Ambassador of France to India, Emmanuel Lenain speaks to Bhutan Times Senior Reporter Sonam Penjor on how the two countries can cooperate on issues of common interest and bring its citizens closer together
. In what sectors does France support Bhutan, and what are the future areas of cooperation the two could explore?
Ambassador: I would like to say, first of all, how happy I am to be here in Bhutan. It is my first visit here.
There is much we want to do with Bhutan. Bhutan and France do not have diplomatic ties, but we would like to cooperate extensively. As France’s ambassador to India, my commitment is to visit Bhutan at least once a year to review and enhance our cooperation.
Bhutan is a leader in some areas, particularly sustainable development. France also cooperates with Bhutan through the European Union which has a significant cooperation programme.
As you may know, France extended assistance to Bhutan over the past two years during the Covid-19 pandemic providing masks, PPE kits, and oxygen concentrators, among others (for a total of approximately 120,000€).
Further, France has been putting a great deal of effort into expanding access to French language courses for Bhutanese citizens. France has funded French language classes. In partnership with Royal University of Bhutan, we have held French language classes for the Bhutanese UN forces heading to Africa. We have also taught French to Bhutanese tour guides and hope to do more in the future.
We would be delighted to welcome Bhutanese students in France and can provide some scholarships for higher education. As for youth mobility from our country, a French volunteer will be posted in the sports sector.
With regard to our economic ties, we have a fruitful partnership with Drukair. Moreover, there is also much we can do together on clean and renewable energy. During my visit, I was pleased to announce that Bhutan is one of three countries that will benefit from a solar power capacity building programme funded by France under the International Solar Alliance. From my meetings with ministers and CEOs, I also learnt about Bhutan’s keen interest in green hydrogen as a new energy source. We will be very pleased to send experts to Bhutan for its green hydrogen endeavours.
Finally, I observed Bhutan’s impressive use of artificial intelligence, IT and cyber security. During my official trip, I visited Thimphu Techpark and SuperFab Lab. We aim to better connect them with French institutions.
- How can the two countries collaborate to ensure a win-win situation for both?
Ambassador: Bhutan enjoys much goodwill across the world and the French have a very positive opinion of Bhutan. They also respect the calm direction towards which His Majesty The King has guided the nation.
In France, Buddhism is popular. The largest Buddhist community in EU is in France. We have very popular Buddhist monks like Matthieu Ricard. We will make sure that there are sufficient exchanges and that French people can visit Bhutan to start new cooperation.
- An official diplomatic relationship between the two nations has not yet been established; in this regard, what comments would you like to make?
Ambassador: We fully understand and respect Bhutan’s position. And, as I’ve said earlier, even without official diplomatic relations, our two countries can cooperate on issues of common interest and bring our people closer together.
- What can be done to improve the cooperation between Bhutan and France in terms of exchange of knowledge?
Ambassador: I think there are plenty of avenues of cooperation in this field. In terms of student mobility, France offers a world-class higher education that extends the same facilities to international students that French students enjoy. This means that it is not particularly expensive compared to other countries. I would be very happy to see students from Bhutan pursue study abroad programmes in France.
We would also like to take advantage of the digital and internet opportunities available to link up our institutions and enable exchanges between our peoples.
- Any additional comments you would like to make.
Ambassador: I am deeply impressed by Bhutan’s very smooth and peaceful transition to the 21st century while maintaining its vibrant traditions, such as your striking national dress.