Bhutan’s king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wagchuk landed in Delhi on Tuesday for a four-day visit that comes just two-months after India and China ended a 72-day standoff in Doklam, a region claimed by the Himalayan kingdom.
The king’s itinerary so far has included meetings with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and President Ram Nath Kovind. He’s accompanied by his queen Jetsun Pema, and their 21-month old son, the heir apparent.
The king met Modi on Wednesday at his official residence. According to a release from Bhutan’s foreign ministry, the two leaders discussed a range of issues ‘including the 50th Anniversary of formal diplomatic ties between Bhutan and India which will be celebrated next year, as well as regional and international matters of mutual concern and interest.’
‘Such warm, frank and frequent exchanges of views between the leaders of the two countries are a hallmark of the very close and special relations between Bhutan and India,’ the statement added.
The effusive words highlight the closeness of ties between the two countries, while also masking the challenges those ties face.
Modi visited Bhutan in June 2014, his first foreign trip since taking office. The government plans to make Bhutan part of several sub-regional connectivity initiatives that include Nepal and Bangladesh. India is also investing in several hydel power projects with Bhutan. Once they come online, they’ll further deepen economic ties between the two countries.
However, Doklam and China are inevitably part of the conversations being had. While the taciturn Bhutanese foreign ministry was content to refrain from any specificities in its statement, the Rashtrapati Bhavan was less shy. After the king’s meeting with President Kovind, it released a statement saying the President ‘conveyed deep appreciation for the King of Bhutan’s personal involvement and guidance and the support provided by Bhutan in addressing the recent situation in the Doklam area.’
‘He added that the manner in which both India and Bhutan stood together to address the situation in the Doklam area is a clear testimony to our friendship,’ the statement concluded.
As this blog has previously noted, China has a clear incentive to apply pressure in the Doklam area. The region, while officially claimed by Bhutan, is of greater importance to India, and China could try and exploit that difference.
More broadly, Bhutan is looking to increase its diplomatic ties around the world, including perhaps, establishing formal relations with China. Whether or not that happens in the near future, both India and Bhutan will need to maintain those ‘warm, frank and frequent exchanges of views’ to keep their relationship in good health.