Deputy NCB chief describes multipronged attack on traffickers
By MAXMILIAN WECHSLER
The Golden Triangle, the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers, remains one of the world’s major sources of illicit drugs, a top Thai police chief has confirmed.
Paisith Sungkahapong, Deputy Secretary-General of the Narcotics Control Board (NCB), says illegal operations in this region include opium production and heroin manufacture, but in recent years the cultivation of the opium poppy in Myanmar has constantly decreased while the production of synthetic drugs in the Golden Triangle has been on the rise, especially methamphetamine tablets (yaba) and crystal meth (“ice”).
According to The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), East and Southeast Asia together make up the world’s largest market for methamphetamine.
“The most popular drug smuggled from neighboring countries to and through Thailand is yaba, followed by crystal meth, ketamine and heroin. There are some small refineries in Thailand to produce heroin from opium, but the big ones are located outside the country,” said Mr Paisith during an exclusive interview from his office at the Office of the Narcotic Control Boards (ONCB) in Phayathai district of Bangkok. “Other drugs smuggled into Thailand are ecstasy and cocaine. Cannabis is grown in Thailand and neighboring countries.
Golden Triangle: Still a major source of narcotics as the war on drugs goes high-tech to catch the online smugglers
For more than 70 years, this United Nations' agency has been based in Bangkok. Its Executive Secretary explains why its multi-faceted role is so important to the region
ESCAP came into being in 1947 as the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) to assist in post-war economic reconstruction. After a two-year period in Shanghai it moved to Bangkok in January 1949, its permanent home ever since, serving as the United Nations’ regional hub promoting cooperation among countries here.
The BigChilli recently caught up with Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, ESCAP’s Executive Secretary who took up her post in Bangkok on November 1, 2018. Appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, she is also the UN Under-Secretary-General. Ms Alisjahbana celebrates her 60th birthday on August 16.
By MAXMILIAN WECHSLER
"I joined the MFA because I have always been very interested in travelling and knowing other cultures. As a diplomat you manage to know other countries in a way no normal tourist can. You are not just traveling; you are getting involved in the cultures of the countries where you live.
“During previous assignments at the Spanish embassy in Bangkok I’ve done consular, political and cultural work. I came to Thailand for the first time in 1996 and left in 1999. The second assignment here was from 2005 to 2008. I took my ambassador post in September 2017. This is my first ambassadorial assignment. I am concurrently also ambassador to Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. I haven’t been able to travel to these countries, or anywhere else, in recent months because of Covid-19 restrictions, but normally I am traveling a lot.
“The current period of staying in place has its advantages. I am not unhappy staying put. My life had become too stressful so it’s good to have the opportunity to stop for a while,” the ambassador admitted.
He said that in April and May the main task of the embassy was to repatriate non-resident Spanish nationals back home. Now the pressure to get tourists home safe and sound has decreased enormously and the embassy can focus less on consular duties. “I’ve restarted diplomatic meetings. The economic and commercial aspects of the job are also regaining importance, which I like.
“I am quite optimistic about the future. I think the world will rebound and here in Thailand they have managed Covid-19 very well. In this respect, I feel very safe. I am convinced that Thailand will be completely reopened by the end of the year. I am one of those who believe that maybe Covid-19 will just fade out, like what happened with SARS. You hear so many different things about how Covid-19 affects people. Some people with preconditions have died, and people who were healthy have died, but many others have been exposed and didn’t even realize it. There have been reports that blood type has an influence on how severely someone will be affected by the virus. Personally, I have the impression the virus is getting weaker.”
“As life returns little by little to normal I am increasingly focused on promoting bilateral relations between Spain and Thailand. I am scheduled for meetings at Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I’ve already begun meetings with Spanish businessmen,” said Mr de Miguel Calabia.
Meetings have been conducted through video conferencing and for a while people-to-people contacts will be kept small. Cultural events are also in the works, but until the end of the year these should be approached through a virtual format, said the ambassador.
“Spain opened its embassy in Bangkok in 1961. We employ 25 people, both Spanish officials and local staff. Spain and Thailand established diplomatic relations exactly 150 years ago. We had a program scheduled to celebrate the anniversary, but we will have to move it to a digital format. We originally planned to bring speakers to Thailand from Spain and conduct some activities jointly with the Siam Society, but whether we like it or not digital contacts will take precedence for the foreseeable future.
“Understandably, the relations between our two countries are now at a low pitch because of Covid. But we retain the same high level of mutual sympathy and regard. There are no major troubles between our countries, but as always we are looking for ways to increase bilateral ties. I’ve noticed that many people in Thailand do not have a proper knowledge of Spain. We would like to convey to our Thai friends that Spain is a very modern country with a high level of technology. We have a very rich and diverse culture. This is the image we wish to convey to Thailand.
“We share some national characteristics which tend to bolster our relations. For example, both cultures are very family-oriented and our peoples are very sociable. However, there’s a lot of ground for improvement, and that makes me sorry that all my plans for this year have had to be put somewhat on standby.”
Mr de Miguel Calabia said that trade between Thailand and Spain has held up fairly well, but noted that international trade has fallen pretty much everywhere over the last three months.
“In 2019 Spain exported to Thailand products valued at almost US$1 billion, and imported from Thailand products worth about $1.2 billion. We have a deficit with most countries in ASEAN. We import mainly seafood, vehicles and auto parts, machinery, tools and rubber. We export mainly machinery and tools, chemicals and cars.
“There are about 40 Spanish companies operating in Thailand. The Spanish-Thai Chamber of Commerce was established just this year. Some major Spanish companies in Thailand are Amadeus, in the tourism sector; Indra, a global technology company; and Roca, a toiletries manufacturer.
“Our societies are getting closer and closer. About 1,200 Spanish nationals now reside in Thailand; twenty years ago it was less than 200. Twenty years ago we would have one marriage of a Spanish-Thai couple every three or four months. Now there may be several in a single month. Last year 200,000 Spanish tourists visited Thailand. I can’t tell you how many Thai citizens visited Spain because of the Schengen visas.”
“I truly enjoy my career. As for hobbies, I especially like reading and writing, and also going to the gym. Before the Covid-19 I used to travel around Thailand on weekends, but since mid-March I’ve left Bangkok only twice for short periods.
“I sometimes eat at Spanish restaurants along Sukhumvit. I have a Spanish chef at my residence. He is excellent. Here in Thailand people like the Spanish dish paella, which is like khao pad. They also like to eat Spanish cold cuts like ham. The Spanish breakfast dish known as churros is well known to many Thais. You should try it with chocolate.
“Like most Thais, Spanish people love football and I’m no different. Many Spaniards are missing football. The Spanish League has many fans in Thailand; in fact it is second only to the English Premier League.”
Mr de Miguel Calabia feels very much at home in Thailand, and this is partly because he can speak and read Thai. “I can’t write in Thai because the orthography is very difficult. Besides Spanish I can speak English and French well, and long ago I studied Russian. I think if I studied again for one or two months I would recover it quite quickly.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Thai authorities. Since my arrival in 2017 they have been very supportive. We have had very good relations with the MFA and other Thai agencies. There are at least two diplomats at the MFA who speak Spanish well.
One of these is the desk officer for Spain at the ministry.
This makes things easier for us. Whenever I need something from the MFA, she is always the one I call.
“Since I first came here many years ago I have always genuinely liked the Thai people. I find them very friendly, generous and compassionate, and they are respectful of others,” Mr de Miguel Calabia concluded the interview.
Curriculum Vitae of H.E. Emilio de Miguel Calabia
Bachelor in Law, Spain.
• 1990: Head of Multilateral Affairs/Third Secretary, General Direction of Europe.
• 1990 -1992: Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Spain in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
• 1993-1994: First Secretary in the Embassy of Spain in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
• 1994 -1996: Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Spain in La Paz, Bolivia.
• 1996 -1997: First Secretary, Embassy of Spain in Bangkok, Thailand.
• 1997 -1999: Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Spain in Bangkok, Thailand.
• 1999 -2000: Head of Cultural Services, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid, Spain.
• 2000 2002: Advisor - Cabinet of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid, Spain.
• 2002 -2005: Consul, Consulate General of Spain in Manila, the Philippines.
• 2005 -2008: First Secretary, Embassy of Spain in Bangkok, Thailand.
• 2008 -2011: Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Spain in Singapore.
• 2011 -2013: Technical Counsellor - Direction General for North, North America, Asia and the Pacific. Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid, Spain.
• 2013 -2017: Deputy Director-General for Southeast Asia, the Pacific and the Philippines.
• September 26, 2017: Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Spain to the Kingdom of Thailand.
• February 9, 2018: Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of Spain to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
• February 23, 2018: Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Spain to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
• November 26, 2018: Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Spain to the Kingdom of Cambodia.
• Minister Plenipotentiary.
• The Order of Isabel La Católica, Officer.
Words MAXMILIAN WECHSLER
His Excellency Marek Libřický took his post as the Czech Republic’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of Thailand in January 2017 and is concurrently Ambassador to Kingdom of Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic. At just 49 years old, Ambassador Libřický is already a highly experienced diplomat. Before taking his assignment in Thailand he held a number of important posts with the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague and in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. His appointment as head of the Czech Republic’s mission in Thailand is a much cherished milestone for this bright young diplomat.
About the Czech Republic
“The Czech Republic is a mid-sized European country situated in the very heart of the continent. I do not want to get into a ‘dispute’ where exactly the geographical centre of Europe is, but I must emphasise – like many of my colleagues from neighbouring countries would certainly do – that the Czech Republic is in Central Europe.
“Many people still follow the stereotype of the Cold War and its East-West geopolitical division, which has been destroyed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and following democratic changes in the region. I consider this old-style perception of Europe to be out-of-date, because it only cements many stereotypes that are clearly from the past, and thus create false and misleading picture of many European countries. Today, the Czech Republic is a standard European country, enjoying many successes and facing the same challenges as other members of the European Union or other European nations.
“Given the numbers of Thais travelling to the Czech Republic, I believe our cultural and historical heritage is well known to Thai public. Many of them already know Prague, Karlovy Vary or Český Krumlov, but there is still much more to discover in other parts of my country. We have dozens of spas, over a thousand castles and chateaux, many natural wonders, wine regions and of course a lot to offer to beer lovers – not only in cities of Plzeň or České Budějovice (Pilsen or Budweis in German) but also in hundreds of craft breweries. There are many good reasons why the Czechs are the largest beer consumers in the world.”
“I am a career diplomat, having joint the Czech Foreign Service many years ago. During my career, I have moved around a couple of regions, each of them giving me a unique and usually pleasant experience. I served at the Czech Embassies in Manila, Tel Aviv and Madrid as the Deputy Head of Mission or Head of Commercial Section, to become Ambassador in Addis Ababa in 2009 and in Bangkok in January 2017.
“Although my foreign postings were diverse, I have spent most of my time in the headquarters working at the Asia-Pacific Department – moving up from a desk officer to the Deputy Director and the Director, which is an equivalent of the Director-General level in Thai terms. The only exception was when I worked as the Deputy or Acting Chief of Protocol.
“I live in Prague, but I come from the city of Hradec Králové, some hundred kilometres east of the capital. By the way, I am not the first Czech Ambassador to Thailand with this background – I share my origins with Ambassador Jiří Šitler who is still very active vis-à-vis Thailand and has many friends here. I studied
in Prague and graduated from the University of Economics with major in International Trade and minor in International Politics and Diplomacy.
“I joined the Foreign Service in February 1994, when I received a fourth offer to become a diplomat and decided to try it, not only because I thought that it might have been the last chance since further offers would not have come. The second reason that made the offer irresistible was that it was to join the Asia- Pacific Department, my long-time preference. As I said, I had studied International Trade and International Politics and Diplomacy, so it was a natural choice.
“Mid-90’s were very exciting and extraordinary times, full of changes – world-wide and in the Czech Republic. A few years after democratic changes in then Czechoslovakia, the split of it and birth of the independent Czech Republic. We had many great ambitions to join the democratic and prosperous world, NATO or the European Union, and be successful. Ideal times to join the Foreign Service for those who wanted to be an active part of it.
“I came to Thailand for the first time decades ago. I remember the old-style Bangkok, less elevated streets, less high-rise buildings, but the same charm and hospitality we experience today. Actually, Bangkok was to be our first posting in 1995, but destiny decided otherwise and we left for the Philippines instead.
“I became Ambassador to Thailand in January 2017 after spending three years being in charge of the Asian-Pacific affairs in the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I applied for the job based on a smart family decision, and was lucky to be appointed.
“But my first ambassadorial posting was in Addis Ababa from 2009 to 2014 when I covered not only Ethiopia but also 11 more countries of East Africa, the
African Union and three UN agencies. It was a great and extraordinary experience that I enjoyed tremendously.
“In case of countries like Thailand, the standard term of posting is four years but it is not a dogma, it can be extended for various reasons.
“I am here in Bangkok together with my family – my wife Alena, who works in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well, and our two sons, Šimon and Filip. We have all been enjoying our stay here in spite of late challenges we all have had to face.”
Duties and bilateral relations
“My major and principle task is to promote and defend interests of the Czech Republic and Czech citizens and companies in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. This includes strengthening of bilateral relations between the Czech Republic and these three countries.
“As excellent as they are, each of them has a slightly different history, storylines and focus, and there is always potential and need for further improvement. I still remain in charge of our relations with Cambodia in my capacity of non-resident ambassador, although we reopened our Embassy in Phnom Penh a few years ago.
“My everyday duties are the same as those of my colleagues you have interviewed before – meeting with relevant partners and interlocutors from the government, business figures, as well as representatives from areas of culture, civil society, etc. There may only be different emphasis put on this or that agenda by each country or in different time.
“I always see my priorities in areas of economic and business relations, political and defence or security cooperation and people-to-people contacts that go hand-in-hand with culture or tourism. Due to circumstances related to Covid-19 pandemic, a bigger importance was given recently to consular issues and repatriation of Czech and other EU citizens from Thailand back home.
“The official diplomatic were established only in March 1974, meaning last year we celebrated 45th anniversary, but Czech-Thai or Czech-Siam relations and contacts date much back to the history. Until 1918 and the birth of independent Czechoslovakia, the Czech lands were part of the Austrian or Austrian-Hungarian empires, and there were many people from Czech lands who actively participated in contacts between Austria and Siam. Pre-1918 relations between Austria and Siam form an integral part of our common history.
“After the establishment of Czechoslovakia, bilateral ties were focused primarily on business with the presence of the leading Czech companies in Siam getting stronger and stronger. Some of the Czech (or then Czechoslovak) brands became common household names, and have remained them since. We can name Bat’a shoes, Škoda industrial goods or ČZ arms as examples. When H.M. King Prajadhipok visited Czechoslovakia in 1934, nobody was surprised – given the level of economic cooperation – that he inspected the premises of Škoda or Bat’a factories as well.
“After the WWII, it was not easy to build on the pre-war cooperation, although from time to time one or the other side came up with initiatives to do so. Unfortunately, without much success until 1973-74.
“The Czechoslovak Embassy was opened in Bangkok in 1974, and it was led by Chargé d'Affaires a.i. with the Ambassador being accredited as non-resident from Rangoon. These arrangements changed after 1989 when the ambassador moved to Bangkok.
“Nowadays, there are nine Czech staff members working at the Embassy, include a representative of CzechTrade, our Trade Promotion Organization. We have also an active Defence Attaché accredited from New Delhi.”
Visits, trade, tourism and culture
“Every ambassador would surely say that relations are great and excellent, and I am glad I can say it as well and I can say it sincerely. Without any hesitation, last couple of years can be considered one of the peaks of our relations. In January 2019, first-ever official visit of Czech Prime Minister to Thailand took place – with the two Prime Ministers, Mr Andrej Babiš and General Prayut Chan-o-cha, having met on a number of occasions before and after.
“The Prime Minister’s visit also followed up on three meeting s between our President, Mr Miloš Zeman, and the Prime Minister of Thailand in years prior to the visit. Last November, our Minister of Defence, Mr Lubomír Metnar, paid a visit to Thailand and supported our national presentation of the Czech defence and security industry at the Defense and Security 2019, in a similar manner as the Deputy Minister of Defence during the previous editions of the exhibition.
“Last year, we also welcomed in Bangkok the President of the Czech Supreme Court. The latest major event that took place was the official visit of the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament, Mr Radek Vondráček, to Thailand in February 2020. It not only cemented the inter-parliamentarian pillar of cooperation, but also showed a great synergy between the legislature and the executive branch because the Speaker was accompanied by the Minister of Environment, Mr Richard Brabec. These were the major visits while there were many more high-level contacts.
“During his meeting with the President of the National Assembly and the House of Representatives, Mr Chuan Leekpai, both sides recalled that it was only the second visit of the Czech Speaker to Thailand, the first taking place in 1994. In this regard, President Chuan recalled how he had welcomed our President Mr Václav Havel at the airport upon his arrival for the state visit in 1994. In this context, I dare to compare the current level of relations between our two countries to their quality and intensity of mid-1990s.
“In terms of trade, we have been experiencing the best period in modern history during the last decade. If we combine national trade statistics of both sides – which is the approach I prefer to get a more complex picture – we can see a steady increase of figures in both directions. Combined turnover of our bilateral trade in goods made in the Czech Republic or Thailand has been around US$1.6 - 1.7 billion, or getting closer to the target of $2 billion if we add goods made in third countries.
“The real flow of goods between our countries is much bigger than it is perceived based on export statistics only. In particular, the Czech imports of Thai goods of more than $1.3 billion are more than $600 million higher than Thai export statistics. All this means that mutually we are much more important trade partners than many people think. The Czech Republic is a much more relevant trade partner and customer to Thai companies than many other European countries that are traditionally considered to be on top.
“The other stereotype we face is that our trade is based on agricultural commodities or other items considered to be low-tech.
On the contrary, the most important items are electronics, manufacturing goods related to the energy sector or transportation. A large share of the exchange is part of international value or supply chains. Many Czech-made products come to Thailand under third-party brands being a part of turn-key solutions. It means that the picture is much more complex and we should look under the surface to find more, especially given the growing significance of services, innovations and other ‘soft items’ that are not reflected in trade of goods.
“I am very glad that there is not only trade going up, but also investment flows. There have been very important investments in both directions – be it into chemical industries, light manufacturing or hospitality from Thailand to the Czech Republic, or ICT the other way. I hope there is more to come given the number of projects discussed on different levels and supported by the administrations of both countries. I mentioned innovations and services, which are to play more and more important role in our cooperation and our efforts to support the process of internationalization of each other´s companies or their solutions.
“Looking for new ways and areas of cooperation does not mean that we should forget or neglect the traditional ones like tourism. It is not only about business, it is also about people-to-people contacts, getting to know each other and each other´s culture better.
“Last years, there were around 50,000 to 60,000 Czech tourists visiting Thailand and approximately the same number of Thais coming to the Czech Republic, although some expert estimates even talk about as many as 120,000 if we count Thais who ‘hop in, hop off’ for a day-long visit from neighbouring Germany or Austria. I think the numbers are respectable, but should be higher once there is a direct flight between Bangkok and Prague. Re-establishment of this connection is one of the projects we have been working on for a while.
Cirriculum Vitae of H.E. Mr Marek Libřický
• 1993: Master of Economics, University of Economics, Prague. Major ‒ International Trade. Minor ‒ International Politics and Diplomacy.
• 2002: Diplomatic Academy (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic).
• Since January 2017: Embassy of the Czech Republic in Bangkok ‒ Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of Thailand, Kingdom of Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
• March 2014 - January 2017: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic ‒ Director of the Asia-Pacific Department, ASEM and EU-ASEAN SOM Leader.
• December 2009 - February 2014: Embassy of the Czech Republic in Addis Ababa ‒ Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Somalia, Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros and South Sudan, and Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
• September 2007 - December 2009: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic ‒ Deputy Director of the Asia-Pacific Department, ASEM and EU-ASEAN SOM Leader-alternate, Chair-alternate of the EU COASI and COEST (Central Asia) Working Groups during the Czech EU Presidency in 2009.
• July 2003 - August 2007: Embassy of the Czech Republic in Madrid ‒ Deputy Head of Mission and Head of the Political Section (covering Spain and Andorra).
• October 2001 - July 2003: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic ‒ Deputy/Acting Director of the Diplomatic Protocol Department.
• August 2000 - September 2001: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic ‒ Desk Officer, Asia-Pacific Department.
• March 1997 - August 2000: Embassy of the Czech Republic in Tel Aviv ‒ Head of the Commercial Section (covering Israel and Palestinian National Authority).
• March 1995 - March 1997: Embassy of the Czech Republic in Manila ‒ Deputy Head of Mission.
• February 1994 - March 1995: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic ‒ Desk Officer, Asia-Pacific Department.
• September 1993 - January 1994: ICL Czech Republic ‒ Marketing Manager/Manufacturing Business Unit.
• July 1993 - September 1993: KORD Ptáčník ‒ Hradec Králové, Assistant to the General Manager / Owner.
• Fluent in English, Spanish languages and intermediate in French and Russian.
His Excellency Fernando Julio Antonio Quirós Campos- Peruvian ambassador aims to promote exports and Thai investment in Peru
HIS EXCELLENCY FERNANDO JULIO ANTONIO QUIRÓS CAMPOS- PERUVIAN AMBASSADOR AIMS TO PROMOTE EXPORTS AND THAI INVESTMENT IN PERU
“Shortly after his death I received a phone call from the Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs in which he expressed the condolences of the Thai government. We opened a condolence book at the Peruvian Embassy and the United Nations also opened one at its headquarters in Bangkok. Many high ranking Thai officials, ambassadors and other dignitaries signed the books. A minute of silence was observed at ‘LHong 1919’ art gallery, on March 6th, during the opening of an exhibition of works by Peruvian painter Edson Chacon Huari. The event was attended by about 70 people, including a number of ambassadors.”
Diplomat: H.E. Ganesh Prasad Dhakal- How Nepali Ambassador is steering a calm course toward greater bilateral cooperation
Words MAXMILIAN WECHSLER
His Excellency Ganesh Prasad Dhakal is Ambassador of Nepal to the Kingdom of Thailand and also Permanent Representative to UNESCAP. On top of that, he is concurrently accredited as Nepal’s ambassador to Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Vietnam. To say he is a busy man is an understatement, but when we met at the Nepali Embassy on Sukhumvit 71 the Ambassador was relaxed and focused on our interview. He seemed to project a certain mindfulness often associated with the ascetics and adventurers who have always been drawn to the mountainous nation he represents.
“My main job is to protect the interests of Nepali nationals, strengthen bilateral relations and expand bilateral cooperation with Thailand and the other countries I am accredited to: Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Vietnam. I presented a letter of credence in Laos in February this year and I am awaiting the opportunity to do the same in Cambodia, Singapore and Vietnam. Be that as it may, I am keeping close contact with ambassadors of these countries in Bangkok.
“Every day is unique for me with new tasks and dealings, so I can’t say I have a consistent daily routine. I spend most of my time on matters that contribute to strengthening and expanding the Nepal-Thailand relationship, which is already friendly and cooperative.
“Nepal and Thailand share a traditional and historic relationship, influenced by the philosophy of Buddhism. Thai people like to visit Nepal not only to pay respect to Lord Buddha’s birthplace, Lumbini, but also to enjoy the unique cultural and natural diversity. Young Thai people like to go to Nepal for adventure tourism, which includes trekking, jungle safari and white water rafting among others. Of course, Nepal is also widely known for Mount Everest (Sagarmatha in Nepali), which at 8,848 meters, is the highest peak in the world.
“Since my arrival in Thailand I have enjoyed it here very much. Thai people are very friendly and cooperative.
There are many similarities in culture and family values between Nepal and Thailand, which bring our two countries closer. Nepal is a very diverse country in terms of culture, religion and nature. But there is no question that Buddhism has had a profound influence in our culture and outlook. I also enjoy my official duties and engagements in Thailand, meeting with people of both government and private sectors.
“All in all, I am very happy with my posting here. People often assume that it must be too hot and humid for me, but actually in the southern part of Nepal where I am from, the weather is quite similar. That is why I don’t feel much difference in terms of weather here. In Nepal, we have a very diverse climate: in the south it is tropical most of the year, in the central region the weather is moderate, and in the Himalayas it is always cold.”
His Excellency Tugsbilguun Tumurkhuleg- Mongolian Ambassador puts cooperation at the top of his agenda
Blooming bilateral relations
“Our embassy here has four Mongolian diplomats and one local staff. My family and the families of other Mongolian staff live nearby the embassy, which is on Soi Ekkamai 22. We moved to this location from a place on Asoke Road in 2006. We are close to some government offices and the embassies of Bangladesh, Nepal and Egypt among others. Previously, one of our embassy staff was looking after both consular affairs and UNESCAP, but this became too much for them. With a growing number of Mongolians visiting Thailand, we now have a consular officer fully dedicated to the consular affairs, after separating UNESCAP and consular portfolio.
“There’s no Thai embassy in Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital; the Thai embassy in Beijing has responsibility for Mongolia. Thai colleagues tell me that Mongolia is at the top of the list for new Thai embassy locations, and we are looking forward to that day. Mongolia has three other embassies in Southeast Asia, in Singapore, Vietnam and in Laos. Vietnam and Laos are our long-standing friends and traditional partners. We established embassies in our respective countries because we were in the same camp under the old global political system, and we are happy to maintain our traditionally friendly ties now that things have changed.
“There are 49 Mongolian diplomatic missions around the world including embassies, missions to UN and consulates, and our economic growth makes it possible and worthwhile to maintain them. We have big embassies in Moscow, Beijing, Washington DC, Tokyo and in Seoul, while other embassies are comparatively small. Our embassy in Bangkok is about average in size.
His Excellency Stanislav Opiela- Slovakian ambassador and his wife prepare to bid Thailand a fond farewell
Words MAXMILIAN WECHSLER
His Excellency Stanislav Opiela is nearing the end of his final assignment for the Slovak Republic. When he and his wife Wiera return home sometime this year, they will be missed by many good friends they’ve made in Thailand.
Ambassador Opiela is known as one of the most active and astute members of the Bangkok diplomatic corps (see CV), and colleagues and Thai officials alike are keen to hear his take on developments in international affairs. Though not a trained diplomat herself, the ambassador’s cheerful and elegant wife works long hours assisting him at the embassy and is a constant companion at the myriad social functions that go with the job. It seemed only fitting to interview both husband and wife, but for the sake of clarity their comments are presented separately.
However, as Thailand is undoubtedly Slovakia’s mostimportant partner in the region, this is where the primary focus of the embassy lies. “We are a young country. Relations with Thailand were established only after the creation of the Slovak Republic on January 1, 1993, following the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovkia. We are trying to put Slovakia ‘on the map’ for Thais by broadening ties in the spheres economics, culture, people-to-people contacts and all manners of activity.
“As a diplomat, I know that you can’t expect big results in a day. Concrete results take time to achieve. My work has been mainly concentrated on introducing Slovakia to the Thai people and to Thai officials and institutions. I want to make sure they know our country exists in Europe, that we are a member of the EU and are relatively well developed country, and that we are becoming an important player in international affairs.
“Although Slovakia is a new country, we have a rich history and a high level of cultural development. So this is one area which I am promoting. Of course, initiatives for improved economic relations, especially trade, must also be given great importance.If you just look at overall trade volume between Slovakia and Thailand in 2018, the numbers aren’t bad at all – about 263 million euro (around 8.7 billion baht at current exchange rate for cash). But what’s bad for us is that Thailand’s exports to Slovakia totaled about 225 million euro or about 7.5 billion baht. We are trying out ways to balance out the trade exchange, but it is not so easy. For one thing, many of the most important companies in Slovakia are foreign owned. This is particularly true in the car production industry.
“Most people don’t know that Slovakia is the biggest producer of passenger cars per capita in the world. In 2019 we produced 1.1 million cars. The population of Slovakia is 5.3 million people, so that amounts to 202 cars per 1,000 citizens. The manufacture of cars represents about half of industrial production in Slovakia, and almost 14% of the GDP. Almost 50% of Slovakian exports are cars. But as Isaid, foreign companies control the plants that make the cars. Brands like Volkswagen, Peugeot-Citroën, KIA and Jaguar are the main producers of cars in Slovakia.
“There’s a positive trend in trade volume between our two countries. It is increasing every year. But I must stress that this doesn’t depend on the work of the embassy, but this more a result of activities our businessmen, traders and companies. Our companies are unfortunately not too strong or active which doesn’t apply to Thailand but to other Asian countries with the exclusion of China, India, Japan and Korea,” Mr Opiela stressed.
“There is a lot of untapped potential in terms of our economic relations. From time to time some Slovakian companies come here to explore the situation and try to do something to penetrate the Thai market on their own, but without Thai partners this is not easy.
“For example, one Slovakian company that owns a patent to a unique technology for the liquidation of used tires wants to bring this technology to Thailand and to build a plant to do it here. It is theoretically a simple technology, but it is very useful and environmentally friendly. After liquidation of the used tires you have no bad waste.
“So here we have something we can offer to the Thai market which is very useful and unique. However, the Slovakian company has been negotiating with a Thai company for three years, but until now nothing has happened. I understand that this is partly due to the distance between our countries and the fact that we don’t know each other very well. Thais are much more likely to trust German or Swiss technology, for example. But I firmly believe there’s a possibility for real and mutually beneficial economic progress in the near future.’’
Diplomats: His Excellency Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli- ‘Giant of Africa’ has great business potential for Thailand, says Nigerian Ambassador
“My late father, H.E. Nuhu Bamalli, held the princely title of Magajin Garin Zazzau. In the English translation it is much like lord mayor. The title is given to the second most senior royal family member in the Zaria emirate.
“On October 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent state. My father was an important figure in the struggle for independence. He was appointed a junior minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in 1960 and in 1965 became the Foreign Minister. In fact he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York that same year.
“After his passing in 2001 at the age of 84, I took over the Magajin Garin Zazzau title. However, since I am still pursuing my career I don’t stay in the emirate to oversee a district like most of the title holders. Therefore, I only retain the title and then advice the emir from time to time when the need arises. The emir assigns some responsibilities to me, especially representation in functions that he is not personally attending.
“I took my primary and secondary education in Kaduna city and then went to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria to study law. That’s my first degree; I also have a Master’s degree in international affairs and diplomacy, and I’ve taken courses at a number of educational institutes at home and abroad, mostly for short programs on leadership. I attended Harvard and Oxford universities as well as Northwestern University in Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania.
“Most of my professional life has been in the banking sector, even though I studied law and international relations. From conventional banking I moved to Nigerian Security Printing and Minting, which produces our currency as well as security papers for the Nigerian government. I held two positions there: executive director of corporate services and general administration, and subsequently, managing director on the board of directors, where I served for almost two years.
“After leaving the minting company, I went back to Oxford University to study. I was at the university when the present government invited me to be a part of the transitional committee in Kaduna State. After the transition period I was appointed to the Electoral Commission in my state, and a few months down the line I was nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari to be Ambassador to Thailand. So as you can see, I came to diplomatic service in a roundabout way.
“I joined the Nigerian foreign ministry in late 2016.
This is the ministry where my late father and other top pioneer diplomats laid the foundation of foreign service in Nigeria. I accepted because I’ve always felt a connection with foreign services, and with my family and educational background I’ve found it very easy to adjust to this position. My younger brother is a career diplomat. He is currently an assistant director at the MFA’s Trade and Investment Department. He has served in Ireland and Ghana and is now back in Abuja (Nigeria’s capital), waiting for another posting.”
DIPLOMATS: His Excellency Andrii Beshta- Ambassador says, ‘We want peace, but we’re determined to defend all of Ukraine’
Words MAXMILIAN WECHSLER
His Excellency Mr Andrii Beshta began his term as Ukraine’s Ambassador to Thailand on February 4, 2016. Having served as Counsellor at the embassy from 2007-2011, he’d already made many friends here, as reflected by the large turnout for the 28th anniversary celebration of Ukrainian independence at the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok on September 18. Mr Beshta gave The BigChilli this interview not long after the reception, and not surprisingly, his country’s struggle against Russian aggression was very much on his mind.
“In the coming weeks people around the world will joyfully celebrate the New Year and Christmas holidays, but this will not be a festive season for millions of Ukrainians,” said Mr Beshta. “Yesterday, and the day before, and the day before, more families were plunged into grief upon learning loved ones had perished in hostile attacks launched at the command of the Kremlin.”
“In the time we’ve been in Thailand, we have had abundant opportunities to travel around the Kingdom and to enjoy the warm Thai hospitality and tasty food. We’ve visited Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, travelled north to Chiang Mai and South to Krabi. Moreover, we have ‘discovered’ very beautiful corners of Thailand where foreigners are rarely seen, like a place in Petchabun province where at a certain time of year you may receive unforgettable memories of the ‘sea of mist’, and Umphang District of Tak Province, which features the Thi Lo Su Waterfall – the largest in Thailand at a height of about 200 meters.”
“Ukraine and Thailand established diplomatic relations 27 years ago. The President of Ukraine came to Thailand in 2004 and met with King Bhumibol. Ukraine is very much interested in further developing bilateral cooperation with Thailand and making our relations more dynamic in several spheres. A number of important developments have taken place since I took my post as ambassador.
“In June 2017, then Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin paid an official visit to Thailand. In negotiations between Minister Klimkin and Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, (photo) both sides stressed the importance of seeking mutual interests and discussed an agenda for medium term objectives in terms of political dialogue, trade and investment and people-to-people contacts. During that visit a bilateral trade agreement was signed which entered into force in October 2018.
“Last year the Royal Thai Government appointed the Thai Ambassador to Poland, H.E. Sansanee Sahussarungsi, to also represent Thailand in Ukraine. She remains at the Thai mission’s residence in Warsaw. She is the first ever Thai Ambassador to Ukraine not based in Moscow, and we of course warmly welcomed this decision.
“In July 2019, political consultations between our ministries of foreign affairs took place in Kyiv, allowing further discussions on a whole spectrum of issues relating to our bilateral agenda.
“This year has been quite momentous and challenging for both Ukraine and Thailand. I would like to convey again our congratulations on the Royal Coronation of His Majesty the King Rama X in early May. About the same time, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected President of Ukraine, bringing new hopes of peace and prosperity to our nation. This year both Ukraine and Thailand held parliamentary elections and new governments have been formed.
“I believe these developments have created favourable conditions for an invigorated cooperation. We are working closely with our Thai partners on a number of ideas, including convening in the near future a Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation and Joint Trade Committee.
“In terms of trade volume, Thailand has always been among the largest trade partners of Ukraine in Southeast Asia, but there is real potential to substantially increase both trade and investment. Due to unprecedented comprehensive reforms in Ukraine, we have quickly become an exciting new investment opportunity right at Europe’s doorstep, especially in the areas of agriculture, energy, information technology, infrastructure and manufacturing.
“When combined with our highly skilled workforce, favorable cost-efficiency ratio, strategic geographic location, free trade pact with the EU and a rapidly improving business climate, Ukraine has much to offer for Thai business and investors.
“Last but not least, in order to facilitate people-to-people contacts we have achieved considerable progress in the liberalization of our respective visa regimes. In 2018 we began allowing Thai citizens who wish to travel to Ukraine for any reason to apply and obtain visas online, without the need to visit our embassy. On the other side, we highly appreciate the decision of the Thai government that entered into force in April 2019 to abolish visa requirements for Ukrainian tourists.
“I am confident that these steps are win-win for both countries and will help increase the number of tourists both ways. To sum up, I am quite optimistic that we are on a path to further develop and strengthen bilateral cooperation in all areas of mutual interest.”