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.
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
“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.”
was your first year as ambassador?
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."
about the state of Thai-Swiss relations?
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.
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
it easier to do your job with all your diplomatic 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.”
difficult is it to be the Swiss envoy in four countries, not just one?
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
what ways are the Thais and Swiss similar?
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
else is special about the Thais and Thailand?
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.
“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
do Swiss investors tend to look at Thailand?
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.”
you want to mention a few Swiss companies, which continue to grow and expand
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.”
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.”
can Thailand compete with China?
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. "
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.”
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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
He stayed there
until 1989, when he was then sent to New York City where he served as the Swiss
Consul General until 1993.
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
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.