Michael George DeSombre was nominated by President Trump on July 17, 2019 and confirmed by the United States Senate on January 8, 2020 as U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand. All U.S. Ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the President. There is no fixed term.
“As Ambassador, I report directly to the President as his personal representative as well as working internally through the State Department.
“I grew up on the south side of Chicago. My parents were from rural communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota and were the first in their families to attend college. They met at college in Chicago and remained there after I was born. From my parents I inherited a keen focus on education and a true belief that in America if you work hard enough you can accomplish anything.
“I went to Stanford University where, in addition to studying quantitative economics, I developed a strong interest in international affairs, strategic studies and Asia. As a result, I also pursued a Master’s degree in East Asian Studies with a focus on China.
“After graduating, I decided to forego a scholarship that would have allowed me to pursue further graduate studies in England so that I could live and work in China for a year to develop my Chinese language fluency. Upon my return from China, I enrolled in Harvard Law School.
“The most important development while at Harvard was that I met the woman who is now my wife of almost 30 years. She received a scholarship to study law at the University of Tokyo so we took a one year break from our studies at Harvard Law to go to Japan, where I then began my study of Japanese.
"The U.S. government funds more than 30 exchange programs in Thailand to connect Thai youth, students, educators, artists, athletes, and rising leaders to their counterparts in the United States and the ASEAN region, and to engage them on strategic priorities ranging from civic engagement to economic sustainability."
“In 2004, I became a partner of Sullivan & Cromwell and took over running the M&A business for Asia. My primary focus was assisting U.S. and international companies with their expansion (either by acquisition, joint venture or greenfield investments) in Asia.
“Public service has always been very important to me. While living in Hong Kong, I served as Chairman of Save the Children Hong Kong and developed it from a US$10 million a year organization into a US$20 million plus organization focused on the most marginalized and deprived children in Asia. I have always been motivated to serve my country, and I am very honored to be able to do that as the United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand.”
Arriving in Thailand for the first time
“The very first vacation that my wife and I took after we arrived in Asia was to Bangkok and Hua Hin in the fall of 1997. We stayed at the iconic Oriental Hotel on the Chao Phraya and then at the Dusit Resort and Polo Club in Hua Hin. We fell in love with Thailand at that time.
“Since then, both my wife and I have come back to Thailand for business as well as pleasure prior to relocating here in January. We have part ownership of villas in both Phuket and Samui through a global investment portfolio of luxury villas around the world.”
Duties and responsibilities
“I would break my duties and responsibilities down into four main areas. First, there is the role of CEO of a very large multi-dimensional organization. As the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok is one of the largest embassies in the world, I spend a lot of time and energy ensuring that all American officers and Thai staff are motivated, coordinated, and pulling in the same direction.
“Second is the policy dimension. My role is to implement the President’s foreign policy initiatives here in Thailand. This requires me to determine what areas are appropriate to focus on and how best to tailor and implement them here in Thailand.
“Thirdly, I personally play an important role coordinating information and dialogue between our Embassy and the senior level government officials in different agencies and departments back in the United States. Finally, I am the personal representative of the United States President here in Thailand and that requires me to participate in various events and ceremonies and also means that I am the only person who can speak on behalf of the United States here in Thailand without specific approvals.
“In all areas, I believe firmly in the importance of personal relationships and thus spend a large amount of time developing relationships. I like to develop relationships through meals and sports and thus spend much of my time after hours developing and solidifying personal relationships with senior Thai leaders.
“Please also take a look at my video on the U.S. Embassy’s social media platforms: “A Day in the Life of the US Ambassador to Thailand.”
“During the lockdown period in Thailand, we instituted measures to allow staff to work from home and only had around 10% of our staff in the office on any day. From August through November we were back at 100% staffing, but still followed all required protocols such as wearing of face masks in public areas or when sufficient social distancing is not feasible.
“Initially, government and private sector interlocutors were hesitant to engage in person, but in the last few months we have been fully engaging with all people in-person. In actuality, the global pandemic has greatly facilitated interaction with senior level government and business officials here in Thailand because no one is travelling outside of Thailand – everyone is here.
“However, the pandemic has meant that we have not had the opportunity to welcome many senior U.S. officials to Thailand over the past year. Given that we are in the midst of a global pandemic we continue to be vigilant for any sign of renewed virus transmission in Thailand and are prepared to adjust our work requirements as may be appropriate.
“We have learned a lot about remote working capacity this year and are able to conduct most Embassy business through teleworking, if needed. It’s always prudent for American citizens and visa applicants to check our website for the latest news on Consular services.”
"We have been diplomatic treaty partners for over 187 years and security treaty allies for 66 years. Today, our bilateral relationship covers the full range of political, security, and economic cooperation."
“Diplomatic relations between the United States and Thailand began when King Rama III granted an audience to American envoy Edmund Roberts (on behalf of President Andrew Jackson) on March 18, 1833. The two countries signed the first Treaty of Amity and Commerce in Bangkok on March 20, 1833.
“In 1856, Townsend Harris served as special envoy to the Kingdom of Siam and gained the right to establish the first U.S. Consulate in Siam. The Americans in Thailand officially opened that U.S. Consulate on July 4, 1856, so that the birth of the American Mission to Thailand might share the same auspicious date as the birth of the American Republic itself.
“In 1947, Edwin Stanton was appointed as the first U.S. envoy to Thailand with the rank of Ambassador. He and his wife selected the house which to this day still serves as the official residence of the Ambassador to Thailand – where I live with my family now.
“Stanton was followed by William Donovan, the first politically appointed U.S. Ambassador to Thailand. Like me, he was a lawyer by training. Donovan also served as Ambassador to Thailand at the creation of a defense institution that is the beating heart of the US-Thai strategic partnership – the Joint United States Military Advisory Group, Thailand, or JUSMAG Thai - which was established on September 22, 1953.
“The current U.S. Embassy building on Wireless Road was opened in 1996. Today, the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok is one of the largest American embassies in the world. Our two countries cooperate on a wide range of programs across a vast range of issues, including education and culture, public health, business and trade, as well as security and military cooperation.”
Current relations between the United States and Thailand
“The United States and Thailand have enjoyed more than two centuries of friendly relations. We have been diplomatic treaty partners for over 187 years and security treaty allies for 66 years. Today, our bilateral relationship covers the full range of political, security, and economic cooperation.
“Together we have made progress on shared goals such as advancing regional security, expanding trade and investment, addressing public health challenges, countering transnational crime, combating trafficking in persons, and assisting refugees and displaced persons.
“Most recently, we have helped fight the spread of covid-19 by redoubling our efforts to share factual information rapidly and transparently and by ensuring that American health professionals are working side-by-side with their counterparts at the Thai Ministry of Public Health to defeat covid-19. In fact, US-Thai health cooperation is one of the most significant elements of our bilateral relationship; the United States and Thailand have cooperated to solve public health problems for over 60 years.
“In terms of our economic partnership, Thailand is the United States’ 20th largest goods trading partner, and I continue to seek ways to expand commercial ties between our two countries. I believe that Thailand is incredibly well-situated to attract substantial more foreign investment in the years ahead. I have been working closely with the Royal Thai Government to implement reforms to move Thailand up the global rankings in ease of doing business so as to attract more investment.
“Our security alliance is rooted in history but forward looking, helping to facilitate a free and open Indo-Pacific region where all countries enjoy peace and prosperity.
“Thailand and the United States have also had longstanding cooperation in international law enforcement. The U.S. and Thailand jointly operate the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Bangkok, which since 1998 has supported criminal justice institution and capacity building. ILEA Bangkok has provided training to more than 20,000 students from across East Asia on topics such as counter-narcotics, countering trafficking in persons, cybercrime, and wildlife trafficking.
“U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers have been active in Thailand since 1963 and focus on primary education, youth development, reproductive health, and civic engagement.
“The U.S. and Thailand also have extensive people-to-people ties based on our shared values. The U.S. government funds more than 30 exchange programs in Thailand to connect Thai youth, students, educators, artists, athletes, and rising leaders to their counterparts in the United States and the ASEAN region, and to engage them on strategic priorities ranging from civic engagement to economic sustainability.
“Thailand’s alumni community from U.S. government programs is robust, with more than 5,000 members hailing from the Fulbright Program, International Visitors Leadership Program, the Young South East Asian Leadership Initiative (YSEALI), and other programs. The YSEALI network has grown to nearly 15,000 members in Thailand since its inception in 2013, 500 of whom have traveled to the United States as part of a YSEALI fellowship.
“Over $50 billion worth of goods and services pass between Thailand and the United States each year. Energy is the United States’ largest export to Thailand at $2.5 billion in 2019, with natural gas in particular enjoying exponential growth from only $26.5 million in 2018 to already over ten times that amount ($226.9 million) this year (through October).
“Agricultural products, paced by soybeans, cotton, and wheat, accounted for $1.8 billion in exports in 2019. Electrical machinery exports - including telecommunications equipment, computers, chips, batteries, and household appliances - reached $2.3 billion in 2019.
“Machinery, including construction equipment, tractors, turbines, engines, air conditioners, etc, reached $1.1 billion, and vehicles reached $755 million. On top of the robust trade in goods, U.S. exports in services to Thailand such as travel and financial services sectors nearly doubled over the past ten years, reaching an estimated $3.4 billion in 2019.
“Thailand, in return, exports nearly three times as many goods to the United States, topped by machinery ($8.4 billion), electrical machinery ($7.6 billion), rubber (such as tires) ($4.0 billion) and $2.9 billion of agricultural products, which are mainly rice, processed fruits and vegetables and their juices, and natural rubber, like latex. Also of note, one-third of Thailand’s $3.7 billion in worldwide jewelry exports went to the United States.”
Relaxation and hobbies
“Relaxation for me primarily revolves around sport and exercise. In Thailand, for sport, I spend most of my time on golf and tennis. Thailand is a golfer’s paradise, and I have had a wonderful time trying out the many courses near Bangkok with my friends. I joined several of Bangkok’s top golf courses, which include championship-level courses and historic properties smack in the middle of Bangkok.
“I am fortunate at my residence to have a tennis court, and my family and I play with a coach three times a week. I also have friends over for friendly games periodically.
“ During this year, particularly during the lockdown period, I also rekindled my interest in ping pong and pool (nine-ball). I have a group of friends that come over once a month for some intense games of nine-ball.
“Most every morning, my wife and I lift weights together to stay fit. We brought our full set of free weights with us to Thailand and have converted the ground floor of our guest house into a gym.
“One of my passions in life is snowboarding but unfortunately that is hard to do in Thailand. We would generally go to Niseko (in Hokkaido, Japan) over the winter to go snowboarding, but it looks like that may not be easy this winter. I will be eagerly awaiting December 2021 to hit the slopes again.
“I also am a fan of fine wine and have been collecting fine wines for the past 20 years. I have been very pleased to have located many similar fans of fine wine here in Bangkok with whom I can share the joy of wine and friendship.”
“My wife and I have definitely fallen in love with Thailand. We thoroughly enjoyed our previous business trips and vacations to Thailand, but it is only after living here that we have truly come to appreciate how wonderful the country and the people are. We believe that Thailand will always be part of our life going forward no matter where our careers take us.”