SAARC Summit

SAARC in action

SAARC in action

My statement to the 18th SAARC Summit:

Mr Chairman, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen:

I have the honor to convey the warm greetings and good wishes of His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, the government, and the people of Bhutan to this august gathering and to the friendly people of Nepal.

Nepal is a country of breathtaking beauty. As the birthplace of Lord Buddha, it is a country of spiritual affinity to all Bhutanese and millions of people all over the world. Nepal is also home to an institution of great diplomatic significance for all South Asians – the Secretariat of our Association. We are indeed happy and privileged to be here in Kathmandu for the 18th SAARC Summit. I would like to convey my sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Government and to the people of Nepal for the meticulous arrangements and the warm hospitality extended to us.

Mr. Chairman:

My delegation expresses our warmest felicitations to you on your election as the Chair of SAARC. We have no doubt that SAARC will be greatly strengthened under your wise and able stewardship. I assure you, Your Excellency, of my Government’s full support and cooperation.

I would also like to convey my deepest appreciation to H.E. President Abdul Yameen Gayoom for the sterling manner in which he discharged his responsibilities during his tenure as our Chairman.

Let me also congratulate Mr. Arjun Bahadur Thapa on his assumption of the post of Secretary General of SAARC. I am confident that he will utilize his rich experience in international affairs and proven diplomatic skills for the benefit of SAARC. We also owe our gratitude to the former Secretary General, Mr. Ahmed Saleem, for his dedication and diligence in advancing the goals of SAARC.

Mr. Chairman,

My delegation welcomes ‘Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity” as the theme of the Eighteenth SAARC Summit. We believe that whether we do so now, on our own terms, or later, under compulsion- forces are at play, which can only be adequately addressed through the collective endeavors of all nations. Such united, coordinated responses are imperative in order to tackle cross border crimes like terrorism, trafficking in humans and drugs, as well as to address wider common challenges like climate change, poverty alleviation and indeed to realize our dreams of prospering together through increased intra-regional trade.

Mr. Chairman,

Protecting our environment even as we pursue economic growth is a decision which Bhutan made from the beginning of its development history, about 50 years ago. We have consistently taken many initiatives to promote eco-friendly policies and have made a constitutional commitment to maintain at least 60% of our land area under forest cover. We have also pledged to remain carbon neutral for all time to come. And we have designated more than half a country as protected areas. We know that as a tiny country, our actions may have minimal impact in the world. We also know that we are sacrificing growth even as larger and more developed nations continue to do less. But we will continue to do what is right.

Sadly, we are already living with the consequences of climate change. Snowfalls have become less frequent not just in the valleys but even on our mountaintops. Glaciers are retreating, crop yields are fluctuating, water levels in our rivers and streams have receded and we are experiencing more extreme climate. Flash floods and landslides have become recurring events, causing widespread damage and destruction in our countries.

The increasing frequency of devastating floods each season is an alarming trend that we can no longer afford to ignore. We must redouble our efforts in accelerating action to avert potential dangers from environmental degradation. Our region should exert itself to fulfill regional and international commitments to protect the environment and build resilience against climate change. National actions must spur even greater collective action at the regional and international levels. In this regard, I would like to draw attention to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which was summarized by the influential US magazine Mother Jones in 3 simple sentences: “It’s getting hotter. We are causing it. And we have to act now.”

Mr. Chairman,

Bhutan welcomes the closing of three Regional Centers and merging of four related centers into one, as the “SAARC Environment and Disaster Management Center.” The establishment of this new center will reduce costs, avoid overlapping of activities and contribute to making the programs more effective. Bhutan offers its support and cooperation to the Centre in fulfilling its mandate.

Mr. Chairman,

Poverty alleviation is our region’s unfinished work. We cannot claim to be the custodians of the world’s great civilizations and yet allow so many among us to go hungry and exist in dehumanizing levels of want and deprivation. Our region is blessed with abundant natural resources but we need to ensure that the bounty from these is used optimally and distributed more equitably. But, it is our human resource that is our greatest and most precious asset. We have one fifth of the world’s population. That population, with a young demographic dividend, can transform the socio-economic landscape of the region. But our young population need to be provided not only with better education and skills development but also with enabling policies to unlock their unlimited potential. Our poverty alleviation strategy must, therefore, be aimed at making optimal use of both- our abundant natural resources and our rich human resources we have in our region.

Mr. Chairman,

I am pleased to report that in Bhutan, we have made good progress in improving the living conditions of our people. 94% of the population has access to safe drinking water; primary health coverage is 90%, and net primary school enrolment stands at 98.5%. However, poverty in the midst of growing prosperity remains a great challenge for us, as 12% of our population still lives below the poverty line. As a small and least developed country that lives in and practices Gross National Happiness, my government is committed to reducing poverty and improving the socio economic wellbeing of all our people.

Mr. Chairman,

The most obvious path to a more prosperous South Asia is through increased intra- regional trade. At present this is dismally low due to the many barriers that have been holding back meaningful economic cooperation in our region. In this context, we welcome the progress towards finalization of the SAARC Agreements on Motor Vehicles, Regional Railways and Intergovernmental Framework for Energy Cooperation. Once these agreements are signed their implementation will contribute to removing barriers and deepening economic integration in our region.

Mr. Chairman,

Terrorism has spread across all borders, to all regions of the world, including our own. The adoption of the SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism, its Additional Protocols and other SAARC anti terrorism initiatives bear testimony to the commitment of SAARC to prevent, combat and eliminate terrorism in all its manifestations. We are pleased to know that the SAARC Home Ministers have been meeting annually. Such forums provide an opportunity to further strengthen the existing regional mechanisms to collectively address the menace of terrorism that increasingly threatens the peace and security of our peoples.

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

South Asia is a region with vast potential. But our concerted effort is needed to tap this potential for the benefit of our peoples. Let us give substance to the theme of our Summit, “Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity” by giving a strong commitment to remove the barriers that have held back meaningful economic cooperation in our region. Other regional groupings have done it and their peoples have been enjoying the benefits. Let us exercise our political will and take the necessary steps to make it possible for the people of South Asia to also reap the full benefits of close regional cooperation.

I thank you for your kind attention. Tashi Delek!

Jai Hind!

Good wishes

I spent a couple of enjoyable hours watching India’s Republic Day parade broadcast live from New Delhi on Doordarshan TV. The spectacular procession, along the Rajpath and past India Gate, showcases India’s military might, cultural diversity and national integrity. The annual event is also a celebration of the Indian freedom movement and the successful rise of India in all spheres of the global arena since its independence 65 years ago.

The chief guest at the Republic Day parade is typically a foreign head of state or government chosen carefully to reflect the important strategic, economic and political relationship between India and that country.

This year’s chief guest was Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

India’s 63 republic days have featured chief guests from about 40 countries. Of the forty, only a handful have received this honour on more than one occasion. France leads this very exclusive pack by being the guest of honour four times.

Bhutan has received the honour three times, in 1954, 1984 and 2005. And the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, is the only person to have attended India’s Republic Day as chief guest twice while holding the same office.

This special privilege, this unique honour, that India, a big and powerful country, gives Bhutan, a small kingdom, during its most important national day is significant. It is a reflection of the deep and enduring friendship between our two countries.

So today, on the joyous occasion of the 63rd Republic Day, I offer my Indian friends – in Bhutan, in India and the world over – my heartiest congratulations and good wishes for continued peace, progress and prosperity.

Jai Hind!
Pelden Drukpa Gyelo!

“Good wishes” – excerpt from the President of India’s Republic Day Address

Food for thought

Shangri-la's?

Khaw Boon Wan, a Singaporean minister, recently declared that “Bhutan is not the Shangri-la on earth”, and that the Bhutanese are an “unhappy people” for who “Singapore could well be the Shangri-la!”

Mr Khaw’s remarks, which were made in Singapore’s parliament, have upset a lot of people in our country. That is natural. He has attacked our image. He has challenged GNH. And he has insulted our people. So, many of us are angry.

Even so, we should listen to him. And if what he has said carries even a grain of truth, we should listen carefully. We should, for instance, listen very carefully when he says that we are a tiny nation sandwiched between giants and that, as such, self-determination and self-reliance are difficult to achieve, especially when we can barely eke out an economy for ourselves.

And we should listen very, very carefully when he points out that our people are “toiling in the field, worried about the next harvest and whether there would be buyers for their products.”

We’ve become used to lapping up international praise, and without even pausing to consider whether or not we deserve that adulation. But on the other hand, we are quick to condemn the occasional criticism. We shouldn’t. If critical remarks are insightful and constructive, we should, as Business Bhutan put it, receive them as valuable “food for thought.”

Bhutan prays

His Majesty the King

It’s almost exactly a week since the 9.0 earthquake hit Japan triggering the worst disaster in that country since WW II. The catastrophe, which has already taken thousands of lives, and left countless more homeless and destitute, has galvanized governments and peoples around the world in support of Japan’s mighty relief efforts.

In Bhutan too, people throughout the country are offering prayers for the victims of the disaster in Japan. His Majesty the King has lit butter lamps and offered prayers with the Japanese community in Bhutan. Similarly, the prime minister and government also offered butter lamps and prayers.

Earlier this morning, the Central Monastic Body began offering three days of continuous prayers for the victims in Japan. The prayers are being conducted in all twenty dzongkhags. But if you are in Thimphu, please visit the kunrey in the Tashichhodzong to join our monks in solemn prayer.

Our youth have also starting mobilizing support for the earthquake victims. Kilu Music School together with Radio Valley, Bhutan Today and The Journalist have announced that they will be performing a “donation concert” to raise funds.

And I just received the following SMS:

Thimphu Primary School is doing a sponsored walk on Sunday 9:30 AM to the  Buddha Point. We’re trying to raise money for the earthquake victims in Japan. Please join us, contribute and walk to help someone in need. See you there – TPS family:)

UPDATE

His Majesty the King has donated US$ 1 million to the Japan

The Youth Development Fund will organize a fund raising concert on 26th March

Prayers for Japan

Tragic

Japan is reeling from extreme devastation. Friday’s massive earthquake, the biggest in Japan’s recorded history, and the powerful tsunami that it triggered has caused unprecedented destruction to many parts of the country.

The death toll has already crossed 2,800. And it is expected to get much higher – in Miyagi prefecture alone the number of deaths is expected to exceed 10,000. To make matters worse, three nuclear reactors at Fukushima have failed threatening a full-blown nuclear meltdown.

Japan has faced major disasters before. The Kanto earthquake of 1923 killed more than 100,000 people. And the Kobe earthquake in 1995 killed more than 6,000 people and left 300,000 homeless. The Japanese – famous for their perseverance, resilience and stoicism – recovered from these disasters. They also prevailed through the ravages of World War II.

There’s no doubt that Japan will rise yet again. But each day seems to bring even more dramatic pictures of destruction, and yet more bad news.

Governments from around the world have come forward to help out with disaster relief. So far 69 governments and 5 international institutions have made offers of assistance.

Bhutan is not among them. We should be. And not just to have our name included in the list. Instead, we should offer whatever help we can because we mean it. And because, we’ve been receiving Japanese assistance for more than 45 years. Agriculture, communication, roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, governance – assistance from Japan, currently the second largest donor after India, has touched almost every aspect of our development.

We won’t be able to make a significant offer. But that should not stop us. Our offer of assistance, though relatively small, will be meaningful. It will be a token of our support to the Japanese people. And a symbol of our gratitude for their unwavering friendship.

In the meantime, I join the people of Bhutan in offering our deepest condolences to the Japanese people. Our thoughts and our prayers are with them during this very difficult period.

 

UN Security Council

Coveted seats

“In the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member,” US President Obama recently announced in India’s Parliament.

And just like that, after years of demanding a permanent seat in the Security Council, India’s bid received a powerful boost.

India is the world’s second most populous country. Its economy, already among the biggest in the world, is one of the fastest growing. And it is playing an increasingly important role in global affairs.

So the US president’s pledge is timely. His assurances are good for India, and indeed, good for the world. Obama should fulfill his promise. He should push to make the UN’s anachronistic Security Council more relevant and effective by allowing today’s world leaders to take their rightful place in the Council.

Coincidentally, India’s friend and neighbour, Bhutan, is also vying for a seat in the UN Security Council, albeit as a nonpermanent member. The prime minister announced Bhutan’s ambitions during his visit to New York in September. And, since then, he has already visited several countries to lobby for their support.

In this connection, about two months ago, I posted a poll that asked, “Should Bhutan lobby to join the UN Security Council?” Of the 249 readers who took part in the poll, an overwhelming 70% (or 174 votes) answered “Yes”. The rest said “No”.

The poll results show that you, the reader, clearly support the government’s initiative to join the Security Council. This was also evident from the comments that you left on my post that introduced the poll. Most of you felt that there would be no harm in trying for the seat, and that, if we do get in, the membership would enhance our stature and international standing.

One commentator, Sonam Ongmo, offered more information about Bhutan’s aspirations for Security Council membership by way of her blog, “Dragon Tales”. And, lest the opposition opposes, she provided this lesson from Canada:

Canada lost its bid to run for a non-permanent security council seat after its vote count went down from by 30 percent in the second round of voting. Canada’s Foreign Minister has blamed its Opposition leader for the loss because of a lack of support and for being critical of the notion that Canada was not deserving of that seat.

I get the message, loud and clear.

Incidentally, I too think that serving in the UN Security Council is a good idea. But, only if the journey to the Security Council is not costly. And, if the adventure does not lull us into a false sense of success.

Bhutan’s address

daw penjoreForeign Secretary Daw Penjor delivered Bhutan’s statement to the 64th session of the UN General Assembly yesterday. He called on the UN members to collectively fight poverty, climate change and terrorism, and supported the ongoing discussions to reform the United Nations. He also spoke about Bhutan’s successful transition to a democratic constitutional monarchy, and about the recent natural calamities.

The General Debates conclude today.

Independence Day

Celebrating India

Celebrating India

Earlier today, I celebrated India’s Independence Day at the India House. H.E Ambassador Varma hosted a reception at his residence, and treated us to an unforgettable evening of Kathak, one of the main forms of Indian classical dance. Their Royal Highnesses Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck and Dasho Ugyen Jigme Wangchuck were the guests of honour at the festivities.

To all my Indian friends – living in Bhutan, in India and many other countries – I offer warm greetings and a hearty tashi delek! during your 63rd Independence Day.

Everlasting smile

Mark that smile

Mark that smile

Yesterday, at the Clock Tower Square, HRH Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck launched Grand Mutual Smiles, a project to exchange smiles – digitally, using smile detection cameras, computers and cyberspace – between the peoples of Thimphu and Linz, Austria.

Thimphu’s Smiles project will be on for a week. And it was selected to introduce what’s being called “80+1: A Journey around the World”, an eighty day event featuring projects in at least 20 locations around the world. The projects showcase themes that are critically important for the future ranging from food and markets to exploration to co-existence. Thimphu’s theme is “celebrating happiness”. Hence the smiles.

So if you come across Pierre Proske, the project coordinator and a group of VAST volunteers, offer them, and the world, your best smile.

A footnote: My wife learnt a song when she was in preprimary in Motithang School. And when anyone in our family sulks – and I’m normally the perpetrator – the other members get together and sing it. It’s sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne and goes like this:

A smile is quite a funny thing,
It wrinkles up your face,
And when it’s gone you never find
Its secret hiding place.

Note to our teachers: the full song is available here.

Impersonating OL

A friend of mine asked me to look at a certain Govinda Rizal’s blog. I did. And I was shocked. Mr Rizal claims that we had been in touch. And that I had written to him. I did no such thing. So someone has impersonated me.

I don’t see why anyone would want to pretend to be me. But I’m concerned that this may be an attempt to bring discredit to the opposition. And to defame me.