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Expanding relations through education

Attracting more US universities to the Education City and for more Bhutanese to avail higher education in the United States is how, US assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Ambassador Robert O Blake, sees Bhutan and the US expanding relations.

Ambassador Blake who left the country yesterday after a two-day visit to the country said His Majesty the King and several other high officials in the government attended universities in the United States.

“We’d like to do everything they can to encourage more Bhutanese to come and study in America,” he said. “It’s important that we make available USA facilities in Delhi to help young Bhutanese understand their opportunities in the United States including the kind of financial aid available.”

But most important, he said its necessary to help American universities establish various kinds of partnerships with universities in Bhutan.

“That’d be something we’ll look into and try to collaborate,” he said.

Ambassador Blake denied that getting visa to the US was difficult, explaining that Bhutanese in general spoke good English.

All that was required for those wishing to study was to have a clear idea of what they wished to study and also how they were going to support themselves either through their own resources or financial aid or scholarship they may have been able to negotiate with universities they are attending.

“It shouldn’t be very difficult to get US visa,” he said.

Ambassador Blake said government and the king had taken extraordinary efforts to listen to the needs and concerns of its people and have fashioned this concept of Gross National Happiness.

“You’ve made probably unprecedented progress in raising living standards and reducing poverty,” he said.

Coming to his impressions of the country, Ambassador Blake, who visited Bhutan for the first time in 2003, said he had a chance to see how Bhutan had grown over last nine years.

“It’s very impressive to see the first growth of democracy in your country and development of a parliamentary system,” he said. “I’m also looking forward to seeing how the 2013 elections will go.”

More impressive, he said was the progress to raise living standards, to extend roads, electricity and fibre-optic networks to the furthest corner of the country.

“You’ve also a vibrant media as well and I was particularly impressed to learn the Cabinet meets once a month with the press to answer any questions they have,” Ambassador Blake said, adding there were a number of other important independent institutions. “I think, in many ways, the democratic system that you have here is one of the strongest if not the strongest in the region.”

On political development, Ambassador Blake said the King was very tuned to the needs of its citizens and a government that was focussed on raising the living standards and ensuring the needs of the people.

“Now you’re developing parliamentary system that will introduce very important element of competition,” he said. “But it can also help strengthen the vitality of your democratic system and further lead to development of political institutions.”

While in Bhutan, Ambassador Blake also called on Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley.

Correction: An earlier version of the article had wrongly quoted the ambassador as saying “the least strongest” instead of “if not the strongest”

By Rinzin Wangchuk

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