Modi, Bhutan PM bolster relations amidst China’s Himalayan presence

| Updated: 15 March, 2024 1:13 pm IST
Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay is on a five-day visit to India

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay, who is on a five-day visit to India, met on Thursday evening to push cross-border connectivity, energy, and business initiatives amid China’s efforts to expand its outreach in the Himalayan State.

Tobgay’s visit marks his first overseas visit after assuming office in January 2024. Discussions between the two leaders encompassed various aspects of bilateral partnership, including infrastructure development, connectivity, energy, hydropower cooperation, people-to-people exchanges, and development cooperation. They reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthen the special and unique India-Bhutan friendship.

After Tobgay’s visit, the Indian Cabinet cleared two Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with Bhutan. The first MoU extends cooperation in the field of energy efficiency and conservation measures, aiming to enhance energy efficiency in the household sector and promote the star labeling program developed by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency. The second agreement pertains to cooperation in food safety between the Bhutan Food and Drug Authority (BFDA) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), facilitating more trade between the two nations.

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Accompanied by a delegation comprising Bhutan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Minister for Industry, Commerce and Employment, and senior officials, Tobgay’s visit aims to bolster camaraderie and collaboration between India and Bhutan. The territorial dispute between Bhutan and China remains a significant concern, covering an area of about 764 sq km.

China’s claims over areas near Doklam in western Bhutan are particularly worrisome for India. However, Thimphu has assured New Delhi that it will not undermine India’s national interests while negotiating a boundary treaty with Beijing.

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk’s plans for the Gelephu Special Administration Region (SAR) near the Indian border, spanning 1,000 sq km, aim to link Bhutan with Assam and promote regional integration economically. Additionally, plans for rail links between Gelephu and Kokrajhar in Assam Samtse in Bhutan and Banarhat in West Bengal are under consideration.

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Prime Minister Modi welcomed Tobgay on his maiden overseas visit to India and accepted an invitation to visit Bhutan next week. This reciprocal exchange underscores the enduring friendship between the two nations and serves as a platform for further strengthening bilateral ties.

The visit assumes significance amid China’s growing influence in Bhutan and underscores India’s commitment to bolstering ties with its Himalayan neighbour. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay engaged in a comprehensive dialogue on Thursday, addressing critical issues amidst China’s endeavours to extend its influence in the Himalayan region.

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