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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary on State visit of Prime Minister to Bhutan (August 17, 2019)

August 18, 2019

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:Good evening and welcome to this special briefing from Thimphu, Bhutan on the visit of Prime Minister to this country. We arrived earlier today and since then Prime Minister had a series of engagements. To brief you all on Prime Minister’s engagements and meetings which he had, I have with me the Foreign Secretary of India and Jt. Secretary (North), Mr. Piyush Srivastava who would take us through the engagements which we had so far. Sir, the floor is yours.

Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale: Thank you Raveesh. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. The Prime Minister arrived in Thimphu earlier this morning and since his arrival he has had a full schedule of meetings and events.

He called on His Majesty, The King and Her Majesty, The Queen. It was a very warm and very cordial meeting. A meeting that underscored an abiding and enduring relationship that we enjoy with Bhutan and it was the view of the both The King and the Prime Minister that these bonds needs to be further strengthened, we need to further deepen trust, we need to further build confidence and to connect the two countries even closer together.

After his call on the Majesties, the Prime Minister had a very good discussion with Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering of Bhutan. They covered the entire gamut of bilateral relations. Of course the fundamental basis of our relationship is the hydro-power sector but the two leaders agreed that we need to move beyond these sectors, the traditional sectors of cooperation, to look at new areas of healthcare, education, science and technology and it was therefore agreed we will maintain close contact, close liaison to see how we can encourage bilateral cooperation in these areas.

Subsequent to that there was very impressive, very moving signing ceremony in the historic Simtokha Dzong. It is indeed a mark of privilege for us and the great deal of respect that the Royal Government of Bhutan has shown that they agreed the two Prime Ministers would do so in the Simtokha Dzong in front of the image of the Lord Buddha and also the statue of the Zhabdrung Rinpoche which India has loaned to Bhutan and which the Prime Minister conveyed that we would extend that loan for a further period of five years.

Of course the center piece of that was the Mangdechhu Hydro-electric project, 750 MW. It is a project that both of us have completed on time and in which we are very proud of and it was also agreed by the two prime ministers that we would work towards future projects hereafter include the Sankosh Hydro-electric project.

We inaugurated the RuPay card in Bhutan which is an initiative that Prime Minister has been taking personal interest in. We inaugurated the Knowledge Network between the Knowledge Network of India and the DrukREN which is the knowledge network of Bhutan which will facilitate use of digital means for long distance education including the digital library. We also inaugurated the South Asia Satellite’s ground earth station. So these were all very important inaugurations and thereafter a number of very important MoUs have been signed as well.

Just a short while ago the Prime Minister also met His Majesty, The Fourth King of Bhutan and that also was a very good meeting as you know His Majesty, The Fourth King has steered relations with India for many-many years when he was the King of Bhutan and he continues to be interested in this relationship and he continues to invest in the relationship and we appreciate all that His Majesty, The Fourth King has done.

It was a very cordial meeting, very positive meeting and as indeed His Majesty, The King. Both the majesties facilitated the Prime Minister on his reelection and said that they are looking forward and the Royal Government of Bhutan was looking forward to working in the second term.

Essentially, I think, there are three pillars of our relationship that I would like to emphasize which has come out of these meetings. First is the enduring nature of this partnership. It is a partnership which is of course based on mutual interests but it is also based on mutual trusts, on confidence between their majesties and the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Government of India and our Prime Minister and at a people-to-people level. And so it was felt that at a time when our Prime Minister is beginning his second term, as Their Majesties and the Prime Minister of Bhutan said this was a new opportunity to enhance that relationship in the next five years.

The second of course is apart from the traditional areas in which we already cooperate we wanted, both of us, begin exploring new frontiers of cooperation and the two main areas were in the area of science and technology particularly in the field of education.

You will notice that a number of MoUs that have been signed actually focus on that including between the Royal University of Bhutan and the Indian Institutes of Technology in Kanpur, in Delhi and in Mumbai, between National Law School in Bangalore and the Jigme Singye Wangchuk School of Law in Thimphu and between Bhutan National Legal Institute and the National Judicial Academy of Bhopal. So the desire of the two sides is to strengthen science and technology and education links.

And the other of course is in the field of space. This is an area which His Majesty, The King is interested, in which the Prime Minister of Bhutan is interested and in which we believe we can share some experience both in training scientists and in jointly working on small satellites.

Healthcare was another area which is a priority the Prime Minister of the Royal Government of Bhutan and we would be happy to assist. So that was second pillar.

Thirdly, you would notice the Prime Minister this time has decided to address the Royal University of Bhutan. This is a very well thought out decision.

Prime Minister and the Government believe that it is important that we cultivate and build in younger people of Bhutan, a connect with the younger people of India, the youth of India. So a number of agreements actually focus on higher education which we believe is the core part of building that youth to youth relationship and of course our Prime Minister will also outline his vision of what he sees for the relationship in his talk with the students and faculty members of the Royal University of Bhutan.

So all in all I can say that it has been a very fulfilling first day. Prime Minister is shortly going to attend an official dinner hosted by the Prime Minister of Bhutan and there are a number of engagements tomorrow as well.

Our primary objective, the Prime Minister’s objective, as I said, is to strengthen this relationship and to have a forward looking set of objectives to achieve in the next five years with the Royal Government of Bhutan and this visit will be the beginning of that process.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:Thank you sir. We have time only for two questions, Prime Minister is going to leave in a while.

Question:………….. Inaudible ………….

Question:As you know by the end of 12th plan Bhutan would be graduating from the group of least developed countries and this all has been made possible largely because of the Indian assistance which has been there since the first plan. So how does India feel about it and post-graduation, lastly the focus of the Bhutanese government is to move away from aid to trade with all its developing partners. So in this light what are some of the new initiatives especially the economic ties between the two countries?

Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale:On the first question, I would only say that when leaders meet they cover areas relating to economic relations, political relations and diplomatic relations. Obviously beyond that whatever is discussed remains matter of confidence.

With regard to the second question, I think India is delighted that the people of Bhutan have made the sort of progress that they have made to emerge out of the LDC category. Of course we are partner in helping out but ultimately it is the achievement of Bhutanese people and of their governments and of Their Majesties, the two Kings.

We would be very-very happy to continue that partnership even when you have come out of the status of Least Developed Country. As you will see this time the Prime Minister of Bhutan visited India in November besides the plan assistance which we provide to Bhutan there were a number of other areas which we wanted to give us assistance which would precisely achieve the objective that you are talking of which is enhancing trade.

So for instance one of the thing we are doing is giving assistance in what we call the trade support facility. That is approximately 400 crores rupees over a period of next five years which will help trades persons, manufacturers, small producers in Bhutan to modernize and to be able to compete in the Indian market. So this is one such facility.

The other facility which the Prime Minister has felt we should do is offer greater cooperation in space including additional transponder on the South Asia Satellite. This is the means by which we enhance communications within Bhutan, by which we help the Government of Bhutan better anticipate disaster management situations and of course we train a younger generation in the whole gamut of information technology, digital economy and in the area of space.

My colleague also mentioned to me that we have also agreed to enhance currency swap limit from $100 million to $200 million initially as a stand-by facility until the SAARC Currency Swap Framework is revised in November 2019.

So all these are designed to assist government of Bhutan in achieving a more balanced economic and commercial relationship with India. And Prime Minister told Dr. Lotay Tshering that we would be prepared to do anything further that the Royal Government of Bhutan desired in this common objective.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:Thank you all for joining.

(Concludes)

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