"The longstanding friendship between our two royal households is of course a cornerstone of our relation.
Interview with H.E. Mrs. Sibille de Cartier d'Yves, the Belgian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand
By Kathleen Pokrud
When did you arrive in Thailand and what are your impressions so far?
I arrived during the pandemic, and I'm appreciating the country more and more every day, discovering the kindness of its inhabitants, its rich variety and way of life and the cultural treasures of the country.
Please update us on Belgium since the pandemic.
In Europe, and in Belgium in particular, life has returned to normal, and all measures linked to the pandemic have been now lifted. We are now working on the economic recovery in all its aspects. Of course, the aggression of Russia against Ukraine and its impact on Europe and the world complexifies it. It nevertheless creates an opportunity to strengthen European cooperation.
The European Union is also at the forefront of the measures to overcome the climate change challenge. Belgium is a leader in innovation in this regard, having developed technologies ranging from wind power at sea over battery technology to laying the groundwork for the use of green hydrogen in industry and transport.
Bilateral relations between Belgium Thailand began over 150 years ago. How do you see the significance of this relationship?
It would be difficult to summarize our multifaceted relation in a few words. We can highlight a few aspects: the longstanding friendship between our two royal households is of course a cornerstone of our relation. I could also mention the increasing academic cooperation between our universities or the shared trade and investment opportunities. The cultural and personal exchanges in many forms - from student exchanges, families composed of both nationalities, tourists or expatriated citizens - are key elements of this positive relationship
How important is it for a country like Belgium to have a major presence in a country like Thailand? Thailand is a central hub in Southeast Asia and a major economic player in the region. It is not only important for our bilateral relations but also at the multilateral level, as a regional hub for the United Nations and many other international organisations. The attraction of Thailand as a tourist destination and as a place to live for thousands of Belgians generates also quite a lot of work. Additionally, our Embassy covers three other countries from Bangkok, namely Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar.
What are the major Belgian companies operating in Thailand? We have hundreds of companies with activities in Thailand. Among the most important investors, I could name Solvay - a major multinational whose technologies are present in many aspects of our daily lives; Katoen Natie - a company that delivers logistical and engineering solutions; Gallothai and Puratos - chocolate producers; Umicore, a leading materials technology and recycling group; Vyncke - a company designing and building clean energy plants using biomass and waste; Tractebel - an engineering consultant, and many more.
We also have well-known companies created and owned by Belgians all over Thailand, from food producers to companies involved in aquaculture, not to forget the hospitality sector.
Please tell us about any major Thai companies operating or investing in Belgium.
A few Thai companies have invested in Belgium, including CP Foods. King Power owns OH Leuven football club. The Belgian insurance company Ageas is partially in the hands of Thai investors. The European distribution centre of PlanToys is situated in Belgium. I am sure that Belgium, with its central location, highly skilled workforce and quality of life, can attract more Thai investment in the future.
How many local hire staff v Belgian nationals are employed at the Embassy? Our Embassy counts around 30 people and most of them are Thai nationals. Our staff also includes several officers who support our from Ghent University, who is at the origin of aquaculture in Thailand. He will receive a well-deserved Doctorate Honoris Causa from Kasetsart University in the presence of a member of the Thai royal family soon.
The most famous Thai-Belgian artist is probably Violette Wauthier, while in the world of classical music, the Musical Director of the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, Michel Tilkin, stands out.
If we look at history, we have of course many more Belgian embassies in the region, such as an IT team, an accountant, and a police liaison office.
Any major cross-cultural events planned? We just launched together with the Minister of Culture the first exhibition of 'Art Can Die, a Belgian innovative company that created a concept to finance sustainable art through crypto currency for the very first time. The New Ark' featuring Thai, Belgian and international artists is open to the public at River City Bangkok until the 16th of October. We are planning several events for early 2023, focusing on academic cooperation but also some cultural activities, including but not limited to film screenings.
Please tell us about any standout Belgian personalities in Thailand. The first one that comes in mind is Professor Patrick Sorgeloos personalities that have marked our bilateral relations: the adviser to King Chulalongkorn, G. RolinJaecquemyns, a former Minister of Belgium and the other Belgian legal advisers; former Ambassador Patrick Nothomb and the Minister of Transport at the time, two personalities that oversaw the donation of the Thai-Belgian bridge - the first ever fly-over in Bangkok - to Thailand in the 1980s; nineteen-eighties; or closer to us Ben Rijmenants, the diver who helped to save the children trapped in the Tham Luang cave a few years ago. These are just a few examples of many more.
Can you see the time when all EU members will be represented here by one EU embassy?
We have telling examples of EU cooperation all around the world. We have for instance the European Visa Centre in Kinshasa in DR Congo, where visas are issued in the name of 19 Schengen countries, and which is managed by Belgium We are also working hand in hand in Thailand with other EU partners under the leadership of the EU delegation
This year, apart from coordinated political work, we organised, with the coordination of the EU Delegation and our French colleague, a European study fair and a European food fair. The EU has evolved as a strong economic partner, negotiating Free Trade Agreements with our partners around the globe in the name of all the EU Member States. The recent Strategic Partnership between the EU and ASEAN illustrates the growing cooperation with the region, based on the EU Indo-Pacific Strategy
I do not see EU embassies replacing our national Embassies in the near future, as we still have competences at national level, such as consular support to our nationals. I do believe however the cooperation will continue to increase progressively in new domains, as we have seen this year with the security and energy response of the EU in reaction to the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Covid pandemic or the economic crisis a few years ago were also opportunities seized by our leaders to reinforce our common tools.
Any last thoughts words for our Big Chilli readers?
Thank you for hosting me today. I was delighted to come and share a bit of our bilateral story and I look forward to sharing more with you in the future!