Israel establishes diplomatic ties with Bhutan

Sandeep Dikshit

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 12

Israel, a close ally of the US and India, announced the establishment of full diplomatic relations with Bhutan, which has been facing border trouble with China.

Israeli Ambassador to India Ron Malka and his Bhutanese counterpart Vetsop Namgyel signed the agreement after their foreign ministries reportedly held secret talks for a year. Former Israeli ambassador to India Mark Sofer was non-resident ambassador to Bhutan in 2010-11.

A fortnight earlier, Germany, which sees China as a systemic rival, had upgraded its consulate in Thimphu into a full-fledged embassy.

In addition to deepening cooperation in economic, technological and agriculture development, the two ambassadors highlighted that the ties between the peoples through cultural exchanges and tourism would also be further enhanced, said an Israeli embassy news release.

Following the ceremony the Foreign Ministers of the two countries, Tandi Dorji and Gabi Ashkenazi sent congratulations to each other. 

Despite the absence of diplomatic relations, Israel has supported Bhutan’s human resource development since 1982, especially in agriculture development.

Diplomatic ties would create new avenues for cooperation in water management, technology, human resource development, agricultural sciences and other areas of mutual benefit, added the news release.

Bhutan now has formal diplomatic relations with only 54 countries but not with China, the US, the UK, France and Russia. It has embassies in seven countries. It had closed its borders with China after the PLA’s invasion of Tibet in 1959.

As is the case with the German ambassador Walter Lindner, Malka may be non-resident envoy to Bhutan.

The Israeli Foreign Minister also invited his counterpart to visit Israel to promote cooperation between the countries which could pave the way for the King of Bhutan’s first official visit to Israel.

Israel briefly had a nonresident ambassador to Bhutan in 2010, Mark Sofer, who was Israel’s ambassador to Sri Lanka at the time.

In 2017, Gilad Cohen, the head of Israel’s Asia-Pacific division, became the most senior Israeli official to visit Bhutan. During his trip, he met the country’s Prime Minister.

Bhutan, which is about twice as large as Israel, but with only 800,000 residents, is thought to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but limits tourism, especially from outside South Asia, and only allowed television and the Internet in 1999, in an attempt to preserve its culture and natural resources.

It uniquely measures its quality of life by “Gross National Happiness” instead of gross domestic product (GDP), and in fact, the World Happiness Report was a joint initiative of the Bhutanese Prime Minister and UN Secretary-General in 2011. That metric emphasizes sustainable development, environmental conservation, preservation of culture and good governance, as well as mental and physical health, among other values.

The Bhutanese are thought to be among the happiest people in the world, and the happiest in Asia, but they are also among the poorest in the world.

Its main export is hydroelectric energy, to India.

Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy, holding its first general election in 2008. Before that it was an absolute monarchy. Its king’s official title is Dragon King.

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