A bevy of mainly Indian news outlets in recent days have published news or mentioned the visit of the Chinese Ambassador to Delhi’s wife, Dr. Jiang Yili to Bhutan.
However, all of them have got the dates and the context horribly wrong. These media outlets have shown the visit being made after the 16th June Doklam standoff.
The attempt has been to portray some kind of suspicious dealing of the Chinese Ambassador’s wife with Bhutan’s leadership, in the middle of the Doklam standoff.
One Pan Asian media outlet based in Bangkok, ‘Asia Times’ even went to the extent of saying, that ‘significantly’ after the visit of the Ambassadors spouse to Bhutan and her meetings with the Bhutanese leadership Beijing maintains that Bhutan did not seek Indian military intervention.
The simple fact ignored by all these news outlets was that the Chinese Ambassador’s wife visited Thimphu only between May 9th to 11th, which is a full 35 days before the Doklam standoff even started on 16th June.
The evidence of this is on the Chinese Embassy website which put up the details and dates of the visit on its website in May itself and it is still there too see. People in the know here in Thimphu also know the visit happened only in early May.
The May 9th to 11th visit of Dr. Jiang Yili was an entirely personal one as the Royal Government of Bhutan did not have any special protocol ceremony for her, nor were any meetings organized for her with the government.
As it is, the spouse or children of any Ambassador of any country are treated as only private citizens in Bhutan.
As mentioned in the Chinese Embassy website post, Dr. Jiang Yili did meet with two Queen Mothers between May 9th and 11th visit, but that was in the context of discussions on Buddhism and also in the context of a visit to the private Civil Society Organizations (CSO) dealing with women and nuns run by the Queen Mothers.
The Queen Mothers have no formal role in the RGoB or governance and instead are involved in CSO work for positive social change, charity activities, spiritual activities and other ceremonial roles.
Though Bhutan and China has no diplomatic ties it has had 24 rounds of border talks and each Chinese delegation is usually led by a Chinese Vice Foreign Minister.
Also, since there is no Chinese Embassy in Thimphu, Bhutan has to send its communications or even protests through the Chinese Embassy in Delhi, as it recently did on 20th June through a ‘demarche.’
So be it from the point of view of border talks or other communication the Chinese Embassy in Delhi is the only nearest Chinese government agency through which Bhutan can convey its views to China or reply to any queries.
Also, while the two countries do not have diplomatic ties it does not mean that Chinese tourists or officials are not allowed in Bhutan.
In the middle of a heated confrontation on the border some Indian and other media outlets must take greater care in getting its dates and context right, otherwise, news like this is like adding the proverbial ‘fuel to the fire,’ and spreading misunderstanding at a delicate time.
I am sure officials in both Bhutan and India must already be aware of the real dates and purpose of the visit.
However, given that some incorrect articles have come out in the public domain it is important to point out the actual facts, including the most basic ones on the correct dates.
Coming all the way to Thimphu might be a task for some senior journalists in Delhi or elsewhere, but at least doing some basic online research on the visit and making a few calls should not be as difficult.
Commentary by Tenzing Lamsang
The writer is the Editor of The Bhutanese. This was first published on 20th July on the Facebook page of The Bhutanese.