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HE Ms Sibille De Cartier D’Yves: Celebrating 155 Years Of Belgian-Thai Relations

HE Ms Sibille De Cartier D’Yves:  Celebrating 155 Years Of  Belgian-Thai Relations

      HE Ms Sibille de Cartier d’Yves, ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium to the Kingdom of Thailand, arrived in Bangkok in 2020 amid the Covid pandemic. As this year marks the 155th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two kingdoms, Ambassador Sibille sat down with Elite+ to discuss the significance of this milestone and what she has been doing to foster these strong ties.

     Ambassador Sibille joined the Belgian foreign service 22 years ago. Thailand is her second posting as an ambassador. Her overseas postings have taken her around the globe, including Africa, Europe, the Middle East and now Asia.

     We began by discussing how her first posting as Belgian ambassador to Egypt and other previous postings helped her prepare to assume the ambassadorship to Thailand. “Each posting, even at the beginning of my career, helped me develop new tools and skills as a diplomat. Every country presents different challenges and learning opportunities. Each posting is a totally new experience. My work always requires flexibility and adaptation. Cultural insights are also quite important. We learn from what we do, and we are changed. “

     This year marks 155 years of official bilateral ties between Belgium and Thailand, celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Cooperation and Amity between both countries. Ambassador Sibille explained, “Belgium is one of the first countries to have established a permanent embassy in Bangkok. The relationship between our two Kingdoms has been very rich and positive. One constant of this relationship is the long friendship between our two royal households, in particular between HM King Baudouin and HM King Bhumibol The Great. Both kings were enthroned very young, and their friendship lasted their entire lives. Another important figure that contributed to the strong relations between Thailand and Belgium is Gustave Rolin-Jacquemyns, a former minister from Belgium who served as a General Advisor to HM King Chulalongkorn and contributed, with the help of Belgian legal advisors, to reform Thailand’s justice system and support its modernisation. He is usually recognised for his important role in helping Thailand keep its independence. The Thai-Belgian Friendship Bridge is another important symbol of our friendship, as it was the first flyover brought over to Thailand from Belgium. These long-established ties are what we continue to build on.”

      As Ambassador Sibille looked back at the three years she has lived in Bangkok, she revealed, “I started my posting in the unusual year 2020. Our focus was on crisis management to support the Belgian community and Thailand as a whole. As restrictions were lifted, the Embassy helped to support the revival of bilateral ties, notably of business actors. We also focused on the revival of cultural and academic ties.”

      “The Belgian Embassy hosted the ‘Ambassador for a Day’ reception earlier this year. It is an initiative, organised by an informal group of women ambassadors and UN agencies, for students to shadow ambassadors or UN heads of organisations for a day. The goals are to inspire young girls to dream big, and maybe consider a diplomatic career as well as contribute to gender equality awareness in all its dimensions. Last year, the Embassy also coordinated an initiative to increase awareness around gender-based violence by organising, together with colleagues from the UN, Netherlands and Luxembourg, ‘A Safe Journey with Her’, a fun and instructive bicycle tour through Rattanakosin Island aimed at raising awareness among the public on this issue. We are grateful for the great support and leadership demonstrated by Governor Chadchart Sittipunt and his team from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. Luxembourg is coordinating this year’s edition and we hope for an even greater event.

 

 

    Mental health is another issue the Embassy has worked on, together with UNICEF and the Thai Ministry of Public Health, organising notably film screenings and debates on this issue. On the cultural level, we also coordinated the events of the ‘Francophonie’ last year and participated in the ‘Bangkok Comic Festival’ two years in a row.”

      On the subject of Belgian-Thai bilateral trade, Ambassador Sibille proudly stated, “Our bilateral trade, valued at three billion Euros, is quite diversified. It has surpassed the 2019 level. Belgian companies are also important investors in Thailand. Last year we had an important new investment by Lotus Bakery who will produce cookies in Thailand for sale around the region.

 

 

      “Business delegations from Belgium have participated in various medical fairs and food exhibitions held in Thailand. These allow them to reach not only Thai, but also business partners from around the region. Belgian academic institutions were also able to connect with potential partners at the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education Fair.

      “In general, Belgium is a country of innovation and technology. We are a global leader in chemical and pharmaceutical products notably vaccines. As we focus on research and development, we have also established business clusters concentrating, for instance, on sustainable energy and green technology.”

       Ambassador Sibille then added, “Currently, negotiations are ongoing for a Free Trade Agreement between Thailand and the European Union. There are a lot of opportunities for greater cooperation, notably in the fields around sustainability. The European Union has demonstrated its leadership with the Green Deal and its commitment to transform Europe to be carbon neutral by 2050. The work on this matter now taking place underlines the political commitment and willingness of all sides.”

     For Thai entrepreneurs who may be interested in trading with Belgium, Ambassador Sibille advised, “The Embassy is ready to tailor our support to the entrepreneur, based on their interests and needs. We can organise contacts with interested partners. We will provide advice on tax incentives and various benefits offered when someone invests in Belgium. Our aim is to assist all interested parties to discover the assets of Belgium.

     “Belgium is at the heart of Europe and connected with the continent and its market of 500 million inhabitants. While Belgium is geographically small, we are the second most open economy in the world. We are a logistics hub, connected to our neighbours by rail, air, road and with our energy network. Our main port of entry, Antwerp, is one of the best known in the world.

     Ambassador Sibille emphasized, “At the crossroads of Europe, Belgium is quite influential when it comes to the creative industries, from cinema to fashion and contemporary dance to major events such as music festivals. Thousands of young people travel to Belgium every year for our electronic music and rock festivals. We are a country with a very rich culture, good quality of life, amazing food and a great sense of humour.

     Ambassador Sibille highlighted a few more examples of Belgium’s strategic efforts in response to the European Union’s call for sustainability. “Belgium has constructed an offshore wind energy park in the north of Belgium that already has a capacity of 2GW and will reach more than 5GW of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030. It will produce the electricity consumption of five million households, which is half of Belgium's population.

     “We are currently building Princess Elisabeth Island, the world’s first energy island. We are also working with our neighbours to connect the offshore park in a more efficient way. Our common aim is to make the North Sea the largest renewable power plant, interconnecting the North Sea countries. We have learned from our experience in integrating renewables in our energy mix and are ready to share this with other countries to support the development of their own tailor-made models.

 

     “Belgium also has a clear ambition to become a hydrogen hub. The goal of our National Hydrogen Strategy is to transform Belgium into a major transit hub for renewable molecules, and we are partnering with countries from around the world. With Antwerp as the second largest port in Europe and centrally located, we are developing the infrastructure and technological leadership to establish a hydrogen market. We already have the second largest underground hydrogen pipeline in the world. Our goal is not to replace electricity, but to use hydrogen where needed to increase the sustainability of our infrastructure.”

     Ambassador Sibille highlighted a few more examples of Belgium’s strategic efforts in response to the European Union’s call for sustainability. “Brussels was the first city to have a compulsory passive energy construction law that focuses on energy efficiency. It has had a clear impact on encouraging sustainable construction practice in the city.”

     “Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs also tries to walk the talk. We have for instance built our first fully passive embassies in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rabat in Morocco.”

      As our interview drew to a close, Ambassador Sibille candidly shared her thoughts on her posting in Asia, “Thailand has been an incredible discovery for me. I consider it a privilege to learn about a totally different culture, country and people. We had the privilege to visit Thailand when the beaches and many tourist sites were empty. Nevertheless, we are happy for Thailand that this period is over. My family and I have also been able to explore this region we did not know so well. As a career diplomat, I have been able to experience different cultures. I feel that with each country we live in, we grow a little and we take a piece of each country with us when we move on. The Thai people have impressed me most with their attention for detail, kindness and welcoming hospitality.”

 

In the business community, she serves on the Board of Directors with the Thai-Hong Kong Trade Association. Kathy is on the Thailand Tatler Magazine Expat Society The 200 List. She is the Honorary Columnist and contributing writer to a few leading English magazines. She and her husband, RADM Dr Boonyarit Pokrud have one son who is currently based in Boston, USA.

Kathleen Pokrud

In the business community, she serves on the Board of Directors with the Thai-Hong Kong Trade Association. Kathy is on the Thailand Tatler Magazine Expat Society The 200 List. She is the Honorary Columnist and contributing writer to a few leading English magazines. She and her husband, RADM Dr Boonyarit Pokrud have one son who is currently based in Boston, USA.