In his more than 25 years with the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) he has held important positions in Canada, Iraq, Turkey, Austria and Cuba as well as MFA headquarters in Putrajaja. His profession has brought him to Thailand many times, and in the few months he’s been in charge of the Malaysian embassy on South Sathorn Road he has integrated quickly into the Bangkok diplomatic community, forming new friendships and renewing old ones. Mr Samuel was charming and articulate in a recent interview conducted at his embassy office.
“I was born in Johor close to Johor Bahru and Singapore, in the most southern part of Malaysian Peninsula. I have one elder and one younger brother. My parents came to Malaysia from Kerala in the southwestern part of India in the late 1950s. I can be considered a first generation Malaysian Indian,” said Mr Samuel, who turns 54 in June.
“I did my schooling in Port Dickson because of the nature of my father’s job. He was a medical assistant on a nearby plantation. He worked for a British company. I did all my early schooling in Port Dickson and then earned a degree from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, majoring in Southeast Asia Studies under the Arts and Social Science Faculty.
“My career development actually started when I was in university. Before that time we are still so young and naïve and we don’t know what we actually want in life. At that time there was no internet that gives today’s students the luxury of easily learning about career options and so on.
“University life was the best time in my life. I wanted to be a lecturer. It is not in my CV, but I was a tutor for three years. Ultimately I decided to join the civil service, basically the administrative and diplomatic branch. I applied with the civil service commission and began the lengthy interview process. There are three stages plus assessments and that sort of thing. After I got through all that I underwent one year of training. I was sent to the foreign division assigned to the Eastern Europe unit. This was at the height of the Bosnia crisis. Yugoslavia disintegrated and the Soviet Union also collapsed. It was a tumultuous time in that part of the world.
“My assignment in Iraq was the most challenging, but also the most interesting. Every posting has its own charm, even the one in Baghdad. Whether or not a person can see the good things in a situation like that depends on the individual and how they adapt to adverse conditions and hardships. When I was in Cuba the country was experiencing hardships because of the US embargo. Sometimes you would go to the market and not be able to
find any of the food or other items you wanted. You just have to adapt to the situation. You know you won’t actually starve. You can find food but maybe you won’t get your choice. The experience I gained from each post has taught me a lot and I value that experience.
“I visited Thailand for the first time as a student in 1987. The second time was as a government officer in July 1999. At that time I was Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia at the MFA and I came here for a joint commission meeting. After that I came to Thailand many times officially, mainly attending various meetings in Bangkok. Malaysia has an embassy in all ASEAN countries so I am ambassador only for Thailand. Our ambassadorial term is three or four years.”
“The embassy has about 30 Malaysian officials and 36 local staff. I live inside the embassy compound. This is the first time I have held a post where the embassy and residence are together. This has some advantages. I have realised that in Bangkok you need to be near the embassy because of traffic. I think it is a blessing, and I don’t see any problems in terms of privacy. This is a very interesting and busy part of the city and it is easily accessible. All Malaysian staff members live at the compound so I get to mingle with them.
“One of my chief responsibilities is to look after the welfare of Malaysians who are residing in or visiting Thailand. The consular section is always busy and the embassy is always open to all Malaysians. They come here for consular matters like renewing a passport or when they have some problem. We are always ready to render our assistance. I encourage Malaysians here to join the Malaysia Club and participate in the many cultural and social activities. We have also the Malaysian-Thai Chamber of Commerce. It is one of the most active in Thailand. They have regular meetings, seminars and other activities. Malaysian business people can always find something of interest there,” said the ambassador, adding that there is a Malaysian Consulate in Songkhla.
“Diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Thailand were established in 1957 when we gained our independence. Thailand was among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with us. We opened the first embassy in Bangkok on September 5, 1957.
myself. I already have very close relationships with many people in these ministries and I want to build on that. What I really hope in the end is to work together with Thais to take actions that actually benefit the people of both countries.
“Historically, Malaysians and Thais are connected. Many Malaysians have family linkages with Thais and vice-versa. The three most northern states of Peninsular Malaysia Kalantan, Kedah and Perlis used to be protectorates of Thailand. But in 1909 Thailand signed the ‘Bangkok Treaty’ in which Thailand gave away the three states to the British. This is history. The relations between our two countries are excellent. However, media reports on events along the Thai-Malaysia border are often incorrect,” said the ambassador without elaborating.
“Besides strengthening people to people connections, I am also very keen to find ways to increase trade and investment between our countries. The total trade between Malaysia and Thailand both ways is about US$22.9 billion but we have a target set in 2018 for US$30 billion. Malaysia imports from Thailand mainly natural rubber products, electrical and electronic products, transport equipment, chemical products, machinery equipment and parts and automotive parts. Malaysia is producing two local brands of cars, Proton and Perodua, and some parts are procured in Thailand. Malaysia exports to Thailand mainly electrical and electronic products followed by crude petroleum, petrochemicals and other chemical products, as well as processed foods and plastic products. We also export some machinery and parts. We don’t export cars to Thailand.
“The trade balance has always been in Malaysia’s favour. Last year it was about US$548 million. Thailand is Malaysia’s fifth largest trading partner and it’s also very important in terms of investment. There are a number of Malaysian companies present in Thailand, two of the biggest being CIMB Thai and RHB Bank. We have here also several automotive parts manufacturers such as Aapico, Ingress and Petronas. There are also a number of Thai companies in Malaysia. I would like to encourage more Thai investment in Malaysia.
“I want to also encourage more Thai tourists to visit my country. There are now many more Malaysians coming to Thailand. Last year about 3.3 million Malaysian tourists visited Thailand, mainly the border areas but some came to Bangkok and points north. About 1.8 million Thais visited Malaysia in 2017. Visas aren’t needed for nationals on either side. There are thousands of Malaysians living in Thailand. Some of them are working for various Malaysian companies.
“Regarding trans-national crime, there is good cooperation between the Thai and Malaysian security agencies, both the militaries and the police. Together we control, monitor and patrol the border area well despite the mountainous terrain and forest. We are constantly on the lookout for smugglers of vehicles and other goods, human traffickers and other criminals and we go to great lengths to catch the culprits.”
“Vision 2020 was introduced by the current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1991 with the goal of attaining developed nation status by 2020. We have two more years to go. One of the criteria for developed nation status is that you must have a GDP per capita of US$15,000. Hopefully we can make it.
“We are also putting a lot of energy into a policy called ‘TN50’ (‘Transformasi Nasional 2050’). The intention is that by 2050 we should be a transformed nation going into a new era. We are in the process of trying to engage people in all walks of life – this includes school children, youth in general, business people and everyone else – in coming up with ideas of what they want the country to be like in 2050. In other words, what should be the focus after Vision 2020? We are fleshing out this policy now and in the next year will have it up and running.”
“My wife, Catherina, also had a career in civil service working domestically for the home sector and attached to the Institute of Public Administration. They do the training of civil servants. My wife was a trainer but because of the nature of my job she lost her seniority every time we went abroad, and when we returned she remained as a junior officer. Therefore, she decided to resign in 2008 and now has her own business in Malaysia. She will come here later. She’s looking after our daughter who is studying in Malaysia.
“I have visited Thailand often but I have only been living here a few months, so I am still learning about the country. Generally I find that Thais, be they officials or members of the public, are very friendly and very humble. I have known some officials since I was an officer at the MFA with a position in our ASEAN department. I know them very well. This makes it easier for me, and I am also well accepted as the representative of a friendly neighbouring country.
“I have already been to Chiang Mai and to Phitsanulok and intend to visit other places in the Northeast and South of Thailand, particularly our consulate in Songkhla. I feel that it’s my responsibility to visit all Thai provinces and to meet people. What I want to do is get closer to the Thai people. I like to go out and explore Bangkok when I have time during the weekend. For this I dress casually, sometimes in shorts and T-shirt.
“As for my hobbies, I like reading. I used to play football in my school days and I very much like to watch the English Premier League on TV, especially Liverpool. I am a big fan.” But most of his time is spent doing the work of representing and promoting Malaysia in the Kingdom of Thailand. It’s a job he’s happy to do. ‘‘We have a saying: ‘To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia.’ I want to help the people of Thailand to get to know my country.”
CV of H.E. Dato’ Jojie M C Samuel
• B.A (Hons.), (Southeast Asia Studies, University of Malaya, Diploma in Public Administration, INTAN.
• December 1992: Appointed as Administrative and Diplomatic officer and served as Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Malaysia.
April 1993: Assistant Secretary (Eastern Europe), MFA, Malaysia.
July 1995: Second Secretary, High Commission of Malaysia, Ottawa
January 1998: First Secretary, Embassy of Malaysia, Baghdad, Iraq.
July 1999: Assistant Secretary (Southeast Asia) MFA, Malaysia.
July 2002: Counselor, Embassy of Malaysia, Ankara, Turkey.
August 2005: Deputy Head of Mission/Counselor, and Deputy Permanent
Representative to the United Nations office, embassy of Malaysia, Vienna, Austria.
January 2009: Undersecretary (East Asia) MFA, Malaysia.
July 2011: Ambassador of Malaysia to Cuba (with concurrent accreditation
to Haiti, Bahamas, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua).
August 2014: Deputy Director General, ASEAN-Malaysia National
Secretariat, MFA, Malaysia.
January 2016: Director General, ASEAN-Malaysia National Secretariat,
December 2017: Awarded Darjah Sultan Ahmad Shah Pahang (DSAP).