Foreign Policy Watch: India-Canada

In news: India-Bhutan Relations


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Treaty of Friendship

Mains level: India-Bhutan Relations

After over two years of the COVID-19-induced lockdown, Bhutan will open its doors to tourists on September 23 with a new expensive policy for Indians and other foreign tourists.

India-Bhutan Relations: A backgrounder

  • India and Bhutan have had long-standing diplomatic, economic and cultural relations
  • Bhutan and India relations are governed by a friendship treaty that was renegotiated only in 2007, subjecting the Himalayan nation’s security needs to supervision.
  • Treaty of Friendship in 2007, which brought into the India-Bhutan relationship “an element of equality.”
  • The Treaty provides for perpetual peace and friendship, free trade and commerce, and equal justice to each other’s citizens.

What is the Treaty of Friendship?

  • On August 8, 1949, Bhutan and India signed the Treaty of Friendship, calling for peace between the two nations and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.
  • India re-negotiated the 1949 treaty with Bhutan and signed a new treaty of friendship in 2007.
  • The new treaty replaced the provision requiring Bhutan to take India’s guidance on foreign policy with broader sovereignty and not require Bhutan to obtain India’s permission over arms imports.
  • Under the 2007 India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty, the two sides have agreed to “cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests.”
  • Neither Government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other

Various facets of ties

(1) Commercial Relations

  • India is Bhutan’s largest trading partner.
  • India and Bhutan have signed an Agreement on Trade, Commerce and Transit on in 2016, which provides for a free trade regime between the two countries.
  • Tourism is another point of convergence.

(2) Energy Cooperation

  • A scheme titled “Comprehensive Scheme for Establishment of Hydro-meteorological and Flood Forecasting Network on rivers Common to India and Bhutan” is in operation.
  • The network consists of 32 Hydro-meteorological/ meteorological stations located in Bhutan and being maintained by the Royal Government of Bhutan with funding from India.
  • The data received from these stations are utilized in India for formulating flood forecasts.

Significance of Bhutan to India

  • Buffer to China: Bhutan is a buffer state between India and China. Bhutan shares a 470 km long border with China.
  • Vital connectivity through chicken’s neck: The Chumbi Valley is situated at the tri-junction of Bhutan, India and China and is 500 km away from the “Chicken’s neck” in North Bengal.
  • Security in North-East: Bhutan has in the past cooperated with India and helped to flush out militant groups in NE.
  • Chinese inroad in Bhutan: China is interested in establishing formal ties with Thimphu, where it does not yet have a diplomatic mission.

China factor in ties: China predates on small neighbours

  • Bhutan is strategically important for both India and China. Chinese territorial claims in western Bhutan are close to the Siliguri Corridor.
  • Beijing is reportedly insisting on Bhutan establishing trade and diplomatic relations as a quid pro quo for a border settlement.
  • Bhutan is currently India’s only neighbour who has stayed away from joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but that may change if India can’t make itself an attractive ally and neighbour.

Why does India need Bhutan?

  • Bhutan has always been India’s most trusted ally in South Asia and has often put India’s security at the forefront.
  • Come to think of it, in December 2003, Bhutan’s fourth king personally led the army to throw out Indian militants living in Bhutan’s jungles.
  • Bhutan was also the only South Asian country besides India not to attend China’s Belt and Road Initiative forum in May 2017.
  • In other words, land-locked Bhutan has held its end of the bargain.

Various cooperation developments

  • Maitri Initiative: Bhutan is the first country to receive the Covishield vaccines under India’s Vaccine Maitri Initiative.
  • Financial connectivity: It has touched new heights through the launch of the RuPay card and the BHIM app.
  • Start-Up ecosystem: Both nations successfully linked up the Start-Up systems of our two countries via structured workshops; through the National Knowledge Network & the Druk-REN connection.
  • E-Library project: It has opened up new vistas of education and knowledge sharing between two countries.

Irritants in ties

  • India has not invested in significantly in Bhutan and other smaller neighbours that modicum of trust which is critical in building genuine goodwill.
  • This means not only increasing people-to-people contact but also being sensitive to Bhutan’s desire for a wider engagement beyond India’s borders. This means respecting Bhutan as an equal, sovereign nation-state.


  • The Indo-Bhutan friendship is built on shared values and aspirations, trust and mutual respect.
  • Bhutan’s foreign policy framework holds the relationship with India as being integral to its national interest.
  • The Indian approach to Bhutan has necessarily to be tailored while being sensitive to the growing Bhutanese aspirations of being considered equal.


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