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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Bhutan's balancing act

Aiko Doden

Jul. 6, 2017

Bhutan is a small country that lies in the Himalayas between two giant neighbors, India and China. That has made it the center of a regional dispute.

India's External Affairs Ministry said in a statement on Friday that China is trying to construct the road in a disputed territory near the junction of India, China and Bhutan.

Indian media have quoted military officials as saying about 3,000 troops from India and an equal number from China are in a standoff.

On Wednesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson insisted that Indian troops must withdraw.

"I would like to reiterate that India immediately pulling back their border troops to the Indian side of the boundary is the prerequisite for the settlement of the incident," said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang.

Indian officials say they have begun talks with the Chinese through diplomatic channels. But the standoff continues.

Bhutan is sandwiched between two giant neighbors. So it is in its interests to maintain good relations with both New Delhi and Beijing.

The leaders of India and China will be at the G20 Summit in Hamburg. It remains to be seen what the consequences will be for Bhutan and its delicate balancing act.


Newsroom Tokyo's Aki Shibuya and Aiko Doden discussed Bhutan's situation.

Shibuya: What does Bhutan, a country wedged between two giants have at its disposal to make its presence known in the world?

Doden: Bhutan has been promoting the concept of "Gross National Happiness," or GNH. It is a shrewd branding move devised the former King that made Bhutan stand out on the world map. Even big powers such as China and India found it more difficult to dismiss Bhutan as a small Himalayan Kingdom.

Bhutan is slightly smaller than Switzerland and has a population of about 700,000. It is a constitutional monarchy, and most people in the country follow Tibetan Buddhism.

Bhutan distinguishes itself from countries that promote economic development above all else. It advocates pursuing what the King has called Gross National Happiness, rather than Gross National Product.

But the kingdom also faces many problems. About 60 percent of people are under the age of 39 and many of them have trouble finding jobs matching their level of education. The unemployment rate among the young remains high.

"I don't know what happiness is," said one.


Aiko Doden interviewed Bhutan's Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, the younger brother of the current King, during his visit to Japan in April.

Doden: I understand that Bhutan is going through a drastic change, while at the same time modernizing in the recent days but the facing social challenges like unemployment among the youth. How does your royal highness perceive the situation?

Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck: A lot of change in Bhutan now saw the internet, the age of the internet and globalization, very late compared to many other nations. And modernization and change is a very constant thing and there’s nothing that we can do about it. I personally feel that we must adapt and evolve with changing time and changing circumstances and I feel that Bhutan is doing a good job at that.


The Bhutanese government is promoting sports as a means to nurture the younger generation. The national sport is traditional archery called "da".

Japan's Princess Mako tried her hand at the sport during an official visit to Bhutan in June.

Prince Jigel Ugyen Wangchuck serves as the president of Bhutan's Olympic Committee. He says his country plans to send athletes to compete in modern archery at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.


Doden: While I was in Thimphu, I myself had a chance to see the people playing the Bhutanese archery, and there was a lot of shouting and cheering taking place at the same time, and my friend told me that that’s part of the fun.

Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck: And, it’s part and parcel of our culture. And hopefully, as I mentioned earlier, if that same love, love of the game, the same interest for the game can be converted to modern archery, then we might be able to advance a little bit, better.

And by 2020, we are hoping that we will have Olympic archery in all schools in Bhutan.

All the values of sport, such as respect, teamwork, living by the rules, and, and, to name a few, and we hope that sports will be able to not only build the social fabric of, of our society but also contribute to the international image as well.

Doden: And talking about the Olympic games, I have always felt that the Olympic Games are not only about celebration of sports but also about the celebration of peace.

Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck: We have about 205 countries coming together, athletes that have put in so much work and effort for the last 4 years, coming up to the Olympics. And when you enter the Olympics, there is no caste, there is no creed, it breaks all boundaries and barriers and it truly represents an equality, true fairness and true equality.


Shibuya: So Aiko there was a young man in the report who said he doesn't know happiness is. There seems to be a number of issues in the face of Gross National Happiness.

Doden: Bhutan's own happiness survey doesn't paint a perfect picture. In 2015, 90 percent of respondents said they were happy. But there was a decline in psychological well-being. And there was a rise in anger and frustration among youth who feel marginalized by urbanization and modernization.

That is why the Prince wants to get young people interested in sports. He hopes that a shared goal will bring them together.

Remember it was only in the past 20 years that modernization really started. Change is happening fast, and the country is in the process of adapting to that change, and that is affecting the concept of happiness.