We don`t need formal relations with Washington: Bhutan PM

Bhutan has compulsions behind foreign policy of keeping US at safe distance.

Thimphu: Jigmi Yoser Thinley, the prime minister of Bhutan, doesn`t feel the need for formal relations with the US if the two countries can mutually cooperate without these.

"If we can have all kinds of interactions, relations and cooperation with the US, as with Germany and France, with which we have no diplomatic relations, what is the purpose (of such relations with Washington)?" the Prime Minister said in an interview.

Thinley officially took charge of the Foreign Ministry on April 09, months after the former foreign minister remained away from office for medical reasons. He said diplomatic relations were not relevant any longer in a globalised world.

"There was a time when diplomatic relations signified one`s position vis-à-vis conflicting powers, choosing sides. It`s no longer the case," Thinley said.

On April 07, US Ambassador to India Timothy J Roemer visited Thinley`s office in capital Thimphu to discuss "ways to further strengthen the ties between our two countries".

Thinley said he had hosted many State Department officials, Congressmen and Senators for informal talks since he became head of the government in April 2008 after the country`s first fully democratic elections.

Bhutan is often referred to as the "Last Shangri La". Rather than inviting foreign investment, it relies on revenues from tourism, agriculture and power generation while preserving the nation`s serenity and distinctive culture.

Bhutan has a constitutional mandate to maintain at least 60 percent of the country`s land as forest at all times. It requires all buildings to conform to the traditional Tibetan architecture. It has a national dress code. To control the number of foreign visitors, it requires each tourist to pay a tariff of USD 200 a day.

Such measures have set this predominantly Buddhist country apart from the rest of the world.

Bhutan, however, has compulsions behind its foreign policy of keeping the US at a safe distance. Being a small country of roughly 700,000 people locked between Asian giants India and China, Bhutan feels compelled to mark its borders with its distinctive cultural expressions.

The sense of susceptibility rose especially after China occupied Tibet in 1950 and Sikkim, formerly a Buddhist monarchy like Bhutan, became one of the Indian states in 1975. Bhutan shares borders with Tibet and Sikkim.

Though a member of the UN since 1971, Bhutan has let only two countries to have residential embassies, India and Bangladesh.

Formerly a protectorate of British India, Bhutan has had warm relations with India since the latter`s independence in 1947. Bangladesh is landlocked Bhutan`s gateway to the ocean. Thimphu has remained loyal to India, Bhutan`s largest development partner.

However, the Prime Minister denied that Tibet`s and Sikkim`s loss of independence had any bearing on Bhutan`s foreign policy.

"Whatever may have happened, in terms of the examples you raised, I make no judgments as to their justifications and so on. But Bhutan... has survived and it has been respected as a sovereign, independent country thus far."

In a globalising world, "we have even less reasons to fear in terms of the future of our security".

Bhutan has diplomatic relations with only those countries in the West that are seen as non-partisan as well as non-intruding - Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland and Austria.

Thimphu maintains relations with Muslim-majority countries as well, like Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Maldives in the region, and oil-rich Arab nations like Bahrain and Kuwait. Bhutan has ties also with Spain, Canada and Latin American countries like Brazil.