New Delhi should cherish common development ideal

By Ai Jun Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/18 22:33:41

On September 15 Bhutan's ruling party, the pro-India People's Democratic Party (PDP) was surprisingly knocked out of the country's ongoing National Assembly elections. Indian media soon stated the situation had led to uncertainties in India-Bhutan ties. Some India media outlets even argued that wary of China, India would warm up soon to the new Bhutan government.

The relationship with India is the most crucial external tie of Bhutan. Seen from the outside, New Delhi has provided the Himalayan nation not only economic assistance but also great help with its major infrastructure construction projects. The truth is, however, India has maintained a strong influence and control over Bhutan. "When Bhutan obtained Asian Development Bank funding for a strategic highway linking its east and west… India vetoed the plan. The highway was canceled and Bhutan remains dependent on India's grace and mercy for its own internal east-west transit," according to an article posted on Bhutanese Forums.

Why hasn't Bhutan joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank? Behind the scenes, India's role is self-evident.

So far China has not yet said anything on Bhutan's election, but Indian media cannot help but unveil national concerns. New Delhi should be assured, because China sticks to the principle of mutual non-interference in domestic affairs, one of the fundamental points of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. So should India. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, not only agreed with the principle but also once assured Bhutan of non-interference when trying to convince the latter to accept its help with modernization.

Multiple historical factors have led to today's India-Bhutan relationship. But such ties failed to generate many development benefits for Bhutan.

In past decades, Bhutan's government has been committed to modernization and democratization of the country. Promoting a more democratic form of governance, Bhutan's king gave up his absolute monarchy and its citizens showed great interest in Chinese products while hoping to collaborate with China in building roads, railways and tunnels. Due to the poor infrastructure of the country, it takes almost a week to travel from the westernmost to the easternmost point in the small nation.

Cooperation with China will bring about new development opportunities for South Asian nations including Bhutan. Take Nepal, another landlocked country in the region that lacks ready-to-go projects, especially infrastructure projects. It is building a new railway network to boost its economy through joint works with Beijing.

Beijing hopes for a stable, prosperous periphery and common development in the entire region. This should also be India's diplomatic need. Yet common development is not a zero-sum game. It is time for India to adjust its mind-set and let more South Asian nations such as Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka join the process.

Posted in: OBSERVER

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