India-Bhutan Relations: King Jigme’s Visit and the Looming Shadow of China

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The King of Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, recently concluded a week long visit to India (3 November to 10 November).

The King met with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the External Affairs Minister S Jaishanker. During this visit he went to Assam, Delhi and Maharashtra. The delegation consisted of high-level officials.

The King’s visit can be seen as a success because India and Bhutan agreed to cooperate on building two rail links. One which will be constructed by India will connect Gelephu and Kokrajhar in Assam while the second proposal is of a rail link between Banarhat in West Bengal and Samtse in Bhutan.

This will also feed into the International Airport which is in works by Bhutan as a part of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Samtse. The Bhutanese King will be announcing this SEZ on 17 December later this year.

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The overview of the visit of the Bhutanese King underscores the Indian commitment to help in the economic growth and development of Bhutan. A number of proposals and plans have been announced and thus provide a positive colour to the relationship. But what stands out is that there has been no mention of any discussion or even reference to the border issue and the Bhutan-China border talks.

But one cannot ignore the fact that this visit comes immediately on the tails of the Bhutanese Foreign Minister, Tandi Dorji’s visit to China. The foreign minister met with Wang Yi and also concluded the 25th round of border talks. The announcements and statements after the meeting gave a perception that China and Bhutan are very keen to conclude the border negotiations and establish diplomatic relations, however, Bhutan cannot fully achieve this goal without the Indian involvement.

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