Thailand: an emerging ‘middle power’ in Asia | Ministries

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Blog entry | 06-23-2022 | Get to know our ambassadors and their work

As a child, Remco van Wijngaarden wanted to become a diplomat. He has been the ambassador of the Netherlands in Thailand for a year now. Wonderful country to live with his wife and children. “We are an ordinary family here. Thailand is very exciting to work in, it is gaining political and economic importance in the region.

picture: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Remco van Wijngaarden (left) with his wife Carter and their three children.

What was the first thing you noticed in Thailand?

My husband and I vacationed here years ago, including when we lived in China. The first thing that struck me was Bangkok as a city. It is the second most visited city in the world by tourists and for good reason. You’ll find it all here and the contrasts make it exciting. Skyscrapers next to old neighborhoods, elegant Michelin-starred restaurants next to stalls selling the best food street In the world. It is a cosmopolitan city and at the same time the Thai character is very strong.

“The great thing about living here is that I can now get to know the community behind the tourist experience in Thailand. Now that the corona measures have been relaxed, I can finally travel in this great country. I can also visit Laos and Cambodia, which are the two countries that we also enjoy under Our sponsorship as an embassy in Bangkok.

I am also the permanent representative of the largest regional organization of the United Nations, UN-ESCAP. This is an organization focused on promoting social and economic growth in the region. The Netherlands has been a member state since 1947. The reason for this is that the Netherlands still had sovereignty over areas in the region when the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific was established.

“My rainbow family is an ordinary family here. At the same time, I realize more and more that we can set a good example.

You have three young children and are married to a man. How do they interact with your “rainbow family” in Thailand?

‘It’s going very well.’ Before that, we lived in Shanghai, where I was Consul General. Shanghai is China’s most tolerant city, but life hasn’t always been easy for us as a family. We often had to “go back to the closet,” so to speak. ”

In China, Carter’s husbands were unceremoniously invited to an event by the authorities once. When I first met at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I was immediately asked how my husband and children were and whether I liked living in Thailand. Always invites us together. This makes the world different.

Unfortunately, our marriage is not yet legally recognized in Thailand, and this sometimes causes some trouble. There is a lot of social support for same-sex marriage. Some temples also bless them. Recently, the Thai Cabinet approved the registered partnership of LGBTIQ+ couples, an important step towards greater equality in Thailand.

We are a normal family here. At the same time, I realize more and more that we can set a good example. I recently opened an online workshop on storytelling for the LGBTIQ+ community, because we’re funding it. I have spoken very briefly about my husband and children, so as to make the audience feel at ease. The effect was greater than I thought. During my story about my family, I heard people cheering and clapping. There were all kinds of questions.

“In my choice of Thailand and the future countries in which I will work, it is important: Can I make a difference at work and will our family thrive here? How open and tolerant is society? My eldest daughter is black, we have the youngest, and so is my husband. We want to make the children resilient and at the same time We protect them from racism and discrimination.

Bangkok is the third most visited city in the world by tourists, many of whom are Dutch.

What is the main issue that the Dutch Embassy deals with?

Helping tourists and travelers, the so-called consular services, is an important task. Before Corona, 200-250 thousand Dutch people visited Thailand every year. About ten thousand Dutch live here. This number continues to rise if you include the Dutch who reside here semi-permanently. We do not know the exact number, and there is no requirement to register.

The embassy provides emergency aid to tourists, helps businesses on their way and acts as a “host” for the Dutch community. We also help and assist the approximately ten Dutch people imprisoned here. There is an impression that many Dutch people are imprisoned here, in part for drug smuggling, but this is not the case.

In addition, the economic and political aspect of working here is becoming increasingly important. Thailand is a good trading partner and there are great mutual investments. For example, the Netherlands is the largest investor from the European Union in Thailand, something that many Thais do not know. In the field of agriculture and water, we want to do more by sharing knowledge. I often touch on these topics. But also the climate. Like the Netherlands, Thailand is a low-lying country that is increasingly facing floods and droughts as a result of climate change. With knowledge we can help each other deal with this.

“Thailand is very interesting politically and diplomatically: it is part of the Indo-Pacific, an area of ​​increasing importance for Europe as a partner of cooperation.”

Thailand is politically and diplomatically interesting: it is part of the Indo-Pacific region, an increasingly important region for Europe as a partner of cooperation. Thailand is a neutral country, a strong “middle power” in the region and has a relatively large number of social organizations.

I am amazed at the openness with which all kinds of human rights issues can be discussed with the authorities here. This does not mean that there are no concerns, such as freedom of expression and the prosecution of human rights activists, for example. But the human rights situation is generally decent compared to other countries in the region, and an issue like LGBTIQ+ rights is highly negotiable.

Ambassador Remko van Wijngaarden.

You wanted to be diplomatic as a boy, I read, to solve problems in the world. Can you really make such a difference as an ambassador?

I grew up in Madagascar. My father worked there for Radio Netherlands Worldwide. I have already received news from all over the world through him. I became a real news addict because of that, haha. But even as a boy I already knew that I didn’t want to be a journalist, I wanted to be a diplomat. I wanted to go to work, and do something real about the problems in the news. And yes, I don’t mind practicing. You can definitely make a difference as an ambassador. Not on your own, but in cooperation with other countries and organizations.

What do you want to achieve as an ambassador in Thailand?

‘I would like to strengthen the political section of this embassy. There is a lot going on in Asia, like the rise of China for example. This is very evident in Cambodia and Laos. In Thailand, the playing field is a bit more complicated. As the Netherlands, we have to maintain contact with the Thai government and civil society organizations.

In addition, I want to make the services provided to the Dutch community and tourists more accessible, both digitally and physically. For example, by often using a mobile “counter”, so that the older Dutch in particular do not have to travel all the way to Bangkok to sign a document.

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