Volume: 2023 - 49
Date: 2nd May 2023

Interview with ambassador Remco Johannes van Wijngaarden

The balanced life of a Dutch diplomat
Ambassador and spouse, Mr. Carter Xuan Duang
It has been nearly two years since Remco Johannes van Wijngaarden assumed the position of Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Thailand in November 2021. The embassy's jurisdiction extends to include Lao PDR and Cambodia. Additionally, he previously served as the Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Shanghai, People's Republic of China.

This year marks the second time that the ambassador has had the honor of opening a dialogue with our team, and this time, he is accompanied by his entire family. His spouse, Mr. Carter Xuan Duong, is legally married and they have registered three children for adoption, including a six-year-old daughter and a pair of four-year-old twins, one male and one female.

The ambassador said:

"We received a great welcome when we arrived in Thailand in 2021. We are grateful to have lived and worked in a country with such a rich culture, and appreciated the friendliness of the people and the delicious variety of well-known dishes."

"As the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Thailand, the Kingdom of Cambodia, and Lao PDR, I find my work and life in each country to be interesting and very different. During and after the COVID restrictions, we worked online for a long time."

"Today, work has returned to normal but that doesn't only mean an increase in the number of Dutch visitors almost back to pre-COVID levels. It also means promotion of trade and investment has returned to normal, with the number of jobs and government-to-government meetings at pre-pandemic levels."

"In the next few weeks, there will be elections in both Thailand and Cambodia, making it an especially interesting time."
Mr Ramko Johannes Van Weinkarden Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Thailand
Mr. Remco Johannes van Wijngaarden, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Thailand
First impression of Thailand

"Before we started working here, my husband and I had visited Thailand a few times for vacation. However, this time, we traveled directly from China to Thailand since I had worked there previously."

"Bangkok was the first city that made me fall in love with Thailand and is the second most popular city for tourists in the world. It's clear why with its embrace of diversity, which makes it stand out and become admirable. From futuristic skyscrapers towering over old quarters to the world's tastiest street food stalls alongside Michelin-starred restaurants, it is genuinely fascinating."

"Another thing that I appreciate about Bangkok is that it's a world-class international city, but it still maintains a clear Thai identity."

"Thailand is more than just a popular vacation destination; it's gaining political and economic importance across the region. This economic and political importance is also reflected in the work of the embassy."
On June 16, 2022, Mr. Remco Johannes van Wijngaarden presented his Royal Credential as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Thailand and greeted Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
The Main Mission of the Netherlands Embassy

"Considering the large Dutch community here, consular services are an important part of our work which includes helping tourists and visitors. Prior to the epidemic, approximately 200,000-250,000 Dutch people visited Thailand annually. Approximately 15,000-20,000 Dutch people live here permanently or semi-permanently, but the exact number is unknown as Dutch citizens are not required to register."

"In addition to providing usual consular work related to travel documents, the embassy provides emergency assistance to Dutch tourists and hosts the Dutch community. The embassy also provides assistance to around 10 Dutch nationals who are currently being detained here."

"Our second focus is on economic matters, where Thailand is a good partner. The Netherlands is the EU's largest investor in Thailand, though many people in Thailand are not yet aware of this fact."

"We hope to increase knowledge sharing in water management and agriculture as Thailand and the Netherlands face similar geographical conditions. With both places at a level slightly below sea level, floods and droughts have increased due to climate change. However, we can adapt and help one another mitigate these challenges by sharing knowledge."
Visit to Cambodia
"From a political and diplomatic standpoint, Thailand is a fascinating country located in a significant region. It is a part of the Indo-Pacific region, which is increasingly crucial as an ally of Europe."

"Thailand is a neutral and stable country in the region, which is of great importance to the Netherlands. We attach great importance to the international regulatory system to guarantee the long-term stability of the world. A robust international law-based system is essential to safeguard the wealth and security of our countries. This is particularly relevant for internationally-oriented countries like the Netherlands and Thailand."

"We are also actively involved in promoting human rights globally. We value open discussions with the staff here on a wide range of human rights issues. However, we recognize that there are still concerns, such as the limitation of freedom of expression and the persecution of activists."

"Compared to other countries in the region, Thailand has more opportunities to engage in discussions on topics like LGBTQ+ rights, which is an issue I am well-versed in. The Netherlands can improve its human rights record, and it is an issue that we need to keep a constant watch on."

Dutch human rights

"Promoting and protecting human rights around the world is a top priority in Dutch foreign policy. In practice, we support civil society organizations that work towards promoting and safeguarding human rights through funding from our Human Rights Fund. Our focus is on six priorities: freedom of expression, media freedom, LGBTIQ+ rights, women's rights, promoting accountability, and freedom of belief."

"In this century, the world is increasingly prioritizing diversity and equality in society. This extends beyond just gender equality to include LGBTQIA+ rights. Many countries are enacting policies that promote inclusion, and this represents an important shift towards valuing human dignity over gender, status, or anything else."

The Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, allowing same-sex couples to marry, divorce, and adopt children in 2001.
The ambassador, his spouse and their adopted children
When asked about the ambassador's response to his blended family in China compared to Thailand:

"We have been living in Thailand for over a year and a half, and life is going smoothly. Previously, we lived in Shanghai where I served as the consul general. Although Shanghai is considered China's most international city, adjusting to a new family life was not always easy for us. At times, it felt like we were stepping back into the wardrobe, as others have said, because our family model was not yet accepted in China like it is in many other countries."

"However, in Thailand, we were welcomed warmly like family. This made a world of difference to us. While same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Thailand, we hope that it will soon become a possibility. Not having our marriage recognized posed a challenge for my family (as it is not recognized in some other countries as well), particularly when it comes to things like health insurance coverage for life partners, the right to start a family, etc. This is something that is more readily available to same-sex Thai couples (LGBTQI+) and we hope that this can eventually be extended to us as well."
The three adopted children
When considering a country to work in, the ambassador reflects upon an important question -

"Can I make a significant impact through my work? And, would it be conducive for our family's success?"

Another crucial factor that he considers is the society's openness and inclusivity. As his eldest daughter is black, and his husband and twin children belong to the same ethnicity, it is essential for them to choose a country where they can safeguard their children from racism and discrimination while enabling them to assimilate into the culture.
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Previous Lizzy's newsletters can be found here.