W Power 2024

Bhutan: A tiny nation celebrates its strategic might

Amidst China's efforts to find a foothold in the kingdom, Bhutan flaunts its mutual, geostrategic security partnership with India. Even as it grapples with economic complexities and regional dynamics, Bhutan continues to hold India's assistance dear for its socio-economic development

Published: Mar 29, 2024 11:16:13 AM IST
Updated: Mar 29, 2024 03:50:33 PM IST

Bhutan: A tiny nation celebrates its strategic mightImage: Money SHARMA / AFP
This is a general view of Bhutan's capital, Thimphu. Bhutan has seen decades of growth in relative peace, and its per capita income is the highest in the region. It abides by its unique realities as a nation with a planned political reform program amidst its flourishing monarchy. India's development assistance to Bhutan, beginning in the early 1960s, has put it firmly on the path of becoming a high-income nation.

Bhutan: A tiny nation celebrates its strategic mightImage: PIB / AFP
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck meet at the Tashichho Dzong Palace in Thimpu on March 22, 2024. On his two-day state visit to the tiny but strategic Himalayan nation, Modi announced India's decision to double assistance for Bhutan's 13th five-year plan from Rs5000 to Rs10,000 crore.

Bhutan: A tiny nation celebrates its strategic mightImage: AFP
Map locating the Doklam plateau in the Himalayas, at the centre of a dispute between China and India. Lying between China's Chumbi Valley to the north, Bhutan's Ha District to the east, and India's Sikkim state to the west, Doklam (called Donglang by China) has been depicted as part of Bhutan in the Bhutanese maps since 1961, but China also claims it. In 2017, Chinese army engineers began to build a road through the Doklam plateau. Coordinating with Bhutanese authorities, Indian soldiers across the border intervened and stopped the Chinese crew, leading to a military standoff for months. Since then, China has quietly expanded its border facilities along the Actual Control Line.
Bhutan: A tiny nation celebrates its strategic mightImage: DIPTENDU DUTTA / AFP
In this file photo from 2008, a Chinese soldier stands guard on the Chinese side of the ancient Nathu La border crossing between India and China. When the two Asian giants opened the 15,000-foot-high pass in 2006 to improve ties dogged by a bitter war in 1962 that saw the route closed for 44 years, many on both sides hoped it would boost trade. Years later, this border trade with China has great potential but is only waiting to be tapped. The Doklam issue caused a huge setback for the traders on both sides.

Bhutan: A tiny nation celebrates its strategic mightImage: Arun SANKAR / AFP
Foreign cadets from Bhutan line up during their graduation ceremony at the Officers Training Academy (OTA) in Chennai on October 29, 2022. Bhutan has focused more on resolving its boundary dispute with China, holding the 25th round of talks in 2023, which they claim are now in the final stages of resolution. This has caused Bhutan to remain cagey about India's proposal to build a road—a military-led initiative—from Tawang in Arunachal to Guwahati, which is passing through Bhutan. Thimphu, however, is mindful of India's interests and does not give up its claim on Doklam, which has a bearing on India's security.

Also read: Bhutan's journey back in time

Bhutan: A tiny nation celebrates its strategic mightImage: Cathal McNaughton / Reuters
This is a view of The Punatsangchhu I hydroelectric power project in Bhutan. The 1020 MW Punatsangchhu II project is slated to be commissioned later this year. India and Bhutan issued a joint vision statement on their clean energy partnership in the hydropower, solar, and green hydrogen sectors, pledging to ensure regional energy security.

Bhutan: A tiny nation celebrates its strategic mightImage: Cathal McNaughton / Reuters
Farmer Ap Daw (right) talks on his mobile phone while his mother, Aum Sangay, heats water at their home in the Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan. Bhutan has become the second country to launch the BHIM app, and the complete interoperability of the flagship digital project RuPay has been successfully completed, deepening the financial linkages between the two countries.
Bhutan: A tiny nation celebrates its strategic mightImage: Cathal McNaughton / Reuters
Women share a beer in a Karaoke bar in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan. The tiny Himalayan kingdom, known for its philosophy of promoting "Gross national happiness", introduced a Sustainable Development Fee of $65 around three decades ago to limit mass tourism. Under the mantra of "high-value, low-volume" tourism, the tax revenue has been invested into conservation and sustainability through planting trees, cleaning and maintaining trails and electrifying transport. The fee has helped Bhutan become South Asia's only carbon-negative country. In August, Bhutan halved the amount to stimulate tourism as it balances climate protection and the local economy.

Also read: The big challenges as nations try to craft a new global climate deal

Bhutan: A tiny nation celebrates its strategic mightImage: Money SHARMA / AFP
Women wait in a queue to cast their votes outside a polling station in Thimphu on January 9, 2024. Bhutan has consistently emerged as a model of democracy since 2008, standing in stark contrast to the challenges faced by democratic values in its neighbourhood. The general elections saw parties vowing to tackle economic challenges, calling into question its longstanding policy of prioritising "Gross National Happiness" over economic growth, which is at a dismal average rate of 1.7 percent over the past five years. The focal points of the 2024 elections have raised the critical issues of youth unemployment, economic growth, a shrinking private sector, migration, brain drain, and a declining fertility rate.

Bhutan: A tiny nation celebrates its strategic mightImage: Cathal McNaughton / Reuters
Young monks take a break from their studies at Changangkha Lhakhang, Thimphu's oldest temple built in the 12th century. Seventy percent of Bhutan is covered with forests, while seven percent is pressed beneath glaciers in a country with an area of 38,394 square kilometres. With its actual focus on peacefulness, visitors to Bhutan are struck by the buoyant, uplifting attitude of most Bhutanese residents, enveloped in the spirit of Buddhism.

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