain the pace of “change in continuity”.


Innovation is the key to our shared future

As one of the most innovative countries in the world, France is a leader in sectors such as energy transition, greentech, aeronautics, aerospace, biotech, agrotech, and creative industries – areas in which we would be more than happy to exchange with Bhutan. Contrary to what those who do not know Druk Yul might think, the kingdom itself is an innovative country in the sense that the monarchy has always been a factor of modernization, as spectacularly illustrated by the rapid, peaceful, guided, and unflinching transition to democracy initiated by the vision and will of His Majesty the Fourth King. Similarly, today, the Gelephu Mindfulness City, envisioned by His Majesty the King has the potential to become not only the cradle of growth that Bhutan needs, but also a model of sustainable and mindful urban development based on a unique approach that integrates economic growth with spiritual well-being and environmental conservation – exactly the type of approach France is keen to promote.


Let us work on our convergences

There is a de facto convergence between France’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and the four pillars of GNH, which could ground the co-operation between our two countries.

– The promotion of sustainable and equitable socio-economic development could be the framework for many initiatives involving energy, agriculture, smart cities, and AI.

– The preservation and promotion of culture could form the basis of interactions in areas such as the performing arts, language studies, heritage conservation, museology, and sustainable tourism.

– Our joint commitment to preserving the environment could lead to co-operation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote renewable energy sources, implement sustainable waste management and water treatment practices, and protect wildlife.

– Lastly, our common attachment to good governance could involve fruitful exchanges between our institutions, focusing on accountability, transparency, and responsiveness of public policies.


There is much that France and Bhutan can do together on the key challenges of our times

Bhutan is already a pioneer in combating global warming. As the Kingdom seeks to expand and diversify its clean energy sources, for security and development, French companies can provide their world-class expertise, particularly on hydropower, hydrogen, and solar energy.  In this respect, I am glad that Bhutan will benefit from solar power capacity building as one of three pilot countries of the France-funded STAR-C programme of the International Solar Alliance. France is also keen to explore partnerships in the field of biodiversity protection as well as on understanding and mitigating the impacts of climate change on Bhutan’s ecosystems, particularly glacier melting.


Seeking a progressive approach

Through these projects, we can not only generate positive impacts for our two countries, but also set an example on the international stage. I have always been impressed by how Bhutan’s international influence greatly surpasses its size. Bhutan wields considerable soft power, including through its long-standing commitment to multilateralism. France would greatly value closer coordination with Bhutan in upholding the multilateral rules-based order.

The French people have also long harboured a strong curiosity and admiration for Bhutan’s unique model of harmoniously reconciling tradition with modernization. There is much that we can learn from each other.

As a scholar in Bhutanese studies, I have spent the last four decades trying to learn from Bhutan. As a diplomat now responsible for the bilateral relations between our two countries, my goal is to build new bridges between our peoples and foster this genuine friendship, which has the potential to become a unique partnership between our two governments.

This will be a progressive process that needs more people-to-people exchanges. First of all, we are committed to expanding the opportunities for French language learning in Bhutan. Our goal is to make French culture widely accessible in Bhutan, including through participation in the Bhutan Echoes Festival. Second, we wish to boost academic cooperation with Bhutan and welcome more Bhutanese students in France. Fostering a better understanding between our cultures will also mean cooperating on heritage protection. Finally, sports is also an area where closer ties can be forged: we are glad that a new French volunteer has been appointed in the Bhutan Olympic Committee ahead of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics Games this year.

Bhutan is an exception on the international stage. So is France in several respects. We do not have any vested interest in the region, only a genuine desire to transform friendship into partnership. So let’s work together and be creative beyond all forms of conservatism to unite our exceptions for the sake of sustainable development, the preservation of the environment, and the progress of humanity.


Contributed by

Dr Thierry Mathou

Ambassador of France to India