Bhutan churns out major foreign policy haul


As Bhutan looks for a more active role as a global leader on environmental issues and Gross National Happiness (GNH) values, spreading diplomatic ties has become important foreign policy. And of late, the government has been doing just that. During the last one year, Bhutan established formal diplomatic ties with 14 countries and appointed six honorary consuls to various countries.

Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley while presenting the state of the nation report to the National Assembly recently said Bhutan’s campaign for a seat in the UN Security Council has greatly enhanced the country’s visibility and image globally while successfully convey the world that Bhutan attaches importance to multilateralism and international relation.

He described the “vigorous and concerted” campaign as a major foreign policy undertaking. “This is by far one of the boldest foreign policy initiatives undertaken by the government and it is the first time that Bhutan has presented its candidature for a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council,” he said.

The National Assembly member from Dagana, Hemant Gurung also emphasized the need for enhancing diplomatic ties to become a global leader in environment and sustainable development issues. “We can’t achieve it immediately and we have to build contacts with more countries,” he said. Bhutan became a member of the United Nations in 1971 but left little international footprint until recently. However, Hemant Gurung said, “adoption of happiness resolution by the UN General Assembly in July last year as a global agenda was most significant in terms of Bhutan’s role and footprint in the international arena”.

He said that the prime minister has worked diligently as “GNH Ambassador” to ensure Bhutan’s image as an “emerging global leader” in environmental issues in the last four years. Citing the recent GNH conference at the UN and the Thimphu SAARC summit, he said Bhutan has demonstrated its capability to shoulder international leadership role. “The fact that countries around the world invite Bhutan to speak on GNH in different global forum testifies that the world has started accepting Bhutan’s leadership,” he said. “We are proud of having Bhutan’s outlook broadened internationally,” Hemant Gurung was boastful.

A former journalist, K B Lama said that Bhutan’s contribution as singular carbon-neutral country would be negligible in the world but Bhutan can lead the world the “right way” on sustainable development and environmental issues through advocacy. “There always was need felt among nations to take the lead role in environment protection and sustainable development and Bhutan has taken up that at a right time,” he said. “We are squeezed between China and India, which are producing large amounts of carbon dioxide,” he said adding that the ecological threat facing Bhutan is becoming
more real.

An aspiring politician said: “Bhutan’s ambitions for a more active international role demands greater freedom of action in the foreign policy domain. So the diplomatic ties with powerful nations are even more important”. However, he cautioned that diplomatic expansion should also emphasize on maintaining neutrality between India and China, focusing special to the former.

He also said winning important portfolios in UN agencies will also help Bhutan play greater role while pushing agenda internationally. “But it cannot be achieved without expanding diplomatic ties,” he
contended. Though Indo-Bhutan Friendship treaty of 1949, gave India the right to “guide” Bhutan in its foreign
policy, the two neighbors revisited the treaty in 2007, removing the clause on the right to “guide foreign policy” thereby allowing Bhutan to exercise free diplomatic policy.

The prime minister has reiterated that the guiding principles of Bhutan’s foreign policy are to promote and protect sovereignty and territorial integrity thereby promoting national interests. But he also laid his unfaltering trust on
relations with India, which he said, is based on age-old ties of friendship and mutual respect that continues to remain the “cornerstone” of Bhutan’s foreign policy.

In a tone of usual skepticism, the head of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa(DPT) foreign relations wing, Karma Rangdol, earlier told this paper that foreign relations should be built cautiously. He said the decision on expanding the country’s diplomacy also depends on the next government as the present government term is about to end.

Initially published in Bhutan Today.