When Sweden’s new Ambassador to Singapore in the end of September 2010 presented his letter of credentials to President S.R. Nathan he had really drawn the winning ticket. Ingemar Dolfe was very pleased to be in Asia, at last. But what the Ambassador did not know then is clear now; while Ingemar Dolfe can involve himself in a very vibrant connection between Sweden and Singapore (and its surrounding region), two other recently arrived Swedish ambassadors to Southeast-Asia are now finding themselves with the unrewarding task of closing down the Swedish Embassy missions (in Kuala Lumpur and Hanoi respectively).
“I am personally first and foremost very happy to get the opportunity of working and living here. I have looked very much forward to this, leading this Embassy and also operating in the region. This is a country with which Sweden has close and good relations within various sectors. Trade is a given area where the Embassy actively supports Swedish businesses. In Singapore there are now some 250 Swedish companies employing over 6000 persons,” says Ingemar Dolfe on his first position as Ambassador.
Previously he has been Deputy Head at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Department for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation since 2007 and also placed at three different places in Europe; the Netherlands and Bulgaria among them. Before Stockholm he was Minister at the Swedish Embassy in London.
“We had stayed within Europe in order to puzzle together my wife’s and my careers. Now we are here, which could not be accomplished before, and I’m happy for that,” says the Ambassador, openly showing how keen he had been on getting a diplomatic position over in Asia.
“Singapore is an exciting place to be in, absolutely.”
It was based on genuine interest in the world and foreign places that Ingemar Dolfe became a diplomat. He started exploring the world at young age as a backpacker, first interrailing seven times in Europe; and then backpacking in the U.S. In between his studies, he also took time off for a round-the-world trip. He then visited Singapore for the first time, back in 1984. This interest led the globetrotter to a career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sweden.
“I’m a ‘generalist’. I started the Foreign Ministry’s education in 1988 and have done most things one can do there, so I am broad. I have experience from bilateral and multilateral issues. For instance I dealt with trade-supporting issues in London, but also political reporting. And I have done UN work.”
What he hopes to accomplish in Singapore is first of all to give big support to Swedish trade – the core task.
“We have some projects. Fashion is interesting now when H&M is coming, so that is one area, and also to develop the collaboration with Singapore within defence but also research.”
One way to support trade is to look out and collaborate with other representatives in the region.
Trip to Malaysia
Case in point, in January, when receiving ScandAsia, the new Ambassador had just returned from a trip to Malaysia with a Swedish business delegation from Singapore (co-arranged, paradoxically, with the closing local Swedish counterpart in Kuala Lumpur) to learn more about the prospects for business investments there.
“We have a very active chamber of commerce [SBAS] and the Embassy tries in all kinds of ways to support Swedish business. 15 companies here in Singapore participated in a trip arranged by the Embassies, SBAS and MASBA jointly. As the Swedish companies established here are not only covering Singapore as such, they have an interest in learning more about other markets, which we then try to support. “
The delegation visited various ministries and the PM:s office and learned from a briefing and about which projects are in the pipeline where incoming investment is supported.
“I see this as a good way for the Embassy to support Swedish trade; we can open doors and enable for Swedish companies to get access and information from senior government personnel in a way that perhaps companies cannot otherwise get.”
“The previous Ambassador came up with this, and did such trips to Indonesia and Vietnam. And it has been very appreciated and successful, so I have listened and found out if the interest to continue among companies was there.”
Brimming with close connections and business relations between the two distant countries, the Ambassador has had a lot on his table since arriving, with openings, receptions and official visits of various kinds – much related to trade.
For instance Mr Dolfe recently gave a key note address for 800 guests attending the launch of the new SAAB model by its local distributor, marking his support for Swedish business.
And he did the same when the Swedish family-owned Chris-Marine recently launched a showroom in Singapore, then highlighting the close co-operation between Sweden and Singapore in the areas of high tech and the marine sector.
This also relates to defence, where there is long-established comprehensive collaboration between the two countries within maritime and naval technology, on officials-level and also with private companies interested in Singapore.
“We just had Sweden’s Defence Minister on a visit, with collaboration on different levels, but most importantly regarding that Sweden has sold submarines. Submarines have been upgraded in Sweden and Singaporean crew was there for three years of training.”
The Ambassador also held last year a reception for 60 Singapore submarine sailors at the Swedish Residence.
The third area with close relationships is within education and research.
“In fact regarding studying in Singapore the most popular country for exchange studies in Europe is Sweden, aside U.K. Last year, some 300 students from Singapore studied in Sweden.”
The National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) have exchange programmes and research collaboration agreements with a dozen Swedish universities and institutions, and currently some 25 Swedish researchers are active at Singaporean universities.
“There’s geographical as well as topic-based broadness regarding where these students study everywhere from Lund to Luleå and from KTH to economy.”
“It was striking that, after coming back here, their perception of Sweden and what it represents was very positive,” the Ambassador concludes after having welcomed former exchange students to a BBQ evening at the Swedish residence. He mentions the openness, transparency and values such as the public right to access nature.
“So their positive image is valuable for the Swedish Embassy which has the task to promote Sweden.”
Last year the two countries also signed a MOU in order to enhance cooperation in the fields of education, research and innovation.
“Another proof I see of a close and good relationship is that there are a number of prominent Swedes on prestigious positions here in Singapore, not only because of their excellent backgrounds but also since Singaporeans have great confidence in Sweden and Swedes.”
The Ambassador mentions Magnus Böcker, chief executive of the Singapore Exchange; and Professor Bertil Andersson, NTU Provost.
“And the Head of Karolinska Institutet, Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, is part of a scientific advisory Board in Singapore”
“That so many Swedes on leading positions are being invited to take development in Singapore further illustrate how Singaporeans have great confidence in Swedes.”
Distant geographically but not culturally, there are many similarities in several ways between the two countries, thinks Ambassador Dolfe.
“We are small or middle-sized and open for globalization. Our economies are based on export. We’re also the same in being reliable, loyal partners one can trust, which is a very good platform for doing business between each other. We deliver what we say we can and do not oversell. “