Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Australia – you name it, he’s worked there. In fact, one of the few places, Hans-Peter Erismann (sen below), the new Swiss Ambassador to Thailand, hasn’t worked is Antarctica, but give him time, he’s still young.

Indeed, there are few diplomats that can match the Swiss ambassador when it comes to the diversity of the assignments he’s taken in his three decades of diplomatic work.

Recently Scott Murray had a chance to sit down and talk to him about his new posting. Normally, we would have just proceeded into a review of Swiss-Thai relations, but as the events of September 11 have changed the global political landscape so much, it seemed natural to begin there as well as focus briefly on the Swiss banking system.

swiss

But before we get to the interview, let’s take a quick look at Ambassador Erismann’s life and career. He was born in 1941 in Saint-Gall, Canton of Saint-Gall, Switzerland, but he did not start out his professional life as a diplomat, but rather he was an economist, having studied economics at Saint-Gall University, where he graduated with a Doctoral Degree.

Then in 1971, after seven years of experience as a marketing specialist with Swiss and US-companies in Switzerland and Australia, he entered the Swiss Foreign Service as a trainee and honed his craft in Bern and Brussels for two years.

His first posting came in 1973 when he was sent to Warsaw, as the Deputy Head of Mission of the Swiss Embassy in Poland. In 1976, he moved in the same position to the Swiss Embassy in Canberra, Australia. Then in 1979, he went back to Switzerland for a few years because he took a position as Diplomatic Collaborator at the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Political Affairs.

Then from 1982-86 he switched to a new continent, becoming the Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission, for the Swiss Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Then in 1986, he took his first posting as ambassador, becoming his nation’s top diplomat to the Republic of Korea.   

He stayed there until 1989, when he was then sent to New York City where he served as the Swiss Consul General until 1993.

Then from 1993-97 he went to Africa becoming his nation’s ambassador to the Republic of Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Seychelles, Somalia and Permanent Representative to UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), with residence in Nairobi.

Craving a little Latin American experience, the versatile diplomat was then shipped to Santiago where he was his country’s ambassador to Chile from 1997 until earlier this year. Now he’s here in Thailand, where he succeeded Bernard Freymond (who is now the Swiss Ambassador to Sweden) and Ambassador Erismann says he is ready and willing to accept the challenges of his new position.

He and his wife Freda have two married daughters, Pia and Eva.

The Interview

What do you think world leaders and the global diplomatic community do to ease tensions caused by the terrorist acts of September 11?

“I have been thinking that a number of well-known people in this world should do a little more under the present circumstances. I mean not just high-ranking people in the UN like the great personality of Kofi Annan, whom I think, does have the ear of many important people in the world.

"The Pope in Rome could become more active and other religious leaders. They should use all the possible means of mass communication in the fight against terrorism to get their message across and correct misperceptions of what has happened. Otherwise we run the risk that the fight against terrorism is perceived as a religious war, which it isn’t. It is not Christianity against Islam. Nothing could be further from the truth, yet the view so many people have is exactly that.

“Everyone in this world who has some influence should use it in the fight against terrorism, also political leaders.

How about the American response to the attacks?

“Sometimes I feel very sorry for the Americans. I think they are almost condemned to commit errors. They absolutely had to react to the events of September 11, due to external and internal political reasons. It would have been impossible for them not to react. But could they have responded differently? This is what I don’t know. Would it have been possible for the US Government under the current circumstances, to tell the American people and the world, "look, we don’t want to go in with air attacks, we have seen in other situations that success is doubtful. What we will do is slow investigative work with which we try and infiltrate the terrorist network in a quiet way, and maybe, we will have results in a year, or five or ten?

“This would have been an alternative but probably not feasible given the current atmosphere in America. That’s why I think they have been condemned to a plan of action, and a quick one at that.

“The Americans and their allies are predominately fighting against the symptoms of the problem right now, but they must also focus on the causes, such as a new attitude towards the Middle East, including the relations between Israel and its neighbors.”

Where were you when you heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center and how did it affect you having worked and lived in Manhattan?

“I was in France on vacation at the time and I saw it on TV a few minutes after it had happened. It really did affect me sincerely. I have visited the WTC towers many times. My two daughters live in America; one used to study and work in New York and due to the repercussions of September 11th has lost her job. I am really concerned about the future, not only for my two daughters, but for the world as well. I believe the world has changed because of these attacks.”  

Were any Swiss killed in the attacks?

“Two Swiss-Americans were killed in one of the hijacked airliners.”

Was there any evidence that money supporting the terrorist network was funneled through Swiss bank accounts?

“Some bank accounts have been blocked and investigations are under way.

It is extremely difficult for terrorists and money launderers to use Swiss banks. Swiss banking laws today are much stricter than most people believe. Switzerland in this sector deserves a much better reputation.”

What brought about this cleaning up of the Swiss banking business?

“Ongoing bank reforms and also external pressure are responsible for the change. Fines for delinquent banks and other financial institutions are very large.”

While we are taking about global matters why doesn’t Switzerland have a permanent seat in the United Nations?

“Switzerland is not a member of the UN. This is because Switzerland has a system of direct democracy. The Government cannot decide to join the UN against the people's will. A decision must be taken by popular referendum. If anywhere in the world people are asked by their respective governments to decide on any issue such as this, they normally tend to be much more conservative then the respective governments.

“We last voted for UN membership in 1986 and seventy-five percent of the voters voted against it. Now we will hold another vote on 3 March 2002.”

Your predecessor was very concerned about counterfeiting and protecting the intellectual property rights of Swiss products here in Thailand, where do you stand on this issue?

“It depends on what company and what product you are talking about. For example, you find copies of certain well known and relatively expensive Swiss watches the whole world over. The manufacturers of those watches have found out that it is the first step in the life of the owner of a fake watch to eventually own a real Swiss watch of that particular Swiss brand.

“Of course, we Swiss are all concerned, and of course we will try and fight this problem, with all legal means at our disposal. The protection of intellectual property rights is also especially important in the pharmaceutical sector and for artists. The fight is not easy since not only private companies but governments are involved as well.”

Is there any new expansion of Swiss companies currently operating in Thailand?

“Nestle is building the world’s largest milk processing factory for condensed milk in Samut Prakan, and they will export its products throughout the region. And this will mean a lot of jobs and be a real boost for the economy.”

“Another new factory is being constructed for the manufacture of all kinds of different ropes at the ThaiSwiss SME Industrial Center Limited in Pranburi, Prachuap Khirikhan.”

Contact Info:

Tel: (662) 253-0156, ext.#114

Fax: (662) 255-4481

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Website: www.swissembassy.or.th

 

INTERVIEW WITH THE SWISS AMBASSADOR

Last year Scott Murray had the good fortune to interview Swiss Ambassador Hans-Peter Erismann, just after he first arrived to take up his posting in Bangkok. He recently caught up with him to discuss his first year here in Thailand.   
 
Please tell us about your impression of Thailand so far?
 
“I think my first year was even more exciting than I had thought it would be. I was looking forward to my posting in Thailand after coming here three times previously: once in 1969 and twice while I was the Swiss Ambassador to South Korea. I now think that living here is even more exciting than being a tourist. I have discovered all the lovely sides of this country, especially the people, the nice weather and of course, Bangkok. But I have found there is so much more to the country than just Bangkok. It’s always a surprise to me to see how big and how well developed cities like Hua Hin, Rayong, Ranong, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phitsanulok or Khon Kaen are. I never realized there was so much to be seen outside of Bangkok. It was a real eye opener for me to discover how diverse the country is.
 
“Also I truly admire the beautiful countryside, the huge rice fields and well kept orchards. When you fly across the country, it’s beautiful to see how much care is given to agriculture; it’s no wonder that Thailand is now the biggest rice producer in the world.”
 
How was your first year as ambassador?
 
“My first year was, as it is in every posting, an introductory year, having to make many contacts. As I am also covering Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, I traveled to all of these countries and had to establish contact with government officials, international organizations and NGO's working in the humanitarian and development fields. I also met journalists, scientists and members of the Swiss community and representatives of Swiss companies. 3,600 Swiss citizens live in Thailand, more than in any other country in Asia and there are sizeable Swiss communities in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar."
 
What about the state of Thai-Swiss relations?
 
"The relations between Thailand and Switzerland are excellent. It is of course possible to intensify the commercial relationship and to mutually fortify investment. We are also hoping for more scientific contacts, including a more active exchange of professors, researchers, scientists, students and trainees.
 
“We have recently made headway in legal matters, during the visit of the Swiss Minister of Justice and Police, Mrs. Ruth Metzler-Arnold, when our two countries agreed to work on legal agreements involving a substantial range of issues, including criminal matters, prisoners, refugees, political asylum seekers and also trainees.” (Note: after eight years and under certain conditions a Swiss prisoner can be repatriated to Switzerland, spending the rest of his/her prison term there.)
 
Is it easier to do your job with all your diplomatic experience?
 
“Experience always helps, but each posting is new, each time it’s different. Laos is not Burundi and Cambodia is not Uganda, countries where I’ve had side accreditations before. It’s always a new challenge and up to the individual; one person might find a certain posting difficult, while another might find it pleasurable. For me, it’s always a great challenge to go to a new country, to meet new people, find out how they think and what they are trying to achieve in life for themselves and for their own country.”
 
How difficult is it to be the Swiss envoy in four countries, not just one?
 
“Obviously if I only had to deal with one country I could go much deeper into specific issues that I am working on. But as I am working in a number of countries it’s harder to get into all the problems linked to a certain area, say, environmental concerns in Laos. The positive side is that I do get a better overview of the area. Our headquarters in Berne does realize we have more work, and therefore has provided us with additional staff. It would be ideal to concurrently also be Swiss Ambassador to China, as that would give me a better and more complete understanding of China and Asia in general. But that of course is not possible.”
 
In what ways are the Thais and Swiss similar?     
 
“Thailand and Switzerland have both been independent for about the same length of time and I think a special spirit reigns in a country that has never been ruled by a colonial power. I believe that people of both nations are very independently minded.”
 
What else is special about the Thais and Thailand?
 
“It’s very difficult to match the friendliness of the Thais - it’s something that all foreigners praise. The Thais have a great deal of respect for other people and they treasure their culture, history and traditions.
 
What about Bangkok?
 
“You feel and are indeed very safe and secure in Bangkok, which for a city its size is very positive. Of course there is crime here but in comparison to other cities it is minimal. Living in Bangkok can be compared to living in New York City. One has the feeling of belonging no matter what color, creed or race you belong to. The Thais may call you farang, but it’s something nice. You are part of the scene, you are not stared at as in some other countries where a different race, color, religion or language may set you apart.”
 
How do Swiss investors tend to look at Thailand?
 
“Generally, people in the Swiss-Thai business community regard the Thai working environment positively. There are of course some aspects that can be improved on. Administrative obstacles could be reduced or eliminated. Thailand is regarded generally as a country to invest in, as shown by the recent large investments of companies like Nestle, Toyota and many others.”
                
Do you want to mention a few Swiss companies, which continue to grow and expand here?
 
“Chemical and pharmaceutical firms such as Novartis, Roche, Syngenta, Clariant, Ciba Speciality Chemicals and other companies like Nestle, The Swatch Group, Rolex and many other watch manufacturers, as well as Zuellig, Diethelm, Bernina and numerous others find it a satisfying experience to work here and they also use Thailand as a base to expand into neighboring countries. They also help Thailand to improve its production facilities, which benefits both these companies and Thailand.”
 
What about SMEs?
 
“A considerable number of medium and smaller companies have already invested in Thailand. In Lamphun, for example, four Swiss SMEs have successfully invested and are manufacturing high quality products. The Thai Swiss SME Industrial Center, which was set up in Pranburi last year has already attracted one SME from Switzerland, which produces elastic cords and ropes and it is in the process of attracting more SMEs right now. Assisting SMEs is a goal of both the Thai and Swiss governments.”          
 
How can Thailand compete with China?
 
“China with its market of 1.3 billion people is attracting more and more investment. Thailand, with its 64 million market, must come up with a ‘recipe’ to attract investors and to convince them why they should invest here. It must show case studies of companies who have already successfully invested here because there is nothing better for a potential investor than looking at what another investor successfully did and why. "  
 
“An example of this is the Nestle milk processing factory, which produces 3 million cans of condensed milk, and one million cans of liquid coffee a day. It has a twelve-hour on time delivery, which works with clockwork precision. In a country where a process like this is possible, chances for further investments are good. This is an example of a successful business that needs to be shown to potential investors, enabling them to estimate what can be accomplished here.”             
 
Last year we spoke just after 9-11, now a year later the U.S. and Iraq are poised for war again, what are your thoughts on America’s war on terror?
 
“9-11 was a huge shock for Americans, and it is still very vivid in their minds, and I understand their anger, emotion and fear. One should, however, differentiate between the causes and the symptoms of a problem. I believe that America's proposed possible action targets predominantly the symptoms. It is of course easier to fight the symptoms than fight the causes. The latter may be very intricate and may be linked with history, religion, customs and beliefs.
“With regards to Iraq, Saddam Hussein will not go down in history as one of the great benevolent leaders of our time and many would like to see him removed from power. But at what price? Which is the lesser evil: to live with him or attack Iraq and thereby risking great collateral damage? It is not easy to answer this question. As a diplomat I believe in dialogue and negotiation. It is very important that the weapons inspectors may resume their work as quickly as possible and unhindered."
 
Bio-data
 
Hans-Peter Erismann was born in 1941 in Saint-Gall, Canton of Saint-Gall, Switzerland, but he did not start out his professional life as a diplomat, but rather he was an economist, having studied economics at Saint-Gall University, where - after professional training in Copenhagen and Paris - he graduated with a Doctoral Degree.
 
Then in 1971, after seven years of experience as a marketing specialist with Swiss and US-companies in Switzerland and Australia and teaching at a Swiss college, he entered the Swiss Foreign Service as a trainee and honed his craft in Bern, Geneva and Brussels for two years.
 
His first posting came in 1973 when he was sent to Warsaw, as the Deputy Head of Mission of the Swiss Embassy in Poland. In 1976, he moved in the same position to the Swiss Embassy in Canberra, Australia. Then in 1979, he went back to Switzerland for a few years because he took a position as Diplomatic Collaborator at the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Political Affairs.
 
Then from 1982-86 he moved to North Africa, becoming the Counselor and Deputy Head of Mission, for the Swiss Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Then in 1986, he took his first posting as ambassador, becoming his nation’s top diplomat to the Republic of Korea.  
He stayed there until 1989, when he was then sent to New York City where he served as the Swiss Consul General until 1993.
 
Then from 1993-97 he returned to Africa becoming his nation’s ambassador to the Republic of Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Seychelles, Somalia and Permanent Representative to UNEP (United Nations Environment Program), with residence in Nairobi.
 
He then moved onto Santiago where he was his country’s ambassador to Chile from 1997 until 2001. Last year, he succeeded Bernard Freymond, who is now the Swiss Ambassador to Sweden. Ambassador Erismann and his wife Freda have two married daughters, Pia and Eva, who are both currently working and living in the U.S.A. 
 
Contact Info:
Tel: (662) 253-0156, ext.#114
Fax: (662) 255-4481
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Website: www.swissembassy.or.th

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