MonitorsPublished on Apr 30, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 17


Bhutan: Giving in to China’s charm offensive?

Mihir Bhonsale  The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has yet again withstood China’s pressure to participate in the ‘Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)’ conference held in Beijing on 25-26 April. The much-touted flagship infrastructure and connectivity event saw the participation of more than 40 heads of states and government, and is fast emerging as a platform for reorienting the world order towards China. In a rerun of her response to the maiden BRI conference in 2017, Bhutan’s turning down of the invitation was second to none other than India. In this context, it needs to be remembered that the tiny Himalayan kingdom does not have formal diplomatic relations with China and is still negotiating resolution of the border that separates the two countries. Despite Thimphu’s official position, China in the recent past has left no stone unturned in reaching out to her southern neighbour and has appealed for establishing formal diplomatic relations and intensifying cooperation in trade and economy. The civil society in Bhutan, it appears, is slowly warming up to China’s persistent efforts.

Changing trends

The media in Bhutan has till recently given scant attention to China. Any search on China-related news items on Bhutan’s online news portals yields fewer results, that too mostly pertaining to the annual border talks or sports fixtures. However, this trend is changing with Bhutan’s media acknowledging China’s rise. A recent editorial titled ‘Understanding the power asymmetry of India and China and the other forces at play’ in The Bhutanese, a private run news magazine, discussed as to whether India measures up to China’s military and economic might. The editorial, supported by statistics, argues that the economic and military power asymmetry is now heavily in China’s favour. The real challenge for China is not from any of its Asian neighbours, but from the West led by the USA, the editorial adds. It also discussed about the hurdles and challenges that China has to face to become a superpower. The editorial, for the first time in the recent past, discussed China’s economic and military prowess vis-à-vis its all-weather friend, India. The rationale for Bhutan’s civil society to open up to China is premised on the need for diversifying its’ foreign trade that is heavily leaning in India’s favour. According to a recent statistics, the country’s biggest export, hydropower, is unable to meet the demand for fossil fuel. Though Chinese offers to further intensify trade have so far been snubbed by Thimphu, the prowess of the Chinese economy is having a marked influence upon Bhutan’s urban population, with internet available on fingertips. Chinese exports to Bhutan in terms of value are third, closely reeling behind India and South Korea, which are the first and second largest exporters. Bhutan is all set to graduate out of the United Nations Least Developed Country status by 2023 and a robust economy with a vibrant private sector is a requisite for that. Thimphu cannot for long resist foreign direct investment and opening its market. It is also eyeing at the membership of the World Trade Organisation.

Dhoklam stand-off

The huge mandate received by a new political party, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) in the November 2018 elections with little experience, was to a greater extent spurred by the electorate’s dissatisfaction with the increasing rate of unemployment and the lack of a robust health system. The incumbent DNT, in their manifesto, had little to say on foreign policy issues, including its stand on relations with the two big neighbours -- India and China. This was a significant departure from the past two elections, when Bhutan’s relations with the two neighbours had an impact on the voters, both the times even swaying the outcomes of the polls. The stand-off between India and China on the Doklam plateau in Bhutan two years ago has further dissuaded the leadership of Bhutan from engaging in open posturing in favour or against either, India and or China. This self-imposed silence by the Bhutan’s establishment has spurred the civil society’s ante of intensifying engagement with China. The pressure on the government was palpable when Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering in January this year had reportedly said that his country is willing to strengthen pragmatic cooperation with China, including tourism and resolve the border issue at an early date through friendly consultations. Tourists from China form 17 percent of the total visitors to Bhutan. Bhutan’s official stand is that only upon the resolution of the border with China would the country establish formal diplomatic relations. However, China in the past has used the border talks as an occasion for seeking Thimphu’s participation in Chinese led initiatives like the BRI and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Having discussed China’s charm offensive over Bhutan, there is enough already in store for latter to learn from experiences of countries that have entered into bilateral connectivity and infrastructure projects with China. This would in times to come help counter the growing voices for Bhutan’s opening up to China.

Nepal: Cross-border management needed to end malaria epidemic

Sohini Nayak The construction of the ‘border perception’ is beyond just diplomatic and military narratives comprising conventional ideology. This is all the more relevant in cases of open borders, like the one between Nepal and India, having far more vulnerable and non-conventional threats, which have kept arising since time immemorial, but have never received proper address in the bilateral dynamics. The Indo-Nepal cross-border malaria transmission is one such arena that requires dire effort and collaborative measures on the part of both the governments, as an integral part of border management. Generally identified as an idiosyncratic peril, such diseases are often faced with inadequate health services with a lack of interaction between the health care and public health service teams of the respective neighbours. The resultant danger is therefore an increase in imported malaria, which not only hampers the health system at large but also the economic interactions between the two counties in concern.

Identifying importation

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria is a socio-economic burden. The pervasiveness of this disease in the Indo-Nepal border is around 78 per cent, in comparison to the other borders of India, in the South Asian region as a whole. One of the primary reasons that may be held responsible is the unaccounted movement of people. With various patterns of migration at play, including seasonal migration and labour migration, various groups of people travel across the borders and in turn emerge as an important social determinant of such a spillover of the disease. This is all the more visible during the post monsoon season, when the male migrant laborers return home for the major festivals. With concepts like globalization, economic unification and free trade, such diseases are also rotating and revolving, as poverty still remains a major hindrance in the region. Nepal’s National Health Strategy had undertaken a program to eliminate malaria by 2025. However, the government is finding it very difficult to deal with the importation challenges. Moreover, there is also a significant dearth of budget and human resources. According to an editorial published in the Himalayan Times, an English daily newspaper of Nepal, in the fiscal 2016/17, the total number of malaria cases reported in the country was 1128. Out of this number, 492 cases were of local malaria and the remaining 636 cases were imported from India. Importation of this disease has increased mainly from 2001(18 per cent). By the end of 2016, this rate has increased to 50 per cent. States in India like Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Assam are the highest contributors of malaria. For instance, around 20 per cent of the cases that have been registered at the Lakhimpur district, in Assam, are from the nearby border healthcare centre. On the other side of the international border, mainly the southern districts of Nepal are affected like Kanchanpur, Kailali, Bardiya, Banke, Dang, Nawalparasi and Bara, just to name a few.

Proper framework

Malaria transmission requires proper synchronisation in vector control and management, with the development of referral systems, especially targeted at the cross border patients. With such a situation at play, the USAID Bureau for Asia and the Near East (ANE) along With USAID Nepal and the World Health Organization had brought forth a regional initiative for the BBIN countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) in the year 2000. This was mainly targeted towards the vector borne diseases like Malaria and Japanese encephalitis. Despite these efforts, the issue of imported malaria cases in Nepal is not under control yet. It is very important to understand that the migrant’s health system has to be taken into consideration, to bring about any improvement in the overall picture. By generating awareness at the grass root level, with campaigns in the local bordering villages, there are better chances of developing anti-malarial frameworks with a multi-sector approach. If both the governments do not realise the criticality of the issues, beyond the military milieu, no foreign policy exchange will be possible. There must be technical and coherent policies to ensure the effective networking of cross- border collaboration. This will help in enhancing the various strategies in capacity building. Consequently, the health status of the people in general would move towards improvement that can combat any sort of disease. Precisely, it means that the people must be involved by the government with outreach programmes, emphasising the monitoring and supervision of the workers. Apart from such programmes, planning and implementation of the national health information systems and pilot interventions along with restructured high level committees and complete baseline information system would help in the prevention and management of malaria.



Challenge to peace

After the release of the UN reports on civilian casualties in the first quarter of 2019, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, has challenged the Taliban to join other Afghanistan networks and work to make the current year one of peace. According to this report released by the United Nations Assistance Mission, there have been 1773 casualties (581 deaths and 1192 injured), including 582 child casualties from 1 January till the end of March.

Promise of non-interference

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has promised that his country will no longer interfere in any internal conflict of Afghanistan. He described the ongoing peace process to be a historic opportunity for peace in the region and expressed his full support for it. However, Pakistan remains dismayed over the surge of violence that is going on in Afghanistan from all sides. He maintained that it is not right to seek “an edge in dialogue through coercion”.


Trade ties with Brunei

Ties with Brunei got a major boost with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit this week. During her visit, the two countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in areas of trade and investment.  The joint statement, an outcome of the visit, suggests Bangladesh and Brunei agreed to explore trade in agriculture and food products, and collaborate in agriculture and agro-processing. Besides, the two countries signed six Memoranda of Understanding and an Exchange of Note in fields of agriculture, fisheries, livestock, culture, sports and LNG supply.

Militants ‘incapacitated’

Monirul Islam, chief of Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, opined that country’s terrorist groups do not have the capacity to carry out an organised attack. Further commenting on the Islamic State’s (IS) claim of appointing one named Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Bangali as the new caliph of  Bangladesh, Islam informed that there is no caliph of IS in the country. Islam made these comments in a programme in Dhaka organised in the backdrop of deadly terror attack in Sri Lanka earlier this month. In the 2000s, Bangladesh has witnessed a surge in activities of the militant groups. The activities of the terrorist groups curtailed following active counter-terrorism drives taken by the Sheikh Hasina governments. Countering terrorism in the country has been a priority of the Hasina-led Awami League government.


Skips BRI conference

In a 2017 rerun, Bhutan skipped China led Belt and Road Initiative conference held on 25 and 26 April in Beijing. The Himalayan nation thereby joins India to be the second country to have not participated in the flagship infrastructure and connectivity conference.

 Mangdecchu project ready

The tariff protocol of the 720 MW Mangdecchu project was signed on 23 April by economic affairs secretary, Dasho Yeshi Wangdi and power secretary of India, Ajay Kumar Bhalla. The signing of the protocol clears way for export of electricity to India through the project that is built with the assistance of India.

Prayers for SL blast-victims

The King and the Gyaltsuen were joined by Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and other government officials in offering prayers to the victims of a series of bomb attacks in Sri Lanka on 21 April. His Majesty, The King also sent a message of condolence to the President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, expressing solidarity of the people of Bhutan with the people of Sri Lanka.


Modi files papers in Varanasi

Narendra Modi has officially filed the papers to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from the city of Varanasi. This will mark a departure from the previous general election, where he had contested and won from both the Vadodara and Varanasi constituencies in 2014. He will be fighting for the Varanasi seat against Ajay Rai of the Congress Party. His roadshow on the way to file his election papers, along with the fact that he shall only be contesting the Varanasi seat and not from his home state of Gujarat was seen by many as a sign of confidence.

Recuses from probe

The Supreme Court’s three-member in-house committee to probe the allegations of sexual harassment against the incumbent Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has seen its first recusal. Justice N.V. Ramana, a member of the committee has recused himself from this investigation, following reservations expressed by the complainant regarding Justice Ramana’s inclusion in the committee, given that he has stated the complainant’s allegations to be baseless and misconceived. He has been replaced by Justice Indu Malhotra as the third member of the committee, headed by Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justice Malhotra and Justice Indira Banerjee.

Disclose audit info, RBI told

The Supreme Court, hearing a contempt petition filed by RTI activist S C Agarwal, has directed the RBI to disclose information pertaining to its annual inspection report of banks under the RTI law, unless exempt from it by the law. The RBI had previously stated that the disclosure of this information was not possible as it contained fiduciary information and was thus exempt under the ambit of the RTI. The Supreme Court, however, has stated that it will not go forward with the contempt proceedings if the RBI discloses the information requested under the RTI.


Yameen pleads ‘not-guilty’

At a ham-handed prosecution at the pre-trial hearing, former President Abdulla Yameen pleaded ‘not-guilty’ to money-launched charges pertaining to his years in office. While the prosecution plans to call jailed former Vice-President Ahmed Adeeb, one-time Yameen confidant before being arrested and impeached when both were in office, as among the witnesses, a junior prosecutor needed the judge’s help even to cite the definition of ‘money-laundering’ clause under the law, when cornered by the defence. Yameen, 59, now in the Opposition, is accused of laundering $ 1 million deposited to his personal account by SOF, a local company that was allegedly sed to funnel a bulk of $90-million stolen from the public sector Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), whose then boss Abdulla Ziyath stands already convicted.


XI meet Suu Kyi

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on 24 April ahead of the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation to be held from 25 to 27 April in Beijing. Noting the profound "Paukphaw" (fraternal) friendship between China and Myanmar, Xi said China is willing to carry forward the traditional friendship of the two sides, increase mutually beneficial cooperation and push forward bilateral relations constantly.

KIA outposts captured

Myanmar’s army informed on 24 April that it had captured “seven or eight” outposts of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Shan state, accusing the ethnic army of operating improperly in a controlled area during a four-month ceasefire that ends on 30 April. In the first truce ever initiated by the powerful military, known as the Tatmadaw, the army declared a unilateral four-month cease-fire from 21 Dec. to 30 April in Kachin and Shan states.


Stronger ties with China

President of Nepal, Bidya Devi Bhandari, is in China, primarily to attend the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, in Beijing. An array of issues related to foreign policy and bilateral relations were also discussed with Governor Liu Gouzhong, of the Shaanxi province. In conclusion, the picture is indicative of a stronger Sino-Nepal tie, which has been playing the most crucial role in reshaping the South Asian dynamics in the arena of neighbourhood politics.

PM to visit Vietnam, Cambodia

The diplomatic mission of Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli to Vietnam and Cambodia in the first week of May is most likely to expand the vitality of Buddhist tourism and, network between the countries. Invited for the Vesak celebrations, the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha, a new domain of association might be on the cards. In fact of matter, Oli is the first sitting Nepali PM to visit Vietnam, after the bilateral ties were established in 1975. Finally Nepal is making a move in the South-east.


PM calls to end poverty

At the inaugural of the Second BRI Forum in Beijing, ahead of the two nations entering the next phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan called for greater attention towards mitigating climate change and poverty.  He added that the special economic zones that are being set up along the CPEC will offer investment opportunities to Chinese, Pakistan and other foreign business persons to experience Pakistan’s new liberal foreign investment regime.

2,200-year old workshop

Metal workshops from the Indo-Greek period dating back to the 2nd century BC have been discovered by archaeologists from the University of Peshawar. The site is in the Hayatabad neighbourhood of Peshawar near the border of the Khyber district. Coins almost two thousand and two hundred years old have been discovered along with iron melting pots, molds, trowels and knives. The workshop belongs to the era when Indo-Greeks had migrated from Afghanistan and ruled Peshawar for 150 years.

Sri Lanka

Communication confusion

A week after the ‘Easter Day serial-blasts’ that have left at least around 250 persons dead and twice as much injured, the Sri Lankan Government authorities seem still confused by the communication-gap within the system. No official spokesperson seems to have been named to disseminate information to the media and to the nation, owing possibly to the visible one-upmanship continued to be played by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, with the result, the government ended up scaling down the death toll by a hundred from the media-claims of 350-plus. There also seems to be a lack of coordination between intelligence agencies and investigative teams, with the result, even as police teams encircle suspects and their hide-outs, they continue to come under fire and suicide-attacks.



Opinion Pieces

Christopher Jones, On Sale in Kabul: Mementos of America’s War in Afghanistan, for $2 or Less”, The New York Times, 25 April 2019 Mohammad Zahir Akbari, “Difference between Words and Reality: Access to Health Care and Its limitations in Afghanistan”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 24 April 2019


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Decline in Saffron Production”, 22 April 2019 Afghanistan Times, “Another extension”, 22 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Ali Riaz, “Looking beyond the good economic news in Bangladesh”, East Asia Forum, 24 April 2019 Zobaida Nasreen, “Post-Rana Plaza, what we have achieved and what we haven't”, The Daily Star, 24 April 2019



Business Bhutan,, “In the name of national security”, 25 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee, “BilkisBano And The Question of ‘Trust’”, The Wire, 26 April 2019 Abheek Bhattacharya, “India’s $7 Billion Election”, Foreign Policy, 23 April 2019 Shajahan Madampat, “SadhviPragya Singh Thakur’s Candidature An Affront To Hindus”, Outlook India, 20 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Don Pramudwinai, “Sustaining the Planet for Our Future Generations”, The Irrawaddy, 25 April 2019 Aung Zaw, “The Wa Flex Their Muscles on The Hill”, The Irrawaddy, 24 April 2019 Joe Kumbun, “Protected by China, Wa Is Now a de Facto Independent State”, The Irrawaddy, 23 April 2019 Lawi Weng, “Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement No Panacea For What Ails Myanmar”, The Irrawaddy, 22 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Ashish Gajurel and Prashant Raj Pandey, “Going electric”, Republica, 25 April 2019 Kunja Rai, “Nepal’s pseudo-federalism”, The Kathmandu Post, 25 April 2019 Mahabir Paudyal, “On the road to China”, Republica, 24 April 2019


The Kathmandu Post, “Nepal’s slow recovery”, 25 April 2019 The Kathmandu Post, “Intergovernmental collaboration a must if we want to make federalism work”, 23 April 2019


Opinion Pieces

Ozer Khalid, “Balochistan bleeds — the Ormara onslaught”, The Express Tribune, 26 April 2019 Aqdas Afzal, “Keynes in Islamabad”, Dawn, 25 April 2019


Dawn, “Human trafficking”, 26 April 2019 The Express Tribune, “Detentions in Sri Lanka”, 26 April 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Gnana Moonesinghe, “Bombs and chaos yet again”, The Island, 28 April 2019 Laksiri Fernando, “Terrorist motivations and security lapses behind Easter carnage”, The Island, 28 April 2019 Merril Gunaratne, “Easter carnage: What needs to be done, fatal flaws in intelligence”, The Island, 28 April 2019 D B S Jeyaraj, “Leader of Nation of Tawheed Jamaat Zahran Hashim alias ‘Abu Ubaida”, Daily Mirror Online, 27 April 2019 Kusal Perera, “Terror beyond blame-game and burqa”, Daily Mirror Online, 26 April 2019 S Ratnajeevan S Hoole, “Bombings place our democracy under duress, and strain our commitment to rights”, Daily Mirror Online, 25 April 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “It’s back with a bang, and stunningly so”, Colombo Gazette, 24 April 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “What do Sri Lanka’s Easter Day blasts mean for India”,, 23 April 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Fear looms: Easter Day blasts put the clock back by a decade”, Times of India, 22 April 2019 N Sathiya Moorthy, “Political squabble have weakened Sri Lanka’s resolve in fighting terrorism”, Mumbai Mirror, 22 April 2019


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale India: Ameya Kelkar Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee Nepal: Sohini Nayak
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