When the Raven met the Dragon

There has been a flurry of international and national discussions on the purported news of the move towards establishment of diplomatic relations between Bhutan and China. This was based on supposed statements by the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lyonchhen Jigme Y Thinley and the Premier of China, Wen Jiabo when they had met along the sidelines of the Rio+20 summit.

The maximum news coverage of the meeting is visible in Indian and Chinese news agencies, reporting without having checked with the Royal Government of Bhutan on the actual interpretation or details of the statements.

There are some in the Indian media calling it a possible security threat to India; others say that it shows the growing maturity of India-China relations, and others point out that Bhutan is seeking a bigger role for itself in the international arena.

Some are even equating Bhutan’s move to that of Nepal’s that regularly uses the China card against India with varying effect and implications.

However, the reality is simple and also less exciting. To put the conversation between the Lyonchhen and the Premier in context; one will have to read the few complete stories of the interaction.

It was actually the Chinese Premier who brought up the need for formal diplomatic relations between Bhutan and China and so the Bhutanese Prime Minister was compelled to give a response.

For a follower of the limited Bhutan-China relations, this would be nothing new as Chinese leaders at various levels have declared their country’s wish to establish diplomatic relations with Bhutan in the past, especially during the boundary talks.

So what Lyonchhen is supposed to have said next should also not come as a surprise.

Bhutan’s Prime Minister without giving any time frame or firm commitment is quoted by the Chinese media as saying that Bhutan, “will establish formal diplomatic relations as soon as possible.”  The operative word here is “possible” which does not mean a definite yes. Sources within the Bhutanese government deny that any firm time bound commitment was given to establish diplomatic ties and in fact that the Prime Minister was misquoted in places.

The official position of Bhutan in such cases is not to directly turn down China’s requests, but instead come up with any array of quite credible excuses. One has been that Bhutan as a least developed country does not have the resources as of now, to establish embassies in all major countries. The other excuse is that Bhutan has not as yet decided on having relations with any of the permanent five members of the Security Council – USA, UK, France, Russia and China.

In addition to this background, the Prime Minister of a small country cannot afford to directly refuse a public proposal from a leader of the world’s second superpower, which is also a close geographical neighbor. The supposed reply, “will establish formal diplomatic relations as soon as possible,” by Lyonchhen can be interpreted as a Bhutanese way of saying something without actually committing to anything, but also not offending the person making the request.

It is also not beyond the realm of possibility that in a time of increasing competition between India and China, a characteristically nationalistic and state controlled Chinese media would want to enthusiastically increase their country’s diplomatic mileage during such meets.

In short, it appears that Lyonchhen said nothing new nor gave any firm and time bound commitment on establishing formal diplomatic relations with China, but repeated a modified version of the ‘old one liner’ that got twisted way beyond its original intent or meaning.

Lyonchhen’s comment that Bhutan “stands by the one China policy” again is not a new statement. This is the same line taken by India and a majority of countries around the world. This has also been a generally unspoken but understood policy of the Bhutanese government.

Policy watchers and media outlets in India should not be unduly alarmed as Bhutan is still a close and strategic friend of India, and the only South Asian country which has not used or attempted to use the China card.

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  1. JYT this time comes to his junior from St. Stevens to bury his lie. He could have asked any paper to do it but he would not and the drama with Tenzing Lamsang comes with ironies and so on. JYT gave the press release upon his arrival that diplomatic relations were going to develop between Bhutan and China. Now as the country gears for a demand of a think-tank and so on for critical issues this justifications. comes up. Tenzing Lamsang is finally sold to JYT. Tenzing why are you sold like a slave? Even if you went broke running “The Bhutanese”, let it be. Run it as a single man paper. let go the employees but stick to the truth. Will you or has JYT promised you a position in NC this coming elections or did he threaten you?

  2. I think this is a very responsible and truthful piece of journalism that provides everything in it’s proper context. This is also i would say a national service as it assuages the doubts of our old friend and biggest donor India. 

  3. Excellent piece that gives the real story. I agree with Tashi this article is good for the national interest. I never knew the international media could be so unethical. 

  4. No, not never! How do indian media claim that it is security threat when it is not a threat when Pakistan is hosting a military base of China? What is the logic and basis of this argument, no one understands the phraseology of such clauses?
    We arent doing that, yes ofcourse Delhi fears we may be selling our energy to china, that will call India to raise the tarrif to compete with China, but we arent doing that with the output of electricity obtained with their help, alteast we as independent nation should have a choice to sell our energy to Beijing if the project be funded by them.
    Bhutan stands to benifit from being a better friend of China and in no ways that shall be a threat. Bullshit media say what not, we need to be friend with Beijing.
    Thimphu will have a good game with tax and tarrif of other goods as wel, India and China are economically tied, but there are huge taxes over traded goods, if we can buy something from China at low tax and sell to India that shall BOOST our economy more than anything else, well India needs a lot of Chinese products the trade is marginal due to tax . This does not mean we will undermine the Indian help rather we will see India as a Better friend if it allows us to be Friend with our other neighbour.
    If Delhi stops our move, it simply means that it is controlling us and our choices, Where is our sovereinity if Delhi dictates who we should and whom we shouldn’t be friend with?

  5. I’d like to know what is the link between the china meeting and the shooting of a soldier in gelephu? these issues have come knocking on the heels of each other. the claim that it was the work of a ngolop outfit seems rather hard to believe given that india has ensured that these people are kept at bay. india didn’t even let the demonstrators cross the mechi bridge from nepal to india because they were on the way to bhutan.

    what’s happening now? Is india now cross with Bhutan and begun to look the other way? Is this supposed to be a lesson for Bhutan? Has the PM learned any lesson?

    we are like children in the world of geopolitics. and the biggest child seems to be our PM.

  6. Their is no link, such instances happened in the past too, so please stop your conspiracy theories. Your are also wrong to believe that India can prevent every attack made from their soil by terrorist groups that are against us.

    And you seem to be the biggest idiot it to even suggest that the PMs meeting with the Chinese Premier had anything to do with this attack on our soldiers.

  7. Why is India so mush worried when Bhutan is trying to open bilateral relation with China? I don’t guess any reason here to see why India is so mush alarmed? If Bhutan ever go into relation with China, I guess we are going to benefit alot…even maybe better than that of India (sorry indian folks) Yes, thats true. We are going to benefit a lot in many many ways..just click the link…and lets see what happens….

  8. It’s only the medias speculating and blowing the issue out of proportion. I am sure RGoB & GoI is at best position. So, there’s nothing to worry. After all, our friendship with India is a friendship of mutual trust and Bhutan is a sovereign nation. 

  9. i think there is more to it then that meets the eyes here……..after all, in politics, nothing can be overruled!!!!!!! 

  10. friendship is always good ……and anyway, bhutan can never afford not to be friendly with china and india for all time to come…… good for all 3……….

  11. Chinese Whispers

    There are no links between China and Bhutan except for few well established business partnerships between the Chinese and the PM’s family members. The PM’s children are importing cars and furnitures from China and selling in Bhutan. They are also dealing in big Chinese brocade imports. So, I see who stands to gain most from this diplomatic ties which PM Jigmi Thinley is conniving to establish. I wonder whether his DPT party is also a beneficiary. 
    Bhutan China relations will only benefit the rich businessmen while the poor will remain poor. It will crush our negligible, almost nonexistent industries.
    While Bhutan India relations will lead to the economic growth of our country. It is there for everyone to see.

  12. I think that the time has come to be a player in the globalization of Bhutan. We have China  and we have India. Agreed India has been with us from the formation of the first Monarchy and before that. But time has come to rethink especially what benefits Bhutan . I feel Bhutan has matured as a world player and I have the opinion that China will benefit Bhutan’s growth just as India has done for us. No harm done. We are a bit more educated now then a century ago. 

    • Bhutan has matured as a world player? I would say we have regressed during the past 4 odd years. All of our surplus has been squandered during this time and we as a sovereign nation had to be bailed out by Punjab National bank. Congrats man! That goes to JYT et al. 

      We have been dependent on India for not just their money but for their goodwill as well. We have now just dug ourselves deeper into that dependency. Before we start talking about global politics, we need to get our economy onto much stronger and firmer footing otherwise we have no means to counter any sudden moves from India. They don’t have to do anything. They just have to stop veggies and we’ll all die of constipation. That is our reality. Let us understand our reality.

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