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Democracy still taking root in Bhutan July 24, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bhutan, Guest authors , comments closed

Mark Turner

Bhutan was a latecomer to democracy. The small Himalayan kingdom joined the ranks of democratic nations only in 2008 when the first national elections were held and its constitution approved. But since then, how is democracy developing in the country?

Elections are the most visible symbols of democratic rule. There have been two national elections — in 2008 and 2013 — to choose the members of the partisan National Assembly and the non-partisan National Council. The system seems to be working well. The 2013 election saw greater political competition with two new parties running alongside the two original parties for the National Assembly. And there were more candidates for positions in the National Council. This non-partisan body acts as the house of review in the Bhutanese parliament.

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Power plays in Bhutan exemplify India’s growing influence March 30, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bhutan, DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India, Maldives, South Asia - General , comments closed

Serge DeSilva-Ranasinghe

For nearly a decade the intensifying rivalry between India and China has been seen in practically every country in South Asia. In South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, India has often encountered hurdles in attempting to expand its influence due to both political and historical reasons. Conversely, and as recently demonstrated in the Maldives, India has also successfully strengthened its influence in a number of smaller regional countries.  For example, in the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, India has positioned itself as Thimphu’s  closest ally.

With an estimated 75 per cent of the population Buddhist and 25 per cent Hindu, the people of Bhutan have traditionally shared strong linguistic, religious and cultural similarities to India, Nepal and Tibet . Since British influence was removed from South Asia following Indian Independence, relations with China have grown more complicated, especially since 1950, when China invaded and occupied Tibet resulting in thousands of Tibetan refugees seeking asylum in Bhutan. Later, in 1960, Bhutan decided to close its northern border with China. The border remains closed to this day.

 

Two boys in traditional dress outside the King’s palace, Thimphu, Bhutan.

For decades now Bhutan’s relationship with China has remained underdeveloped and practically stagnant, with no official diplomatic relations. However, some minor successes have been noted, such as when Bhutan voted in favour of China’s UN seat in 1971. Similarly, Bhutan has continued to honour its commitment to the ‘One China’ policy and has also signed the 1998 Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity in the Bhutan-China Border Areas. Nonetheless, these minor achievements have not necessarily translated into better relations. For example, trade relations have remained at minimal levels and equated to around US$1 million in 2002, according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since then, bilateral trade statistics have been difficult to obtain, but there are few indications to suggest any marked increases in trade.

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Some thoughts about the South Asian ‘region’ May 27, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Snedden, Christopher, South Asia - General , comments closed

Christopher Snedden

In April 2010, the body attempting to create a South Asian region—the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)—celebrated 25 years of existence. The fact that SAARC has existed since 1985 is an achievement in itself. SAARC members have few connections with each other apart from SAARC itself, some historical links with British imperialism, and geography.  South Asia is a long way from becoming a unified and coherent region.

SAARC’s most recent ‘Meeting of the Heads of State or Government’ was held in Bhutan from 28-29 April.[1] The summit’s (largely aspirational) ‘Thimphu Silver Jubilee Declaration’ was positively titled ‘Towards a Green and Happy South Asia’. Somewhat surprisingly, however, its third point ‘emphasized the need to develop a “Vision Statement” ’, something that should have been done a long time ago.  Furthermore, SAARC has held only sixteen summits in 25 years, despite its Charter stating that ‘The Heads of State or Government shall meet once a year’.  ‘Annual’ summits were not held in 1989, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2009. More than one of these meetings was abandoned due to the parlous-to-poor state of India-Pakistan relations. (more…)

Renewed tension on the India-China border: who’s to blame? September 3, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bhutan, Guest authors , comments closed

Guest Author: Neville Maxwell, ANU

This contribution first appeared on our sister web site, East Asia Forum.

‘So solidly built into our consciousness is the concept that China is conducting a rapacious and belligerent foreign policy that whenever a dispute arises in which China is involved she is instantly assumed to have provoked it.’ — Felix Greene 1965.

India is heavily reinforcing its Army and Air Force units on its undefined border with China (two additional infantry divisions, a squadron of attack aircraft, refurbishing airfields etc). This is in breach of the parties’ obligation under a 1993 Sino-Indian treaty to keep force levels in border areas to ‘a minimum level compatible with … friendly and good neighbourly relations’, and Beijing has protested angrily and publicly.

India_Military_Parade2

Indian military parade

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