It was the world’s last hold-out against television and is regarded by travelers as a Shangri-la, but Bhutan’s decision to make itself the poster boy for electric transport is further proof of its willingness to embrace technology as part of its unique Gross National Happiness (GNH) development model, Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said.
In an interview after signing a deal with Nissan on Friday to import a fleet of battery-powered compact cars to the remote Himalayan nation, Tobgay said Bhutan was happy to be at the technological vanguard.
“Technology is not destructive. It’s good and can contribute to prosperity for Bhutan,” the prime minister said.
It was not always like this. The tiny kingdom was famously the last country to ever get television, finally embracing it in 1999, at a time when less than a quarter of households had electricity.
However, it is rapidly shedding its reputation as a technophobe — it now exports electricity thanks to an ambitious hydropower program, while smartphones are a common sight, at least on the streets of the sleepy capital.
“Internet, cellular phones, smartphones, they are ubiquitous, you can’t do anything without them, now they are essential tools,” Tobgay said. “Cellular phones became a reality 10 years ago. We adopted it very well, almost everybody has a cellular phone, that’s the reality.”
“Similarly today we launched the Nissan Leaf... Our goal is to make the best of all options,” he added.
In the deal with Nissan, dozens of battery-powered Leafs should soon be motoring along the streets of Thimpu, helping it avoid the kind of pollution pervasive elsewhere in South Asia.
Tobgay said Bhutan would never allow its environment to become a victim of economic growth — an important principle of Gross National Happiness.
“Growth is important, but it should be balanced with other aspects of life including culture, spirituality, heritage and sustainable development,” the prime minister said.
“During the development of the last 30 to 40 years, we placed a lot of emphasis to promote the environment, clean industries. We are looking to become 100 percent organic, [although] it will take some time,” Tobgay said. “And we are looking to develop a zero emission goal. This formulates a narrative of Bhutan, about what Bhutan is about and where Bhutan wants to go.”
Tobgay, who came to power in July last year after winning Bhutan’s second elections, has previously voiced a degree of skepticism about the happiness metric — a philosophy originally espoused by a former king — as a distraction from tackling the country’s problems.
However, in his interview, the prime minister said addressing issues such as corruption, unemployment and the environment would allow Bhutan to practice what it preaches.
“GNH should guide us, this philosophy should not be compromised,” he said. “But my stance has been that rather than talking about the GNH and debate the philosophy, we have to operationalize it.”
With a population of 750,000, Bhutan is in many ways a study in contrasts with its giant neighbors India and China, with their billion-plus populations and mega-cities.
Despite its stunning scenery, few tourists can afford to pay the US$250 daily rate to visit the “Land of the Thunder Dragon.”
The nation’s abundant waterfalls and crystal-clear rivers have allowed Bhutan to become a significant player in the hydropower sector.
Bhutan now operates four hydroelectric plants which between them have almost 1,500 megawatt capacity — at peak output roughly equivalent to a large nuclear power station — and the surplus is sold to India.
Tobgay said Bhutan would struggle to meet its capacity target of 10,000 megawatts by 2020 through the building of 10 new plants.
He said there should be no doubting Bhutan’s commitment to a zero emission target, which would involve other renewable energy sources.
“We are looking also at solar panels, windmills, bio gas,” he said. “The important point is to make progress towards achieving our goal, which is to harvest renewable energy and to use that renewable energy to power our own country and to power the energy needs of our neighbors with clean energy.”
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
The scarcity of commercial flights landing at Sydney Airport has been a disaster for airlines and workers, but for hobby pilots the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The quieter-than-usual runways mean that private pilots have been given the chance to land at the international airport for the first time. When Sydney Flight College club captain Tim Lindley put out a call, he received an overwhelming response. He eventually organized for 14 light aircraft to fly into Sydney airport on Sunday. “For a lot of the pilots involved, including myself, it was a childhood dream to land in a big
China on Thursday lashed out at the US at a high-level UN meeting over its criticism on the COVID-19 pandemic, with its envoy declaring, “Enough is enough.” Two days after US President Donald Trump used his annual address to the General Assembly to attack China’s record, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, also took an outraged tone — after which her Chinese counterpart showed palpable anger. “I must say, enough is enough. You have created enough troubles for the world already,” Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun (張軍) told a Security Council meeting on global governance attended through videoconference