Interview
Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Bhutan
December 13, 2012


Kuensel: Yesterday you had a meeting with our Prime Minister. One of the difficult [tasks] in the region was to have a national school and a national [inaudible]. Could you elaborate on this?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Yes. In many parts of South and Central Asia there’s a very important need for governments to be accountable and responsive to the needs of their citizens. And in many cases there are very high levels of corruption. All of these have a negative impact on stability. So I think by contrast here in Bhutan, your government and your King have made an extraordinary effort to listen to the needs of the people, listen to the concerns of the people, and have fashioned this concept of Gross National Happiness and used that to address the full range of needs of the people of Bhutan and have made what I think is probably unprecedented progress in raising living standards and reducing poverty.

Kuensel: Do you think [inaudible] in place?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I do. I definitely do.

Kuensel: So is the Parliament extending cooperation and education, these two [inaudible] you mentioned, more U.S. universities for education [city] and more from higher education in the United States? Could you tell us?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Yes. His Majesty himself and several other high-level members of your government have attended university in the United States and we would like to do everything we can to encourage more Bhutanese to come study in America. A very important part of that is to make available facilities such as our Education USA facility that is in Delhi, to help young Bhutanese understand the opportunities in the United States and also what kinds of financial aid also might be available. So we’d like to work very hard to do that and arrange an Education USA team to come here.

But in addition, we’d like to try to do more to help American universities establish various kinds of partnerships with the university here. I know that the Yale School of Forestry and Columbia University already have activities, but I think there’s scope for much more. So I think that will be something we will look into trying to elaborate.

Kuensel: So more Bhutanese trying to go to U.S. to study. But it is very difficult to get visa. So how are you going to do facilitate it?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Well, it really shouldn’t be that difficult to get a visa. The main thing is that people speak good English, which almost every Bhutanese does. That they have a clear idea of what they want to study. And then they have also a clear idea of how they’re going to support themselves, either through their own resources or again, through financial aid, scholarships that they may have been able to negotiate with the universities they’re attending.

Kuensel: So is it your first visit to the country? And what are your impressions?

Assistant Secretary Blake: No, no. This is my fourth visit to your beautiful country. I’ve had a long association with Bhutan dating back as early as 2003 when I was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, so the Deputy Ambassador. So I’ve had a chance to see how your country has grown over the last nine years. I must say it’s been very impressive to see first the growth of democracy in your country, and the development of a parliamentary system, and we’re looking forward to seeing how the 2013 elections go. But as I said, I think even more impressive from my perspective has been the progress to raise living standards, to expand roads and electricity and fiber-optic networks to the farthest corners of your country. I think also what’s notable from our perspective is the way that your country has pursued development in an environmentally sustainable manner. I was very interested to learn on this trip that the next phase of that will be to pursue [inaudible] mutual initiatives, to make that one of the centerpieces of your country and its development path.

Kuensel: So what do you think of the part about the future Bhutan? Do you think we are headed in the right direction?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Very much so. As I said, you have a King who is very attune to the needs of the citizens of Bhutan, but then I think you have also a government that is very focused on, again, raising living standards and ensuring the needs of the people are met. Now that you’re developing this parliamentary system, and that will introduce a very important element of competition which also can help to again strengthen the vitality of your democratic system and again, I think lead to further development of your political institutions.

Kuensel: So what are the things that Bhutan should learn from the United States?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Should or should not?

Kuensel: Should or should not. [Laughter].

Assistant Secretary Blake: In terms of the should part, I think you’ve already learned quite a lot. I think the introduction of your parliamentary system, the fact that you have already a very vibrant media as well. I was impressed to learn that the cabinet meets once a month with the press to answer any questions that they have. Then you have a number of other very important independent institutions like an Election Commission.

So I think in many ways the democratic system that you have here is one of the strongest if not the strongest in the region.

In terms of what you should not learn from the United States, I’m sure there’s a very long list. [Laughter].

I appreciate the opportunity to have an interview. I must say I read several editions of your newspaper, I was quite impressed. So I congratulate you.

Is there an on-line edition of Kuensel?

Kuensel: Yes.


[This is a mobile copy of Inteview With Kuensel Newspaper]