India-Bhutan relationship: A testimony of friendship and camaraderie

International Desk,
India-Bhutan relationship: A testimony of friendship and camaraderie

India-Bhutan relationship: A testimony of friendship and camaraderie

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The relationship between India and Bhutan is based on the pillars of trust, goodwill and mutual understanding. The two neighbours have a close civilisational, cultural and economic relationship that dates back centuries. Bhutan considers India as gyagar, meaning the holy land, as Buddhism originated in India, which is the religion followed by the majority of Bhutanese.

The relationship between the two countries further strengthened with the establishment of diplomatic relations between them in 1968.

Powered By PlayUnmute Loaded: 1.01% Fullscreen The basis of this relationship is formed on the solid foundation of the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 1949 which emphasises "perpetual peace and friendship, free trade and commerce, and equal justice to each other's citizens."

Bhutan not only shares a 699 kilometres long boundary with India adjoining four Indian states but is also a key player in two of India's cardinal foreign policy elements - Neighbourhood Policy and Act East Policy.

For India, Bhutan's socio-economic development and territorial integrity have always been a key plank in its foreign policy agenda. The two countries have a close strategic partnership, with India providing assistance to Bhutan in various sectors, including economic development, infrastructure, education, health and security.

India is not only Bhutan's biggest development partner but also the most important trading partner both as a source and market for its trade in goods and services. India provides not only the transit route to a landlocked Bhutan but is also the biggest market for a number of Bhutan's exports including hydroelectricity, semi-finished products, ferrosilicon and dolomite.

Bolstering strategic relations, India deployed its Military Training Team (IMTRAT) in Bhutan to train the Bhutanese security forces in 1961 and since then has been responsible for Bhutanese security. A number of engagements pertaining to security and border management issues, threat perceptions, coordination of Indo-Bhutan border entry exit points, and sharing of real-time information, among other aspects are being undertaken by the two countries on a regular basis.

The Doklam standoff between Indian and Chinese forces in 2017 has made the security matter even more important and has led to even better coordination and partnership between Indian and Bhutanese forces to secure the strategic areas. The Indo-Bhutan relationship has development cooperation and hydroelectricity generation as its cornerstone.

The two countries have committed to jointly develop 10,000 MW of hydroelectricity capacity in Bhutan. The completion of the 720 MW Mangdechhu hydropower project in Bhutan has been deemed an achievement of the partnership between the two countries. This has propelled discussions of the Sankosh Hydropower Project building between the two countries.

The two countries did not deter from their commitment even during the COVID-19 pandemic and commissioned the first-ever joint venture project - the 600 MW Kholongchhu hydropower project during the testing time. The project is aimed at generating surplus hydroelectricity for Bhutan which will be exported to India aiding Bhutan's revenue as well as employment generation.

India's assistance to Bhutan's development is not limited to the hydropower sector but encompasses almost all the sectors including education, health, infrastructure, social services, environmental protection and technology advancement, amongst others. As per Bhutan's 12th Five Year Plan (2018-2023), India is providing grant assistance to the tune of INR 4,500 crores, along with a transitional Trade Support Facility of INR 400 crores over a five-year period to reinforce the economic linkages.

In the realm of scientific and technological cooperation, the recent launch of a joint India-Bhutan SAT satellite by ISRO marks a new era of India - Bhutan relations.  This satellite is expected to enable Bhutan by providing real-time data and high-resolution images for land mapping and facilitating managing its natural resources, forests and agriculture.

This development is in line with the growing India-Bhutan relations in new avenues such as advanced technology, space and digital systems.

Several key initiatives have already been launched in the fields of digital and space, such as RuPay, the integration of Bhutan's DrukREN with India's national Knowledge Network and the establishment of Ground Earth Station by ISRO to harness the services of South Asia Satellite. Thus, India is enabling the development of Bhutan's digital and space infrastructure so as to harness the potential of Bhutanese youth via skill development and employment generation.

Through digital and space cooperation, not only India is spreading its technological footprint but Bhutan is also getting benefitted from India's investments, research and development, technological know-how and expertise in bringing about transformation in various sectors in Bhutan of the 21st Century.

The ties between India and Bhutan have over time matured into comprehensive partnerships and cooperation on a wider range of issues spanning energy security, business and trade, security and intelligence sharing, digitisation, space technology and conservation biology sectors, amongst others.

India always stood by Bhutan in adverse situations and challenging times in past and Bhutan acknowledged it. As a friendly and helpful neighbour, India has been responsive to Bhutan's needs exemplified by the support extended to Bhutan supplying essential goods and services and whatever requisites from time to time.

Bhutan expressed gratitude and appreciation for India at the UN General Assembly for its "heart-warming goodwill" and "valuable support" in the supply of COVID-19 vaccines under New Delhi's 'Vaccine Maitri initiative' that enabled the Himalayan country to make the nationwide rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme when the entire globe had been reeling under the unprecedented health crisis. The two countries shall be proud of their relationship which is based on trust, shared cultural values, mutual respect and partnership in sustainable development. (ANI)

Let's keep G20 non-political, India suggests ahead of meet

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India on Thursday said that the world was facing several challenges, including dealing with climate change, poverty and development, and sought the support of G20 members to keep the grouping "non-political." India's sherpa Amitabh Kant said Delhi is working with all members to ensure challenges around global debt and recession, in several parts of the world, are addressed, and "one issue can't hold back other things", in what was seen as a reference to the Ukraine war.

Sherpas from G20 nations are meeting in Kumarakom for the second meet of the key representative of world leaders and will discuss ways to deal with challenges. The sherpas will begin discussions on drafting the communique for the leaders' summit in September.


 India on Thursday said that the world was facing several challenges - including dealing with climate change, poverty and development - and sought the support of G20 members to keep the grouping "non-political".

India's sherpa Amitabh Kant said New Delhi is working with all members to ensure that challenges around global debt and recession, in several parts of the world, are addressed, and "one issue can't hold back other things", in what was seen as a reference to the Russia-Ukraine war.

Sherpas from G20 countries are meeting in the backwaters of Kumarakom for the second meeting of the key representative of world leaders and will discuss ways to deal with the challenges. "Kumarakom will provide peace and serenity to all the delegates. Kumarakom backwaters will enable us in the coming days to take the challenges of the world forward," Kant told a news conference.

With several meetings out of the way, the sherpas will begin discussions on drafting the communique for the leader's summit in September. Officials said unlike earlier, in India, all G20 countries are part of the deliberations, indicating a willingness to engage.

The Russia-Ukraine war has emerged as a sticking point for the developed world, led by the G7, while India has maintained that the G20 should remain an economic and development forum. India's stand found support from the Troika (which includes Indonesia and Brazil with South Africa as a special invitee). Sources said all emerging countries have said that issues such as global debt overhang, slowing global growth, inflation and climate action are key for them and need to be deliberated at the forum extensively for possible resolution.

During the day, Kant also held wide ranging discussion with his Russian counterpart as well as South Africa.

"We discussed everything under the sun with Russia. We are very positive and optimistic," said Kant. He said there was strong support for the development issues at the bilaterals that he had with sherpas of several countries, including Italy.


Ladakh Lessons–India Must Learn To Decipher China’s ‘Unpredictable & Secretive’ Foreign Policy

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China’s official foreign policy doctrine says that Beijing “does not participate in the arms race, nor does it seek military expansion. China resolutely opposes hegemonism, power politics, aggression and expansion in whatever form, as well as encroachments perpetrated by one country on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another, or interference in the internal affairs of another nation under the pretext of ethnic, religious or human rights issues”.

That such an announcement looks good only on paper has been proven by the Ladakh, Doklam and Sumdorong Chu standoffs. And unfortunately, India has not learned much all these years, and perhaps it would learn to see things from a different perspective if the bloody Galwan Valley skirmishes were anything to go by.

It’s true that China maintains an independent foreign policy. “We are principled in international affairs, determining our own position and policies in accordance with the merits of each case and never yielding to pressure from major powers, nor entering into an alliance with any major power or power bloc,” reads Beijing’s foreign policy document, published on its Washington embassy website.

China does not have any permanent friend or foe; it keeps calibrating and recalibrating its foreign policy according to global situations. For instance, China sees India not as an enemy but as a military or potential business adversary and hence, the communist nation’s continued aggression along the disputed border in the Himalayas.

Beijing knows very well that border skirmishes are the best way to divert ‘nationalist’ India’s attention from its pressing domestic issues.

However, Beijing’s formula did not work very effectively this time thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. The world has been a different place since the novel Coronavirus struck humanity early last year. The pandemic blurred the boundaries between the nations, turned the mighty militaries into helpless creatures, made the richest the most-lonely people on the planet. When the world took a pause, the worldview changed.

China must have looked at these changes and fine-tuned its foreign policy according to the new circumstances. However, it would be foolish to expect a major transformation in what China has been pursuing all along – military maneuvers through territorial disputes. And it has stretched its arms already — from the heights of the Himalayas to the great expanse of the Indian Ocean.

New Delhi’s Dilemma

With India and China completing the disengagement process in eastern Ladakh, there is speculation whether New Delhi would join the US-led anti-China Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as QUAD.

Japan Times reported recently that the QUAD members – Washington, Tokyo, Canberra, and New Delhi – were planning a meeting of their leaders. However, there is apprehension with regard to India’s position.

There is a reason to believe that New Delhi might be reluctant to join an overtly anti-China bloc at a time when it just struck a deal with Beijing to lower the temperatures at the de facto border in Ladakh.

After all, both India and China suffered immensely on the trade and business front owing to the nine-month-long border standoff. India, which had imposed some sort of sanctions on China and blocked over 100 Chinese mobile apps in the wake of the Galwan Valley incident, is looking to relax some of these measures.

According to news agency Reuters, India is likely to clear some investment proposals from China in the next few days. It quoted an Indian official as saying: “We’ll start giving approvals to some greenfield investment proposals, but we will only clear those sectors which are not sensitive to national security.”

This obviously does not indicate a sudden change of heart on India’s part – it’s a pure business necessity. The pandemic-battered Indian economy is in need of urgent repair and the immediate succor can come from China, the Asian giant, and India’s next-door neighbor. It works both ways – even China needs India’s help to bring its businesses back on track.

Given these circumstances, New Delhi may not be forthcoming about joining the US-led QUAD despite pressure from Washington although it’s more of a strategic alliance rather than an overtly military coalition like NATO.

Nonetheless, India must not lose sight of its long-term interest in the Asia-Pacific or what the US now calls the Indo-Pacific region. And for this, it has to do the difficult balancing act between dealing with an unpredictable neighbor and staying in touch with a strategic alliance. Although only time will tell if New Delhi is doing the right thing or not.


China’s growing influence threatens to undermine global human rights, new research finds

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China’s growing global influence poses a serious threat to international human rights, according to a new report, which suggests that the United Nations Human Rights Council — the body established to safeguard such international protections — is failing to counter the risks.

The UNHRC is an inter-governmental body made up of 47 U.N. member states, which are elected on a three-year rotational basis with the stated aim of strengthening the “promotion and protection of human rights” globally.

Yet research released Thursday by risk and strategic consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft suggests that it has instead become a “battleground for competing standards,” with China and allied member states showing signs of “watering down international action” and pushing their “own brand of human rights.”

Of particular note, it said that China was pushing a “statist ‘development first’ view of human rights” on council members and undermining individual freedoms by “emphasizing economic development above all other rights.”

China’s ministry of foreign affairs did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment on the findings.

The research, part of the firm’s wider annual Human Rights Outlook, is based on quantitative data from sources including the U.N., the U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch, as well as Verisk Maplecroft’s internal qualitative analysis.

It also found that China is using its economic power to sway council votes, with grantees of China’s “Belt & Road Initiative” most susceptible to influence.

At least 35 of the 47 UNHRC member states belong to the BRI — China’s global infrastructure development project — many of which are Asian or African countries with similar, or worse, scores on the company’s human rights indices, the study noted.

UNHRC acting spokesperson, Pascal Sim, rejected the claims, stating that “no one state runs the council or dominates the agenda.”

“All states, big and small, have an equal voice and immense potential to inform and influence the action of this intergovernmental body charged with promoting and protecting human rights around the world,” Sim added in emailed comments to CNBC.

Political maneuvering

Among its criticism, the report highlighted China’s approach to civil and political rights — and chiefly freedom of speech and expression — as particularly concerning.

Such behavior was being echoed by other UNHRC states, it said, with almost three-quarters (70%) of current members ranking as high or extreme risks for such rights. Those include Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Spokespersons for the respective governments did not immediately respond to CNBC requests for comment.

More than half of members also ranked similarly poorly across the three other metrics the research deemed essential for upholding humanitarian protections: labor rights, human security and human development.

Of the 30 members that rated as extreme or high risk for labor rights, 18 recorded a drop in their score from 2017, 15 of which were BRI signatories.

The report also found that China was using increasingly sophisticated maneuvering of key UNHRC mechanisms to contain criticism, with states increasingly partaking in the whitewash of Beijing’s rights record.

It said the most “astounding diplomatic victory” came with the rejection of a U.S.-proposed draft resolution on holding a debate on Xinjiang in October 2022, which was backed by Muslim-majority states and BRI signatories including Indonesia, the UAE and Qatar.

Human rights groups accuse Beijing of abuses against Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority group indigenous to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China. The U.S. has accused China of committing genocide. Beijing has vigorously denied it carries out any abuses.

The findings come at a time of heightened Western skepticism toward China, with U.S. and European allies raising various concerns ranging from the potential national security threats posed by Chinese technology to Beijing’s alliance with Moscow.

“Beijing’s increasingly active role in the international human rights system comes at a precarious period of global democratic deterioration, economic slowdown and severe geopolitical polarization — all with knock-on effects on human rights,” Sofia Nazalya, senior human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft and the report’s author, said.

“The upshot is that international human rights norms may weaken at the expense of vulnerable populations, while businesses will have to navigate and decode competing, and often conflicting, views on what constitutes an abuse and what doesn’t from the Council itself.”

Separate analysis released Tuesday found that China has significantly increased its bailout lending for distressed nations over recent years, loaning $185 billion to BRI debtors in the past five years alone.

The report, which was co-authored by the World Bank, said the uptick marked a shift toward a more “opaque and uncoordinated” global system for cross-border rescue lending, which threatens to undermine existing monetary architecture and the role of traditional institutions like the International Monetary Fund.

On Monday, Amnesty International released its latest “the state of the world’s human rights” report, in which it said that the world had experienced increased war crimes, crimes against humanity, repression of universal freedoms, economic crises and rising inequality over the past year.


China Again Accused of Meddling in Canada's Elections

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Allegations are piling up against China for interloping in Canada's most recent federal elections to support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party. A Conservative candidate, who ran close to Vancouver, said his defeat in 2021 was caused by a systematic misinformation campaign.

In 2019, a member of Conservative Party of Canada, Kenny Chui, got elected as a member of Parliament for Steveston Richmond-East. Well over 50 per cent of the people in his Vancouver suburb are of Chinese descent. Nevertheless, he was defeated by a Liberal Party candidate, who is now the constituency's MP, in the subsequent election held 22 months later.

The Liberal Party gained almost 1,800 votes in the district in the 2021 election over the previous year. Contrarily, Chiu saw a decrease in support of over 4,400 votes from the previous election.

Beyond the figures, Chiu observed a change in the way people responded to him during the 2021 election. According to him, in 2019 people were kind and engaged him in discussion but not so in 2021.

Chiu recalled, "Some of them were obviously disturbed, frustrated, and yet some of them are even showing signs of being angry," adding, "And at the time, I was quite puzzled. What was that all about? Because, I mean, again, it's only been 22 months and it's during a pandemic."

Chiu, who was born in Hong Kong and moved to Canada, said he later learned using Disinfo Watch, McGill University in Quebec, and the Atlantic Council that he had been the target of a disinformation campaign intended to sway Chinese voters.

He claimed that false allegations about the Conservative Party and Chiu himself planning to ban the Chinese instant messaging app WeChat in Canada.

Many members of the Chinese community in Canada can only contact friends and family in China using WeChat. Remembering some of the specific rumours, Chiu said, "He is anti-Chinese. He hates Chinese. He's a traitor."

Chiu added, "And all these labels are levelled on me personally. There have also been articles written saying that the Conservatives leader back then, is going to ban WeChat." Not everyone sees it as a conspiracy. Veteran Liberal Party worker Mark Marissen said the 2021 Conservative campaign and then leader Erin O'Toole did, in fact, take a stronger stance against China.

Marissen has handled numerous campaigns at the federal, provincial, and local levels.

Mariseen told VOA, "There was a real opposition amongst many people within the community to the way that O'Toole was campaigning about China." In the future, organisations like CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, should be more vigilant in their examination of potential foreign interference in elections, said Kareem Allam, who has managed multiple campaigns for Conservative candidates.

Allam said, "But if I have a concern about a candidate, potentially with regards to foreign interference related matters, CSIS is legally bound to not report on any Canadian nations," adding, "And if you're running for Canadian office, you have to be a Canadian citizen. So there's no way for me to clarify whether this person - who could end up being a member of parliament who could end up being a cabinet minister."

Earlier also, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had revealed the ways in which the Chinese government has attempted to tamper with Canadian elections.

This gives support to a number of allegations regarding the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) behaviour that has been circulating for years.

This includes the Conservative Party of Canada's claim that the interference cost it seats in the 2021 federal election, along with allegations about the operation of illegal "police stations" used by China to gather information on the Chinese diaspora in Canada, Asian Times reported.

Prime Minister Trudeau had announced that his government will appoint a "special rapporteur", who will work with two national security committees to probe the details of the controversy, Asian Times reported.

The allegations not only raise questions about the integrity of Canadian democracy itself but also the complicity of the government in not properly addressing it and the appearance that the Liberals deliberately underplayed, denied or buried allegations of interference because they benefited from it, Asian Times reported.

The recent leaks not only prove this is happening in Canada but, more seriously, demonstrate that Canadian security organisations are struggling to find ways to manage it as Chinese interference strategies continue to develop. The leaks damaged the organization's international credibility and will likely make it more difficult for CSIS to acquire sensitive information.