US government commits support to STEM education in Bhutan

THIMPHU (Kuensel/ANN) - Visiting Bhutan for the first time, the Deputy Secretary of State, John Joseph Sullivan, affirmed the United State's support for science, technology, engineering, and math activities that aim to benefit Bhutanese students, teachers, engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. 

State Deputy Secretary Sullivan and his eight-member delegation were in the country from August 11 to 14 to explore means to expand and deepen ties with the government and people of Bhutan. 

Sullivan received an audience with His Majesty The King  on August 13.

Talking to Kuensel in the evening of August 13 , Deputy Secretary Sullivan said he was very grateful for the opportunity His Majesty has given him. “I was particularly impressed by His Majesty’s interest in STEM education- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics,” he said.

The State Department put together a US$ 4.5 million package for STEM education programme. “We provided a notice to the Congress that we would like to provide assistance to the government of Bhutan to improve STEM education in the country,” Sullivan, who is visiting Bhutan for the first time, told Kuensel. “We will be able to provide that money since it is a priority of His Majesty and the government.”

The Deputy Secretary of State also called on Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji, and Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma on August 12. During his meetings with the Bhutanese leaders, Deputy Secretary Sullivan discussed a range of issuesincluding the importance of protecting and enhancing tow countroes' people-to-people ties and enhancing joint efforts to combat trafficking in persons.

Deputy Secretary Sullivan was in Bhutan to underscore the warm and friendly ties between the United States and Bhutan.  

“Although we do not have  diplomatic relations with Bhutan, we have close relationship through the Embassy in New Delhi. We have people-to-people exchanges; several government officials have studied in the USA,” Sullivan said. 

He added that educational opportunities increases people-to-people exchange programmes, including  STEM education and they are also looking to implement NASA programme as discussed with His Majesty.

He said that there are range of opportunities to increase cooperation and support in ways that are appropriate for Bhutan and suit the needs of the Bhutanese government.

For instance, he said, in the course of conversation with the minister of economic affairs, they identified number of areas where the United States government or experts will be able to provide assistance in seismology with geological survey experts.

At an appropriate time, we would put up experts in the US with Bhutanese counterparts and deepen our relationships, he said. 

The prime minister in his discussion with the Deputy Secretary of State emphasised on diversifying the Bhutanese economy and sustaining agriculture production and export. “We hope to work with the government in exporting agriculture products,” the Deputy Secretary Sullivan said.

On Bhutan’s democratic transaction, the Deputy Secretary said it was a positive move which has lead to the increased bilateral relationship with the United States. 

The two countries share democratic values, commitment to rule of law and human rights without any corruption, he added.

“I have come here to underscore the US support for Bhutan and commitment to defend Bhutan as a fellow democratic country- providing support to Bhutan’s sovereignty,” he said.  

He said that there are lots of things the two countries can learn from each other. 

“Foremost, the respect for mutual values, engage in relationship that is appropriate for Bhutan- meets the need of government and people, he said. “There are numerous areas we can collaborate to our mutual benefits.”

In its commitment to human rights, democracy and values – Bhutan is an important nation in the region that we look up to supporting, Sullivan said. “Bhutan exceeds the expectation. The drive to the capital impressed me with the natural beauty of the country,” he said.

“More importantly, I am impressed by the wide range of government officials I have met with who are clearly committed to welfare of the country and its peoplem," the Deputy Secretary of State said. "And to work with likeminded partners either the United States or other countries to help promote economy or prosperity of the country."

In a meeting with the Loden Foundation, a civil society organisation, the Deputy Secretary learnt about efforts to promote entrepreneurship and cultural preservation in Bhutan.

Sullivan is the 19th Deputy Secretary of State. He assumed the office on May 24, 2017. Born in Boston, Sullivan is an American lawyer.

The Deputy Secretary and his delegation left Bhutan for New Delhi today.  

He is expected to meet with Minister of External Affairs, S Jai Shankar, and speak at the India-US Forum during his visit from August 14-17.