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PM Narendra Modi in Bhutan, aims to diversify ties as China factor looms

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Bhutan Saturday morning for a two-day visit which is being seen as a bid to diversify India’s partnership with the kingdom from the hydro-power sector to enhanced trade and linkages in space and education. This is Prime Minister Modi’s first Bhutan visit after re-election and second overall.

PM Modi was received by his Bhutanese counterpart Dr Lotay Tshering on his arrival at the Paro International Airport and also received a guard of honour at the airport.

India and Bhutan shared deep historic ties and Prime Minister’s current visit will help in its further “deepening”, said a tweet by spokesperson for the ministry of external affairs Raveesh Kumar, moments after Prime Minister’s departure. PM Modi will “interact with various Bhutanese leaders”, the tweet added, while describing ties with Bhutan as the central pillar of India’s “neighbourhood first” policy.

Prime Minister Modi’s visit assumes further significance in the backdrop of efforts by Beijing to woo Thimphu and calls within sections of the Bhutanese political establishment for stronger diplomatic ties with China and a shift away from hydro-power sector.

Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale had indicated that India was mindful of the need to broaden ties with Bhutan while retaining its role as a developmental partner. As part of these efforts, India will provide Rs 400 crore for a trade support facility to encourage Bhutanese exporters.

“So this is a special focus and a special package is being given in this five-year plan as trade support for companies and manufacturers to incentivise them to export more to India,” he had said last week.

India is providing Rs 5,000 crore for Bhutan’s 12th five-year plan that began in 2018, the same as the allocation for the previous plan.

Prime Minister’s departure statement also said that India was looking to consolidate its ties with Bhutan. “I am confident that my visit will promote our time-tested and valued friendship with Bhutan and consolidate it further..,” the statement said.

Hydro-power, however, will continue to be an important sector of cooperation between the two neighbours who will sign a power purchase agreement for Rs 5,012-crore Mangdechhu project– to be inaugurated jointly by the Indian Prime Minister and his Bhutanese counterpart during this visit. Discussions on 2,500 MW Sankosh project are also expected to be held.

Prime Minister’s departure statement added that India attached “high importance” to strong relations with its “trusted friend” and “the entire gamut” of the bilateral relations will be discussed in his meeting with the Bhutanese Prime Minister and the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

The two prime ministers will also inaugurate Rs 7-crore ground earth station built by India’s space agency to allow Bhutan to use a transponder on the South Asian Satellite for broadcast services and disaster management. The Rupay card will also be launched in Bhutan, Gokhale had said last week Friday.

India and Bhutan bilateral ties were “excellent” and exemplified not only by “extensive development partnership” in the economic sphere but also “reinforced by a shared spiritual heritage and robust people-to-people ties,” Prime Minister’s departure statement said.

Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to address young Bhutanese students at the Royal University of Bhutan against the backdrop of a fall in the numbers of Bhutanese students in India and an ongoing discussion to link universities in the two countries.

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