An Interview with Pierre Vaesen, the Belgian Ambassador
|The Belgian Foreign Office has a unwritten rule whereby a diplomat can serve two terms abroad, each usually lasting three to four years, and then they must return to Brussels, to serve for three years before being posted abroad again. The Belgians have 140 embassies, consulates, or delegations to international organizations throughout the world, but only 400 diplomats to work in them, and many of these, due to either family or health reasons want to return to Brussels after serving abroad, so this lowers the number of Belgian diplomats available to go overseas.|
The Belgian Foreign Office has a
unwritten rule whereby a diplomat can serve two terms abroad, each usually
lasting three to four years, and then they must return to Brussels, to serve for
three years before being posted abroad again. The Belgians have 140 embassies,
consulates, or delegations to international organizations throughout the world,
but only 400 diplomats to work in them, and many of these, due to either family
or health reasons want to return to Brussels after serving abroad, so this
lowers the number of Belgian diplomats available to go overseas.
This has proved to be very
advantageous for the new Belgian Ambassador to Thailand. Pierre Vaesen hates
being stuck behind a desk, he loves to travel and as a result he has had
tremendous opportunities to see the world and serve his country abroad.
Having started his diplomatic
career in 1976, Ambassador Vaesen (who is also Belgium's ambassador to Laos,
Cambodia, Burma & Bangladesh) will next year celebrate his silver
anniversary of diplomatic service. He spent the first two years in training and
then the next seventeen years abroad before returning to Brussels in 1995.
|Ambassador Vaesen has been posted all over the world. His first foreign posting was in Warsaw, Poland, from 1978-1980, where he served as second secretary and cultural attache. This was at very turbulent time because it was at the height of the Solidarity movement.|
He then moved on to Dakar,
Senegal, where he served as first secretary in the Belgium Embassy from 1980-83.
From there, he returned to Europe, where he spent five years in London (83-88)
as the Belgian political and cultural counselor and as the Deputy Permanent
Representative to the Western European Union.
In 1988, he went back to Africa
where he assumed his first posting as head of mission in Lome, when he was named
Belgian Ambassador to Togo and Ghana.
Then following that posting, he
was dispatched to Japan, where he got his first taste of Asia as he was named
Deputy Head of Mission (Minister-Counselor) to the Belgian Embassy in Tokyo from
He was then sent back to North
Africa from 1992-95, when he was named as the Belgian Consul General in
Casablanca. From 1995-98, he returned home for a short while to serve as
Director of the Foreign Ministry's Training Unit.
Then just before being posted to
Thailand, from 1998-2000, he was based in Kiev as the Belgian ambassador to the
Many might understandably suffer
from culture shock going from Kiev to Bangkok but as you can see from the
Ambassador's career, there is nothing new to him about going from one exotic
culture to another. "You find all the same tasks in every country you are
posted to. Every time it is a big challenge, but you get used to it, you have
to," he says.
Getting back to the numbers
problem for a second, Ambassador Vaesen says that unfortunately due to budget
restrictions the Belgian Foreign Office hasn't been able to hire more people to
keep up with the evolution of diplomatic relations.
And many of the young people the
foreign office would like to recruit can find more lucrative employment in the
private sector. A diplomatic way of life also puts a lot of strain on a
relationship with one partner constantly serving all over the world.
Ambassador Vaesen's background
is in international law having studied it the University of Brussels and
Living in Brussels, home of the
EC and many international organizations, Ambassador Vaesen came in daily contact
with diplomats and those working in the foreign service and this is an
environment he found attractive.
He also liked the idea of
helping and bringing people together, something a diplomatic way of life would
enable him to do. His father had also worked as a civil servant.
So what are the Ambassador's
duties in a nutshell? "Bilateral diplomacy is all about representation,
gathering information, promoting relations between the host nation and your
country, and defending the interests of your compatriots," he says.
What does he think makes for a
good diplomat? "You have to be able to adjust yourself quickly to a new
environment or culture. If it is going to take you two or three years to fit in,
you are not going to be very effective.
"Communication skills are
also very important. As a diplomat, you have the privilege of making contact
with the highest levels of your host society. You also have direct access to the
most interesting people in the political, business and cultural realm and this
opens many doors. But you must then explore these opportunities, by getting out
and meeting people - you can't simply sit behind your desk.
"Good diplomats should be
constantly gathering information, lobbying in favor of their country, and
promoting relations with their host country.
"I think a sense of
responsibility, integrity, and a capacity for good analysis are very important
as well in making for a good diplomat."
Are there any upcoming Belgian
events you want to mention? "An Belgian economic mission will be coming
here from February 12-16. The delegation will be made up of officials,
businesspeople and journalists and there will be seminars and one-to-one
meetings for the businesspeople. The mission will be led by the our Crown Prince
Philip and his new bride, Princess Mathilde.
"There will be several
cultural events and a fashion show. Belgian high quality products will be
available in stores and Belgian food products will be available at Food Lion
supermarkets. This is all aimed at making Belgium better known here in Thailand.
"Also, in the second half
of next year Belgium will chair the European Union and I'm sure my government
will want to give more importance to the political dialogue and economic
partnership between Asia and Europe.
(The Belgian Embassy recently
moved its office from its lovely Soi Pipat compound to the seventeenth floor of
the Sathorn City Tower. The embassy will still be the home of the Ambassador,
but it is currently being restored and the Ambassador is staying in a hotel
until the renovation is complete. The French and Portuguese are performing
similar restorations on their missions as well.)
Export statistics from Belgium
to Thailand show an increase of 43.85 percent, or 10.7 billion Belgian francs (BEF),
for the first six months of 2000 compared to the first six months of last year (BEF
Belgium's main exports for this
a) Precious stones (diamonds)
and metals with a value of BEF 5,429,000, an increase of fifty percent from
b) Chemical products: BEF
1,558,000 (twenty-seven percent increase).
c) Machinery & Equipment:
BEF 1,101,000 (fifty-five percent increase).
d) Base Metals: BEF 673,000,000
(forty-two percent increase)
** Also worth mentioning is the
spectacular increase in the export of prepared foodstuffs, up by 122% or a
staggering BEF149,000,000 in 2000 compared to BEF 30,000,000 in 1998 and BEF
67,000,000 in 1999).
(Besides Belgium, only Portugal
and the Netherlands have been able to exceed pre-crisis levels of exports.)
Thailand maintains a serious
trade surplus with Belgium. In 1999, Belgium exported BEF 17.7 billion worth of
goods to Thailand, while Thailand imported almost double that to Belgium at BEF
31.5 billion. Belgium imported mainly precious stones, machinery, equipment and
textiles from Thailand. Belgium's main export continued to be diamonds, as
eighty percent of the world trade in this precious gem passes through Antwerp.
Recently Belgium has made
several major investments in Thailand in a number of different fields, including
a) The construction of a 740
megawatt power plant in Chonburi by H-Power, a Thai-Belgian joint-venture of
Tractebel and its Thai partner, Hemaraj Land and Development. This investment
represents about US$370 million and confirms the position of H-Power as the
single largest independent power producer in Thailand
b) Tractebel is also further
developing its activities in the field of gas distribution to industrial
estates, as a founding partner of PTT Natural Gas Distribution.
c) Union Miniere, which took a
41.6 percent stake in Padaeng Industry this year
c) Katoennatie, which already
has created a major logistics center for the petrochemical industry at Map Ta
Phut. Katoennatie is now building a logistics center for carmakers and the
automotive industry in Rayong, as well as planning a Bt400 million consumer
products distribution center inn Bangkok.
These investments are joint-ventures with SembCorp Industries, a Singaporean
d) Telindus, a major telecom
equipment firm, has now established its regional headquarters for Asia in
e) Delhaize Le Lion, through the
Thai-Belgian joint-venture Bel-Thai Supermarket Co, this company is quickly
expanding its operations in the retail distribution sector by adding to its
portfolio about one new supermarket in Thailand every month or so. It opened its
nineteenth store here in October.
f) Solvay, through its
Thai-Belgian joint-ventures Vinythai and Peroxythai, is planning new investments
in the petrochemical industry as well.
g) Belgian companies
specializing in environmental technologies such as Seghers and Enviroasia are
expanding their operations in Thailand as well.
The Belgian Contribution to
Belgian firms did not waver in
their support for Thailand throughout the crisis and Belgium with its long
experience in international trade has many things to offer Thailand. Its SMEs
are highly advanced and keen to co-operate with Thai companies. More information
can be obtained from the two trade commissioners at the embassy:
Mrs Nathalie Surmont of Export
Mr Andre Laurent of Awex
BELGIAN-THAI RELATIONS - AN
Belgian-Thai relations stretch
back to 1868 when the two countries signed a Treaty of Friendship and Commerce.
Then in 1892, King Chulalongkorn invited a Belgian lawyer and former Belgian
Minister of the Interior, Mr Gustave Rolin-Jacquemyns, to become his principal
advisor. Mr Rolin-Jacquemyns brought a small group of legal advisors with him
and they helped the Kingdom of Thailand maintain its independence at the turn of
Today, one of the descendants of
the Jacquemyns family is still serving Thailand as an Honorary Consul in Liege,
A relationship of mutual trust
between the two countries is reflected in the cordial relations between the two
monarchies. Although King Baudouin died in 1993, he and
King Bhumibol Adulyadej were close friends and both were very concerned
with the underprivileged and promoting sustainable development. Baudouin's
successor and brother, Albert II, has maintained closed ties with the Thai
Crown Prince Philip was born in
1960 and was married last December to the lovely Mathilde d'Udekem D'Acoz. The
Prince is Honorary Chairman of the Belgian Foreign Trade Board and in this
capacity leads economic missions abroad. He served in the army as a paratrooper
and in the air force as an F-16 pilot. His interests in environmental issues and
social problems are well documented.
BELGIUM IN A NUTSHELL
* Belgium is a constitutional
monarchy, gaining its independence in 1830
* It has a federal structure and
the government is composed of a six-party coalition, comprising the Liberals,
Socialists and Ecologists
* Belgium is a small country
(30,528 km2), but has over ten million inhabitants, so it is one of the most
densely populated countries on earth (332 inhabitants/km2)
* Its official languages are
Dutch, French & German
* It is situated in northwestern
Europe, bordered by the Netherlands in the North, Germany and the Grand Duchy of
Luxembourg in the East and France in the south and west
* Its been called the
"Capital of Europe" as more than a thousand international
organizations have established their headquarters or a permanent secretariat in
Brussels including the European Commission, the Council of the European Union,
Allied Forces in Europe (SHAPE) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Royal Belgian Embassy
17th Floor, Sathorn City Tower
175 South Sathorn Rd.
Tungmahamek, Sathorn, Bangkok
Tel: (662) 679-5454
Fax: (662) 679-5467