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HindustanTimes Thu,18 Sep 2014

PM Narendra Modi picks Bhutan for first foreign trip

Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, June 05, 2014
First Published: 23:27 IST(5/6/2014) | Last Updated: 16:37 IST(23/6/2014)

Sending out a signal that South Asia was the topmost foreign policy priority for him, Narendra Modi is all set to embark on his first ever two-day trip as Prime Minister to Bhutan this month to further cement economic and political linkages.

Modi, along with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, is slated to travel to Thimphu on a state level visit during June 16-17 and meet young King Jigme KN Wangchuck and Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay.

Top government sources said that Modi opted for Bhutan as his first stop after being sworn in as Prime Minister as he wants to build cooperative economic linkages among India's neighbours as well as check the state of Thimphu's growing relationship with China. An advance liaison team of senior Indian officials is leaving for Bhutan to prepare for Modi's visit on Saturday.

It is understood that Modi has plans to visit Japan after his Bhutan visit as there is a standing invitation from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and then meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of BRICS summit in Brazil on July 15-16. "The Prime Minister chose Bhutan as his first visit as India wants to strengthen economic cooperation with the country with four on-going hydel projects and another four on the anvil through the public-private partnership route. One must remember that Central Delhi was saved from total blackout during July 30-31, 2012 grid collapse due to Bhutan hydel power. More than Rs. 10,000 crore has been invested by India in these projects with Rs. 5,400 crores given by New Delhi for 11th five year plan of Bhutan," said a senior South Block official.

Apart from the economic linkages, Thimphu is a strategic ally of New Delhi as it sits on the Silliguri corridor and is part of Indian defence against any Chinese adventure or assertion  through the Chumbi Valley.

South Block sources said that Modi will not only assure his Bhutanese counterpart of more funds for economic development but also speed up economic integration of Thimphu with India.


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