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8th November 2023 (14 Topics)

Rail Tourism as Diplomatic Tool with Bhutan

Context

Recent visit of the Bhutanese King to India.

Background:

  • India reaffirmed its ties with the Eastern Himalayan kingdom during the 10-day visit of king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
  • China has exhibited an intensified effort to resolve its land border dispute with Bhutan, this reflected in recent interactions between China and Bhutan.

Geopolitical Concerns:

  • China's reported proposal of a land swap with Bhutan under the guise of delimitation and demarcation has sparked worries in India.
  • This exchange is suspected to provide China an advantage in the Doklam area, potentially facilitating easier access to the strategically vital "chicken’s neck" in West Bengal’s Siliguri that connects the Northeast to mainland India.
  • This maneuver is perceived as China's strategic geopolitical game with Bhutan, prompting questions regarding the involvement of the Bhutanese king in the India-Bhutan-China border issue.

Significance of India-Bhutan Relationship:

  • India is keen on strengthening ties with Bhutan and has therefore decided to ramp up development assistance, engaging in various collaborative projects. Sectors of focus include border infrastructure, rail connectivity, trade expansion (as India is Bhutan's largest trading partner), hydropower, and green energy initiatives.
  • Also this is in line with India’s neighbourhood first approach. Recently multiple connectivity initiatives with Bangladesh were also announced.
  • India was also the first responder to the earthquake that hit Nepal

Development Initiatives:

  • Emphasis is being placed on establishing cross-border rail links with Assam and West Bengal, which hold significant utility for landlocked Bhutan.
  • India is committed to facilitating tourism by implementing ground transit facilities with border checkpoint infrastructure and is also offering educational opportunities for aspiring doctors by reserving seats for them in Indian medical colleges in Assam.

India’s Focus on Bhutan:

  • The expanded cooperation across multiple sectors reflects the importance India places on its relationship with Bhutan. This emphasis may surpass India's recent diplomatic efforts to reset ties with other neighboring countries.

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