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After Doklam standoff, India to focus on Bhutan ties

Bhutan was also the first foreign port of call for Modi after he took over as prime minister in May 2014.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2018 07:09 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay (left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi greet each other at the inaugural function of Advantage Assam Global Investor's Summit 2018 in Guwahati.
Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay (left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi greet each other at the inaugural function of Advantage Assam Global Investor's Summit 2018 in Guwahati.(AP File Photo)

India’s diplomatic engagement will place significant focus this year on Bhutan, including a planned visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the tiny Himalayan nation wedged between India and China.

A series of events planned to mark the golden jubilee of diplomatic relations between the two countries follow the tense 73-day standoff between Indian and Chinese troops on Bhutan’s Doklam plateau last year.

“There will be high-level exchanges between two countries in a manner that befits 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. This includes Prime Minister Modi visiting that country sometime this year. The prime minister has accepted the invitation and the dates will be decided through diplomatic channels,” said an official familiar with planning for the trip, requesting anonymity.

Bhutan and India established diplomatic ties on January 8, 1968. Bhutan, which doesn’t have diplomatic ties with China, last year objected to Chinese troops constructing a road in Doklam, at the India-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction , prompting Indian troops stationed in Bhutan to intervene. The military standoff ended in August, following which New Delhi and Beijing have moved to put their ties back on track.

Bhutan was also the first foreign port of call for Modi after he took over as prime minister in May 2014, visiting the country the following month.

“India’s ties with Bhutan are special and each high-level visit reinforces this,” said another official, and he recalled Modi’s statement that India was happy to the “privileged partner” of the Himalayan country during his first visit there.

In another event this year, India will host the Je Khenpo, the spiritual head of Bhutan who is appointed by the king, to lead a prayer for world peace. The current Je Khenpo, Trulku Jigme Choedra ,is the 70th in the line of succession.The construction of a Bhutan-India friendship stupa is another planned event, but the location of the proposed monument is not yet known.

Officials said India will also step up development assistance to Bhutan this year with the launch of new projects in hydropower and infrastructure and the conclusion of projects that are under construction .

One project where work is in the final stages and is likely to be inaugurated during Modi’s visit is the Mangdechhu hydropower project, a 720-MW run of the river power plant being built on the Mangdechhu river in Trongsa Dzongkhag district of central Bhutan.

So far, the Indian government has constructed three hydroelectric projects in Bhutan with a total capacity of 1,416 MW. The projects are operational and exporting surplus power to India. Hydropower exports provide more than 40% of Bhutan’s domestic revenue, and constitute 25% of its gross domestic product.