HE Gerard Kramer, 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.
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
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
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
How does the Ambassador 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
"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
"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.