HE Gerard Kramer (seen below), the new Dutch Ambassador to Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos, arrived in Bangkok from Holland four-and-a-half months ago to take up his posting here.     
 
He's the linchpin in a relationship that dates back four centuries. You see, Holland has a long history in this region. The Dutch first visited here in 1604 as the United East Indies Company was trading in the region, particularly in the Indonesian archipelago, and a few years later a delegation from Thailand went to Holland. In 1641, the company even made a trip up the Mekong to Vientiane. And from 1639 until the middle of the nineteenth century, Holland was the only western country allowed to trade with Japan.

dutchcover
1 Jan 01 saw Ambassador Kramer celebrate thirty years with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He had studied political and social sciences at the University of Amsterdam, graduating in 1970, and he actually entered the foreign service by chance.
 
After he graduated, he worked at the university for a while,  but he thought it would be nice to get away from academia for a while and have another experience so he took a job in the Foreign Ministry and liked it. So instead of going back to the university he stayed with the Ministry.
 
His first two assignments were at the Hague: in the Ministry's Research and Documentation Department, from 1971-74; and in the Policy Planning Department from 1974-79. He was then posted to the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Helsinki as Deputy Head of Mission and First Secretary from 1979-82, which was followed by a stint in Rome at the NATO Defense College.    
 
From 1983-89, he was the Director of the Central Organization and Information Systems Department dealing with large reorganizations, reducing the number of jobs and introducing computerization into the Ministry. He then moved on to be the Deputy Head of Mission/Mission Plenipotentiary for the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Jakarta, a position he held until 1994.       
 
From 1994-98, he was the Dutch Ambassador to Senegal with accreditation to five other countries in West Africa: Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritius and Gabon. Seventy-five percent of his work in this posting involved development cooperation.
His last position, from 1998-2000, before coming here, was as Inspector of the Foreign Service.
 
The Ambassador says one of the most interesting parts of the foreign service is that you get a new job every few years without having to write any application letters or go to headhunters. And all the postings are different, so you get a change in your work and living environment without having to look for another employer.
 
But is it difficult working on a project and then being whisked away to another posting? "Sometimes, but on the other hand, it's good to have a fresh look at a situation and bring in fresh initiatives. For example, when I was in Indonesia, corruption was rampant and eventually I became tired of the situation and became more and more cynical and a cynical attitude kills initiatives. So my advice would be if you want to do fruitful work, don't stay too long in any one place. But that might not apply to everyone and every job."    
 
Ambassador Kramer says that with each move diplomats have to adapt to a new situation, a new country, a new job, a new house and a new set of colleagues. And then they have to develop relationships with their new colleagues, their  countrymen based in that country and the people in the host country and unfortunately many of these relationships can be superficial because they only last for a short time or are established by coincidence. "Luckily, however, my wife and I have managed to maintain a couple of good friendships from every posting."   
 
The Ambassador is besieged with requests to attend meetings, conferences and functions all the time, so how does he decide which ones to attend? "Here in Bangkok, especially, if there was no other work to do besides going to functions, I still wouldn't have the time to attend all the events I'm invited to. But yes, of course, there is work to do and therefore I have to prioritize and be selective. If I'm in town we will go to the National Day receptions of other countries, which is a good custom in diplomatic life and a way of paying respect to your colleagues. And, of course, we attend the National Day ceremonies of our host country as well.  
 
"For other events, I try to determine if Holland is involved, or will be involved, in some way or another. Sometimes it is good to pay respects by attending this or that function. But I have to be careful and not overdo it. Remember for many of these events, I have no specific role, and I am just a kind of decoration in the audience hall. And although, I have no problem being a decoration from time to time, I don't want to do be one every day."    
    
So what is the Ambassador's overview of Burma? "It is very difficult for western countries to do anything about Burma. The EU and the United States have made their positions very clear: they do not like the current situation; no democracy; no respect for the election results in 1988; little respect for human rights and the poor treatment of minorities.
 
"Remember, this situation pre-dates 1988. When Ne Win took over in 1962, Burma isolated itself and more or less closed its borders. So the dilemma is what can you do with a country, which has isolated itself to such a large extent?          
 
"But I think it is really a task for the countries in the region to try and improve the situation in Burma. It was ASEAN, which took the decision to admit Burma in 1997 and as a result the dialogue was blocked between the EU and Asia for more than three years. ASEAN knew that would be the case, and that is not in best interest of either ASEAN or the EU. We tried to bridge this gap at the recent Foreign Minister's meeting in Vientiane and succeeded, I think. The EU-ASEAN dialogue is back on track, but our message is clear: ASEAN has admitted Burma as a member and has to make an effort to have Burma comply with basic international standards.         
 
"This is also a very big problem for Thailand as there are over 100,000 Burmese refugees here. Then there's the problem with the attacks on the hospital and embassy here by dissident Burmese, as well as the border skirmishes, the enormous drug problem - be it heroin or amphetamines - and the whole international criminal network and money laundering that goes with it."            
 
And Cambodia? "Well, the Cambodians have a fair chance now to get out of decades of war, civil war and the horrors of the Khmer Rouge period. The parliament recently passed a law approving a tribunal to try Khmer Rouge leaders. This is an essential step in the process of bringing them to justice. Holland also supports the Documentation Center in Phnom Penh, and the leadership of the Center has gone to Holland to visit the War Documentation Center there as well as the Yugoslav tribunal.
 
"We also support a US$8 million program to assist in fostering democracy, improving respect for human rights and improving the Cambodian judicial system. And we also help in demining. The Cambodian people deserve something better in life than what they had in the second half of the last century."        
 
How does the Ambassador see the state of trade relations between the two countries? "Trade relations are doing very well and have done so throughout the crisis of 1997. We were one of the few countries which kept its pre-crisis level of trade, we even improved on it, and strengthened our investment here. So the crisis has not really affected trade between the two nations.     
 
"We are one of Thailand's main European trading partners. In 1999, we were the largest European investor in Thailand. Our trade balance is negative, but we prefer to talk about economic and trade co-operation than simply looking at statistics."    
 
There has been a lot of talk of European countries erecting unfair tariffs to Thai foodstuffs, how does the Ambassador see Holland's position on this? "Problems such as Mad Cow Disease, the dioxin chicken scandal, foot and mouth disease and fish with too much lead have caused people to demand higher quality food with minimum risks to their health and as a result food imports have become much more scrutinized. These are demands by the consumers though, regardless of the country of origin, and they are not tariffs.        
 
"This, however, can affect goods like Thai tapioca, which is exported to Holland and then made into cattle feed and enters the food chain. An example of how we are fighting this was shown recently: I was happy to attend, along with Commerce Minister Supachai Panichpakdi, as guest of honor, a ceremony at STC Tapioca, outside of Bangkok, where the company received its Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certification. This is a very significant accomplishment, and proves the company's quality control. A group of Dutch companies worked together with STC to implement this policy and it was an example of close cooperation in everyone's interest."                 
 
How does Ambassador Kramer see the current trade of globalization and interdependent economies? "Well, it is at the same time unavoidable and desirable. Globalization looks like a steamroller, not very fast but steady. This is the trend, but it is a trend that can hurt just like a steamroller. Nowadays, it is much more important to take into account the interests of the developing countries. They should not only be part of globalization, but they should profit from it.
 
"For that reason, the Netherlands favors a new round of global negotiations in the framework of the WTO, which focuses not only on trade but also on development. Not to reverse the trend of globalization, not at all, but to balance the rewards of globalization - to strengthen interdependence in the world.           
 
"As a sideline, we were talking about investment figures: due to globalization the meaning of international transboundary trade, and particularly investment figures, are just not that important anymore and can even be deceiving, because there are hardly any large companies that are completely `national' anymore, they are all multinationals.
 
"It really depends on how you use the statistics. Some companies, which are originally not Dutch, may invest in Thailand via their establishment in Holland, so they are included in the Dutch investment figures, which as such is correct because the capital investment is coming from, or through, Holland.
 
"And a so-called Dutch company may invest in Thailand through its subsidiary in Singapore, but then it will show up as a Singaporean investment. So you have to be very careful analyzing investment data.
 
"In fact, in this day and age of globalization it can be very hard determining the exact origin of any product, and that has been going on for some time now. I remember a speech made by someone in Jakarta about ten years ago where he showed with detailed pictures that parts of a Toyota Corolla were coming from twenty-seven different countries. Is that still a Japanese car? And there are many cars manufactured in Thailand, buy people say there are no Thai cars, so what do you call the cars produced here?   
 
"These are signs of the interdependence of the economies of the world, which is very good from the economic point of view because now you can manufacture products in places where you can have the best price/quality relationship.
 
"And this is a good thing from a political point of view because interdependent economies are less likely to go war because they depend on one another."

Do you have an agenda for your posting in Bangkok? "Well, as far as Thailand is concerned, the promotion of economic cooperation is certainly one of the main issues. Wherever we can, we will try and help with trade and investment and I hope that the economic policy in Thailand in the years to come will be conducive for foreigners to do business here. A sound business climate, with openness and transparency will be an asset for Thailand as a whole."

Find me on...

facebooktwitterinstagram