Indo-Bhutan Relations To Stay The Course

th five year plan. Bhutan, wedged between Asian giants India and China, is of strategic importance to India. Since Independence, successive Indian governments have ensured that Bhutan remains a close ally. So far, India has succeeded in keeping China out of Bhutan but India needs to watch its step at a time when China is spreading its influence across South Asia and aiming to replace New Delhi’s traditional role in its immediate neighbourhood. The 72-day Doklam stand-off in 2017 frightened the Bhutanese who did not want to be caught in the cross fire between the two Asian powers. Though the Indian army went in to confront the PLA to stop the construction of a road in the Doklam belt, which is in Bhutanese territory, China contests that. During the stand-off, the Bhutanese kept a low profile and did not make any public statement. It is no secret that India was worried about the road mainly because of concerns about China positioning itself in an area which would give the PLA access to the “chicken neck”, a narrow strip of land which connects the northeast to mainland India. That the two countries resolved the problem without resorting to arms was a relief to the people of the Himalayan kingdom. There were noises in Bhutan before the recent elections about Thimphu fine-tuning its foreign policy to ensure that it did not place all its eggs in the Indian basket. Better relations with China would help the economy and create jobs. As Tshering, a doctor by profession was an unknown factor and his party, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) was formed in 2013, there was concerns in India about his attitude towards New Delhi. His relatively new party won 30 of the 47 National Assembly seats in the October elections. Would he do a balancing act like Nepal? But soon after the elections, Tshering in an interview made it clear that there would be no change in the country’s foreign policy. “Our [DNT] views are very clear on foreign policy we believe that it cannot change every five years. Our King (Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck) will be the guiding force on matters of foreign policy… And on India, we believe that Bhutan-India relationship is non-negotiable.” In less than 20 hours of the election results being declared, Prime Minister Narendra Modi got on to the phone to congratulate Tshering. He assured him of India’s co operation and invited him to Delhi. Modi even attended the oath-taking ceremony too. With China hovering around South Asian neighbours, Modi did not wish to take any chances with Bhutan. “I’m here with volumes of love, care and affection from my King and the people so please send me back with no less love and care,” Tshering said after the ceremonial welcome at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. “We must everyday in our lives work towards strengthening the Indo-Bhutan relations and during my tenure, I would like to look forward to much greater heights.” He repeated the same sentiment after his meeting with Modi and showered fulsome praise on the Indian Prime Minister. The Indian PM also spoke about the hydel sector, the mainstay of Bhutan’s foreign exchange earnings. The two sides reviewed the hydel projects which have all been constructed with Indian assistance. Delhi has built three hydroelectric projects with a total capacity of 1,416 MW, which are operational. About three-fourth of the power generated is exported to India and the rest is used for domestic consumption…India and Bhutan are also expected to complete the flagship 750 megawatt Mangdechhu in a couple of weeks. Tshering has already invited Modi for the commissioning. Besides extending financial assistance for Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan, India is also extending Rs 400 crore as a transitional support facility over five years to encourage bilateral trade and economic linkages. Modi has assured the visiting dignitary that India would help to make Tshering’s promise of extending healthcare to every corner of the mountainous country. By all accounts, India is reassured that Bhutan’s new Prime Minister will continue to follow the special and unique relations between the two countries.  ]]>

Time To Upgrade Quad Alliance To The Next Level

th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which met in 2017, was a coming out party of President Xi Jinping. China was ready to abandon Deng Xiopeng’s advice to keep its head down and work at developing the nation into a moderately prosperous nation ready to take its rightful place in the world stage. The need to spread Socialism with Chinese characteristics for other countries to follow was a message which was echoed by Xi in the Congress. So if Shinzo Abe was concerned about China’s rise in 2007, it has intensified manifold now. So a fresh attempt is now being made to revive the quadrilateral now being referred simply as the quad.  Shinzo Abe is well entrenched as the PM. He has taken up the unfinished project. Despite thriving trade ties with China, the two countries have been traditional enemies. India, Japan and the US are keen. The Conservative Party in Australia is too, but a Labour government would not be as enthusiastic. A first meeting of the quad officials was held in Manila in 2017 ahead of the ASEAN summit in the Philippines. So far it is confined to the official level with no formal meeting of the political leaders. But much ground has been covered in Track 2, the informal process. The Sasakawa Peace Foundation, invited the Vivekananda Foundation of India (which works closely with the government), National Security College of Australia of Australian National University and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation US, for a conferences in February 2017 and 2018, {countries with stakes in the Indian Ocean Region, with shared democratic values} to put their heads together and put together a plan for a free and open security structure for in the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Experts from four countries have brought out their recommendations which were released in Delhi last week. Has the time come for the quad to take off? Taking quad to the next level would be to upgrade it to the political sphere, where foreign ministers of the four countries and a Summit down the line. India will not be in a hurry to raise the level of representation just yet. This is especially so post Wuhan, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping tried to repair ties after the Doklam standoff. Delhi will wait and watch. India needs peace in the neighbourhood and focus on lifting millions out of poverty. So while supporting the quad, Delhi is likely to confine it to the official level so as not to spoil ties in China. Australian politics is in a flux. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has just been replaced by Scott Morisson. The ruling party has a majority of one in parliament. Australia’s trade with China is huge, and opinion is divided whether Australia can afford to be at logger heads with China. Much depends on which political party is in power. Japan is enthusiastic about the quad and would prefer it to raise it to the summit level. US President Donald Trump now engaged in a trade war with China and China bashing, will be in a mood to support upgrading the quad. The quad is certainly going to be an important player in future. The effort will however be to get more countries on boars for a loose alliance to protect the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean.]]>