Modi to Address Bhutanese Parliament in First Foreign Visit

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the joint session of the Bhutanese parliament and discuss ways to boost trade with its Himalayan neighbor, in his two-day trip to Bhutan. This will be his first visit abroad in less than a month after assuming office. India has partnered with Bhutan on several hydro power projects.

Accompanying Modi on his June 15-16 visit to Bhutan, which is a pointer to the new government’s keenness to focus on the neighborhood, would be External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.

The foreign secretary, addressing a media briefing ahead of the prime minister’s visit, said relations between India and Bhutan are “especially warm” and both countries share ties that is in the “nature of friends and partners.”

The prime minister would address the joint session of the Bhutanese National Assembly and National Council, meet his Bhutanese counterpart Tshering Tobgay and call on current King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, as well as his father, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The Bhutanese royal family has always been close to India. He would also meet the Bhutanese opposition leader.

Both sides would discuss a “whole gamut” of bilateral issues, said the foreign secretary. India has committed Rs.4,500 crore (750 million USD) towards Bhutan’s 11th five-year plan and is involved in infrastructure projects, agriculture, information communication technology projects among others in the landlocked kingdom, also known as the ‘land of the thunder dragon’.

India is also involved in building schools, libraries, drinking water projects and community centers in Bhutan, a crucial northern neighbor of just 750,000 peace-loving people, with which China shares a 500 km border through Tibet. Beijing is keen to establish closer ties with Thimphu and has been trying to set up an embassy in the Bhutanese capital.

To a question on the issue, the foreign secretary said that Bhutan is a sovereign country and it is up to the Bhutanese leadership to decide on the issue “keeping their interests in mind”.

Boosting trade and hydro power cooperation and examining ways to increase cooperation in the areas of education, media and tourism, would be discussed by the two sides during the prime minister’s visit, said the foreign secretary. She described the hydro power projects as a “win win” situation for both countries.

India has three hydro power projects, of 1,416 MW, already in operation in Bhutan. It has three more – of 2,129 MW — under construction – which would be commissioned in 2017-18. More hydro power projects as joint ventures with the Bhutanese government are on the anvil, said Singh.