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A special day: Germany and the Kingdom of Bhutan establish diplomatic relations

Himalayan Buddhist sacred site on a cliff in Bhutan

Himalayan Buddhist sacred site on a cliff in Bhutan, © picture-alliance

25.11.2020 - Article

On 25 November 2020, the Kingdom of Bhutan and Germany will be establishing diplomatic relations with one another. This is a rare event – the Kingdom of Bhutan currently only maintains relations with 52 states and international organisations.

The friendship between the Kingdom of Bhutan and Germany has become ever deeper in recent years. Having established diplomatic relations, the two countries will now be able to cooperate even more closely. But what exactly does this step entail?

Why were there no diplomatic relations before?

The modern kingdom ruled by the House of Wangchuck was created in 1907 through the unification of previously independent principalities. For many years, the country closed itself off to the outside world. As part of the domestic reforms introduced by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who reigned from 1952 to 1972, Bhutan then gradually established international relations with a small number of countries. It joined the United Nations in September 1971. Until now, the Kingdom only maintained diplomatic relations with 52 states and international organisations. The government of Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, in office since November 2018, has continued to cautiously open up the country – leading to the decision to establish diplomatic relations with Germany. Germany has already been a trusted partner of Bhutan for some time in a number of fields (e.g. international organisations, climate policy, cultural conservation).

What do “diplomatic relations” actually mean?

Diplomatic relations essentially reflect a shared desire to cooperate more closely on political, economic, cultural and civil society matters and, in general terms, to work towards mutually beneficial outcomes. Over the centuries, customs were established which eventually became standard practice, such as the sending of representatives. In 1961 this practice was laid down in an international agreement, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which covers issues such as the accreditation of ambassadors, the inviolability of the diplomatic mission, and diplomatic immunity. It has 192 member states.

Once diplomatic relations are established between two countries, they often open embassies on each other’s territory. But this isn’t absolutely necessary. In the present case, the German ambassador in New Delhi will be accredited for Bhutan, too, and will maintain Germany’s relations with the country from across the border. Bhutan also has an embassy in New Delhi. This connection has been used for dialogue with Germany in the past. With the establishment of diplomatic relations, the two countries will now be able to collaborate more closely than ever before.

Germany and the Kingdom of Bhutan previously established consular relations in 2000. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations has been in force since 1963 and has 189 member states. Consular relations enable each country to assist their own citizens in the other country, for example by providing help in emergencies or issuing passports.

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