Thailand: a budding ‘middle power’ in Asia | ministries

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

As a child, Remco van Wijngaarden wanted to become a diplomat. He has been the Dutch ambassador to Thailand for a year now. A wonderful country to live with her husband and children. “We are an ordinary family here. And Thailand is very interesting to work in, the country is gaining political and economic importance in the region.”

Picture: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Remco van Wijngaarden (left) with her husband Carter and their three children.

What was the first thing you noticed about Thailand?

‘My husband and I had been holidaying here for years, even 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 with good reason. You will find everything here and the contrasts make it exciting. Skyscrapers next to old town, chic Michelin restaurants next to stalls selling the best Street food in the world. It is an international 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 amazing country. And can I also visit Laos and Cambodia, the countries that we also have under our care as an embassy in Bangkok ‘.

‘I am also a permanent representative of the largest regional UN organization, UN-ESCAP. This is an organization that focuses on promoting socio-economic growth in the region. The Netherlands has been one of the member states since 1947. The reason for this is that the Netherlands still had sovereignty over areas in the region when ESCAP was established. ‘

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

You have three small children and are married to a man. How do they react to your ‘rainbow family’ in Thailand?

‘It goes very well. Before that, we lived in Shanghai, where I was Consul General. Shanghai is China’s most tolerant city, but life has not always been easy for us as a family. Often we had to, so to speak, ‘go back in the closet’.

‘In China, Carter, my husband, was once informally invited to an event by the authorities. When I first met at the Thai Foreign Ministry, I was immediately asked how my husband and children were doing and if I liked living in Thailand. Invitations are always for us together. It makes a world of difference. ‘

‘Unfortunately, our marriage is not yet legally recognized in Thailand and it sometimes causes some inconvenience. There is great social support for same-sex marriages. Some temples bless them too. Recently, the Thai cabinet approved the registered partnership for 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 be a good example. I recently opened an online workshop on LGBTIQ + storytelling because we fund it. I spoke very briefly about my husband and children, more to reassure the audience. The impact was greater than I thought. During my story about my family, I heard people cheering and clapping. There were all sorts of questions. “

‘In my choice of Thailand and future countries where I want to work, it’s important: Can I make a difference at work and will our family thrive here? How open and tolerant is society? My oldest daughter is black and our two youngest are bi-race, just like my husband. We want to make children resilient while protecting 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 topic that the Dutch embassy deals with?

‘Assistance to tourists and travelers, the so-called consular services, is an important task. Before the ‘corona’, 200-250 thousand Dutch people visited Thailand every year. About ten thousand Dutch people live here. That number continues to rise if one includes the Dutch who live here semi-permanently. We do not know the exact number, there is no registration requirement. ‘

‘The embassy provides emergency assistance to tourists, helps companies along the way and acts as the’ host ‘of Dutch society. We also provide help and assistance to the approximately ten Dutch people who are in prison here. There are impressions that many Dutch people are imprisoned here, partly because of drug trafficking, but that is not the case. ‘

‘In addition, the economic and political side of the work here is becoming increasingly important. Thailand is a good trading partner and there are significant mutual investments. For example, the Netherlands is the largest EU investor in Thailand, something many Thais do not know. In the field of agriculture and water, we want to do more with the exchange of knowledge. I am often accused of these topics. But also on the climate. Thailand, like the Netherlands, 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, a region that is becoming increasingly important to Europe as a partner.’

‘Thailand is very interesting politically and diplomatically: it is part of the Indo-Pacific, a region that is becoming increasingly important to Europe as a partner. Thailand is a neutral country, a strong ‘middle power’ in the region and has a relatively large number of social organizations. ‘

‘I am surprised at the openness with which all kinds of human rights issues can be discussed with the authorities here. That is not to say that there are no concerns, such as freedom of speech 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 such as LGBTIQ + rights is highly negotiable. ‘

Ambassador Remco van Wijngaarden.

You wanted to be a diplomat 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 at Radio Netherlands Worldwide. I really got news from all over the world through him. I became a real news junkie by it, haha. But even as a boy, I already knew that I did not want to be a journalist, but a diplomat. I wanted to go to work, to really do something about the problems in the news. And yes, I do not mind the exercise. You can definitely make a difference as an ambassador. Not on its 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 department of this embassy. So much is happening in Asia, such as China’s progress, for example. This is very visible in Cambodia and Laos. In Thailand, the playing field is a little more complicated. Like the Netherlands, we need to maintain contact with the Thai government and civil society organizations. ‘

‘In addition, I want to make the services of Dutch society and tourists more accessible, both digitally and physically. For example, by using a mobile ‘counter’ more often, so that especially older Dutch people no longer have to travel all the way to Bangkok to sign a document. ‘

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