Asia in Review Archive

Bhutan

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11 June 2019

Bhutan decriminalizes gay sex

(ls) Bhutan’s lower house overwhelmingly voted last Friday to repeal two sections of the 2004 criminal code which made “unnatural sex” illegal. The law had never been used, but Finance Minister Namgay Tshering, who submitted the recommendation to repeal sections 213 and 214, said they had become “a stain” on the country’s reputation. Especially in Bhutan’s rural areas, transgender people still face discrimination. [Channel News Asia]

23 October 2018

Power Shift in Bhutan that might favour India

(jk) In the third elections after democracy has been introduced to the Himalayan Kingdom in 2008, voters decided for a power shift to the centre-left party (Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa – DNT) which has won 30 seats in the 47-member National Assembly, the lower house of the Bhutanese parliament. All other seats are held by one opposition party which is intended by the Constitution according to which only two parties with the highest votes in the primary round qualify for the final round. Voter turnout was relatively high at 71 percent of registered voters and Bhutan’s next prime minister will be 50-year-old surgeon Lotay Tshering from DNT. [Economic Times]

The elections have been watched closely by both China and India who vow for influence in the small kingdom. India has long been a traditional partner and plays a significant role in Bhutan’s development. China has been making inroads though through its Belt and Road initiative and Bhutan has been the location of stand-offs between India and China before, most recently in last year’s “Doklam” dispute [Washington Times]. 

Due to the sensitivities, foreign policy was kept out of the election campaign. During the 2013 campaign, fearing that Bhutan was moving too close to China, India withdrew certain subsidies in an alleged attempt to influence a change of government. Relations with India remain sensitive and some candidates and activists were fined for sending statements on relations with India. Under the new government India’s position as a special partner will remain secured. [SCMP]

2 October 2018

Bhutan & Nepal: Readjusting priorities between China and India?

(ls) India’s neighbor Bhutan approaches the third general election in the country’s history on 18 October 2018. In September, voters had unexpectedly ousted the ruling People’s Democratic Party in the primary, along with it the pro-India Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay. That has awakened concerns over how the new government will manage its relations with China and India. In July 2017, geopolitical tensions surfaced when China began building a road along the sensitive Doklam Plateau on the Bhutan-Tibet border, which China claims as its own, without informing the Bhutanese capital of Thimpu. [Asia Sentinel]

Observers have held that a change in guard at Thimphu does not necessarily mean a pro-China tilt, however, it could lead to Bhutan trying to pursue a more equated relationship with both India and China. The Chinese may offer greater funding than India can afford. However, Bhutan may not be looking for huge investments. [DailyO]

Nepal’s quest for an alternate transit country with a view to reducing its dependence on India succeeded with the finalization of the text for the Protocol of Transit Transport Agreement with China on 7 September 2018. As per this text, China formally agreed to provide seven transit points – four sea ports (Tianjin (Xingang), Shenzhen, Lianyungang, Zhanjiang) and three land ports (Lanzhou, Lhasa, Xigatse) – to Nepal for trade with third countries. Nepal’s move towards China was sparked by India’s 2015-16 limitation of cargo movements through major India-Nepal border points. An analysis of the agreement has been published by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi. [IDSA]

24 July 2018

China-Buthan relations: Border talks resumed

(dql/am) A year after the Doklam standoff between China and India, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou made a three-days visit to Bhutan to resume discussions on border issues centred on the Doklam plateau claimed by both China and Bhutan. In 1996 China proposed a deal under which Bhutan would obtain approximately 764 square kilometers of land in the middle and western sector of the border in exchange of 100 square kilometers land in the strategically important Doklam plateau, which serves as a tri-junction of China, Bhutan and India. [Sputnik News]

Meanwhile, India’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has finished the construction of a strategically important road in Bhutan, connecting one of Bhutan’s border towns with its capital Thimphu. The 30-km long road is one of several India-funded infrastructure projects in Bhutan, which is strategically important for India due to its location and border with China. [The Times of India]

20 May 2018

Political parties’ take on the state of democracy in Bhutan

(am) As Bhutan completes 10 years of being a democratic constitutional monarchy, representatives from various political parties gathered to discuss the current state of democracy in Bhutan.

The forum aimed at giving people and political parties a much-needed open space in the election year for healthy discussions on political issues. [Kuensel]

29 December 2017

India-China relations: Talks and questions of intent in border dispute

(kg) Chinese state media reported this week that China and India have reached agreement to “properly handle” border disputes. The 20th round of talks between Chinese and Indian special representatives on boundary issues took place in New Delhi Friday. During the talks, both sides “agreed to strengthen strategic communication and boost strategic mutual trust” [Xinhua]. Just how far that “strategic mutual trust” goes remains to be seen, though, and the Doklam standoff is being closely monitored by all nations of the region.

Some are watching to determine if India will continue to support Bhutan against China. Southeast Asian nations are watching China’s reactions to India’s resistance, as a possible lesson to resolving their own border disputes in the future. What is likely, according to the author of this piece, is that China will try something different soon: it has a number of options to intimidate Bhutan and to impose costs on India as a result of its recent increase in force structure and infrastructure in the region. India, says the author, should be wary, and cannot expect China to make the same mistakes it has made in its recent gambits there [Eurasia Review].