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Bhutan opens up: Establishes diplomatic relations with Israel, Germany

Bhutan opens up: Establishes diplomatic relations with Israel, Germany

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has established diplomatic relations with Israel in a ceremony at the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, signalling Thimpu’s fresh effort to engage with countries that have close ties with India. This is the second country, after Germany, with which Bhutan has established formal ties in recent weeks.

Despite exhortations from Beijing, Bhutan has so far declined to open a Chinese embassy in Thimphu.

The signing ceremony was held by Bhutanese ambassador Vetsop Namgyel and his Israeli counterpart Ron Malka. A joint statement said: “The establishment of diplomatic relations would not only build upon the existing close ties but open the path to greater cooperation and further strengthen relations between the two countries and peoples.”

Welcoming the agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Twitter: "I welcome the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Bhutan, which is additional fruit of the peace agreements. We are in contact with additional countries that want to join and establish relations with us."


<img class="wp-image-40806 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/BhutanGermany.jpg" alt="BhutanGermany" width="900" height="506" /> Bhutan and Germany establish diplomatic relations (Photo: @AmbLindnerIndia/Twitter)

According to <em>The Times of Israel</em>: "The foreign ministry said Israel has maintained secret contacts with Bhutan in recent years that have included visits by delegations from Israel to the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu, and by Bhutan officials to Israel." In the last two months, the West Asian country has established relations with a number of Islamic neighbours with American intervention.

Similarly, in the last week of November Bhutan established diplomatic relations with Germany. The agreement was signed between Namgyel and German ambassador Walter Lindner, at the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Delhi. A joint release by the two countries said: "… Bhutan continues to receive support from the EU, of which Germany is the largest contributor to the Union's budget. The people-to-people contacts between the two countries have also increased over the years."

Bhutan also recently inked a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with Bangladesh for which Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering attended the signing ceremony virtually.

With China increasingly laying claims to Bhutanese territory, the landlocked South Asian country is reaching out to the democratic and liberal powers of the West. It is the only country besides India which has not joined the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in South Asia.


India too is making efforts with Bhutan to keep the Chinese influence at bay. India has opened up a number of routes to connect Bhutan not just with India's North-East but also with other South Asian and South East Asian nations. The Commerce and Industry Minister, Piyush Goyal had visited Bhutan in February 2020 to discuss the opening up of new trade routes.

India and the Japanese development organisation—Japan International Cooperation Agency, plan to construct a bridge over the Brahmaputra river connecting Bhutan, India and Vietnam. India is currently leading the initiative on the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway while Japan is working on the East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) to connect Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. The Indian and the Japanese initiatives will link up many ASEAN countries to South Asia.

With China as the elephant in the room, the joint foray is a fusion of India’s ‘Act East’ policy and Japan’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP) strategy.

From the Indian end, the trilateral highway starts in Manipur from the border town of Moreh. On entering Myanmar, it heads for Mandalay, the historic city, on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River,
471 km away. From Mandalay, Myanmar’s last royal capital before British annexation, the highway heads towards the Thai border, with Myawaddy being the last destination on the Myanmar side.

Myanmar’s officialdom is emphatic that Myawaddy—the gateway to ASEAN—has huge potential as it can be easily connected with the Yangon deep water port, as well as the Andaman Sea. The 1,360-km route
terminates at Mae Sot in Thailand, 20 km away to the northeast. Myawaddy is the junction of the two projects. It is the starting point of the East West Economic Corridor (EWEC), which heads towards Da Nang in Vietnam—a port city on the South China Sea.