Kerry holds his­toric talks with Bhutanese PM

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Top US diplo­mat John Kerry Sun­day be­came the first Amer­i­can sec­re­tary of state to meet with a Bhutanese prime min­is­ter amid signs the re­mote Hi­malayan coun­try is tak­ing babysteps to­wards open­ing up to the out­side world, AFP re­ports.

On the side­lines of a ma­jor in­vest­ment con­fer­ence in the western In­dian state of Gu­jarat, Kerry met with Prime Min­is­ter Tsh­er­ing Tob­gay of Bhutan, a coun­try known for pur­su­ing its cit­i­zens’ “hap­pi­ness” rather than eco­nomic growth.

Asked why he was meet­ing now with the premier, Kerry said Bhutan has made “a tran­si­tion to democ­racy and we are try­ing to work with them on their econ­omy and support their thrust of how they want to bal­ance their econ­omy”.

“It’s very for­ward, very pro­gres­sive, very, very in­ter­est­ing gov­ern­ment in the midst of the re­gion,” Kerry said, adding the US wanted to en­cour­age the na­tion “to keep go­ing down that path”.

Wedged be­tween China and In­dia, the sparsely-pop­u­lated “Land of the Thun­der Dragon” only got its first tele­vi­sion sets in 1999, at a time when less than a quar­ter of house­holds had elec­tric­ity.

Thanks to a mas­sive in­vest­ment in hy­dropower in the fol­low­ing decade-anda-half, nearly ev­ery house­hold is now hooked up to the elec­tric­ity grid.

But the rad­i­cal change in life­style co­in­cided with an equally dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion of the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, with the monar­chy ced­ing ab­so­lute power and al­low­ing demo­cratic elec­tions in 2008.

The Bhutanese how­ever re­main staunchly loyal to their king, and US of­fi­cials said the gov­ern­ment in Thimphu wanted to set up more peo­ple- to-peo­ple ex­changes be­tween the US and Bhutan.

Tob­gay is him­self a grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of Pitts­burg and told Kerry he was “hon­oured to meet” him when they shook hands.

Tob­gay was wear­ing the tra­di­tional wrap­around one-piece robe of Bhutan, called a Gho, which falls to the knees.

Bhutan, which has an abun­dance of rivers swollen with snow melt from the Hi­malayas, is also keen to ex­pand its en­ergy pro­gram based on hy­dro­elec­tric power.

Three hy­dropower projects have been built in In­dia-Bhutan joint ven­tures and another three are un­der con­struc­tion, with plans for more.

A US of­fi­cial said hy­dro­elec­tric sales to In­dian made up 19 per­cent of Bhutan’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

The coun­try of about 750,000 peo­ple had no roads or cur­rency un­til the 1960s and con­tin­ues to re­sist mass tourism. It is the only na­tion in the world whose gov­ern­ment pur­sues “Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness” for its peo­ple in­stead of eco­nomic growth.

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