Ambassador debut and Southeast Asia return for Norway’s Christian Lyster

Ambassador Christian Lyster
Ambassador Christian Lyster, Royal Norwegian Embassy in Manila

After arriving to the Philippines for his first posting as Ambassador, Christian Halaas Lyster could immediately conclude that the ties between his host country and Norway are very strong and expanding – most significantly on business cooperation. In 2023, the two countries also celebrate 75 years of formal bilateral diplomatic relations, constituting the perfect opportunity to build on the past and strengthen the ties and collaboration for the future. Get the essential details on all this and get to know the new Ambassador in this ScandAsia feature!

Remarkably, arriving to the Philippines is a sort of homecoming, not only for Ambassador Christian Lyster himself, but also for his wife Cathrine, whose father in fact was Norway’s previous Ambassador in the country from 1994 to 1997! The debuting ambassador was also previously posted in Southeast Asia, at the Norwegian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

“We had previous experience from the region; my wife studied overseas during those years, but spent her vacations with her family in the Philippines,” shares the ambassador as he explains their previous connections to the region. “So, for her it was almost like coming back home.”

“She encouraged me to apply for the posting here in Manila. Based on her knowledge about the country and the people, she thought the Philippines would be a good place for us as a family.”

“Everywhere I go, I am warmly greeted as the Norwegian Ambassador. This is a really nice place with nice people. To sum it up, ‘it’s been great so far!”

Ambassador Christian presenting his letter of credentials to the Philippines' President Ferdinand Marcos
Ambassador Christian presenting his letter of credentials to the Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos

Ambassador debut

Ambassador Lyster has a legal degree and started off as a prosecutor and then as a deputy judge in Norway. “I enjoyed my work immensely, it was interesting, but then I realised that I wanted to do something more; something on behalf of my country, and that is when I decided to apply for the Foreign Service Trainee Program and was lucky to be accepted.”

“The opportunities within foreign service were something that appealed to me.”

Debuting as an ambassador, he says: “It’s always something you really look forward to; representing your country supported by the hardworking staff of the embassy.”

“It’s an honour. While it feels both exciting and fulfilling, it is also a bit scary when you start off for the first time. You are on your toes; you really want to deliver, help and assist on behalf of your country.”

Ambassador Lyster brings his previous experience as head of diplomatic security and emergency preparedness for the entire Norwegian foreign service, which might be relevant given the fact that the Philippines is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world.

“Norway supports this advocacy through our allocations to different UN mechanisms. At the same time, there is a potential for even more collaboration between our two countries because of our expertise on emergency preparedness planning,” said the Ambassador.

The Philippines has a good policy environment for disaster preparedness and Norway has complementary capabilities in areas related to emergency preparedness and planning, for example, on oil spills.

“Health and safety are core competencies within the energy business sector such as: oil and gas, offshore wind, and renewables. Norway has competence towards safety standards where there is a lot of potential for closer collaboration especially relating to offshore wind,” he added.

“On development and humanitarian assistance, Norway is a major contributor to multilateralism and supports the Philippines through the many UN agencies and their core programme funds. On the bilateral aspect, there is greater potential for collaboration and partnerships under our free trade agreement with the Philippines under European Free Trade Association (EFTA) FTA.”

Ambassador Christian presenting his letter of credentials to the President Surangel Whipps of Palau
Ambassador Christian presenting his letter of credentials to the President Surangel Whipps of Palau

Back to Southeast Asia

Ambassador Lyster handed over his letters of credence to President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on 13 October 2022, and he is also accredited to the Pacific island state Palau. He arrived in Manila at the end of August with his family, including their eight-year-old daughter.

“Luckily, most of the Covid-19 measures were reduced by then. The Philippines was one of the countries where the schools had been closed for the longest time, and I was happy to send my daughter physically to school upon arriving.”

The ambassador and his wife immediately noticed that Manila has changed and grown. The embassy is now standing on what used to be an empty grassy hill, back in the 90s.

Lyster was also previously posted in Kuala Lumpur as Deputy Head of Mission, where his main areas were political reporting and business promotion.

“I have this memory of arriving at the airport outside KL, and the car ride into the city centre, where the first big poster I saw was a big ad for Jotun paints!”

Now, when back in the region, he says his family will get to know the region and the country as much as possible. “As a family we enjoy travelling, and the Philippines is so much more than Metro Manila, and as ambassador I need to get to know the whole country, not only the capital region.”

Other than travelling, the ambassador says he likes to keep in shape, doing a lot of training, including playing tennis, and golf.

“I also found places where I can go running outside, so that’s one important thing.”

Solid maritime ties developing further

Norwgian Ambassador to the Philippines, Christian Lyster
Norwgian Ambassador to the Philippines, Christian Lyster

One of the cornerstones of the strong relations between Norway and the Philippines is of course the maritime sector. The ambassador confirms that Norway is well-known among Filipinos for shipping.

“It’s probably one of the main foundations for the thriving relationship between the two countries and it’s an important element for this year’s 75th anniversary of bilateral relations.”

“At any given time, there are up to 25 000 Filipinos working on Norwegian-controlled and Norwegian-owned ships,” he added.

Moreover, there are over fifty companies with Norwegian maritime interests established in the Philippines.

“Coming to a country where the maritime traditions are strong also means something for me personally, since my grandfather was a seafarer! He sailed for Wilhelmsen as a chief engineer for several decades and was also one of the many Norwegian war sailors”.

His grandfather, in fact, kept a memorabilia from his visits to Manila!

“Many Filipino seafarers working on Norwegian ships are graduates from the Norwegian Shipowners Association’s (NSA) cadet programme, managed by the Norwegian Training Centre established in Manila back in 1990s.“

His late father-in-law, a previous ambassador, laid the foundation for the old training facility back then!

Renewable energy potential

Beyond maritime, Norway also has interests in other sectors that strengthen the ties – especially within business and trade. Therefore, the inaugural ‘Creating Currents in the Energy and Maritime Industry’ conference was arranged in 2022.

Being one of the world’s leading players in renewable energy, Norway aims to assist the Philippines in increasing the share of renewable energy in the energy mix by 30% in 2030. It is also looking forward to introducing new renewable energy technologies, where the Philippines has a competitive edge.

A recent World Bank report has shown that the country could develop up to 178 GW of offshore wind. It is also an area where Norway and Norwegian companies have a lot of competence.

“There’s big potential to increase business presence and build capacity on the renewable energy sector here, specifically through technical experts. There are Norwegian companies currently involved in the renewable energy sector: on hydro, floating solar and hopefully offshore wind.”

“The conference showed that there is a lot of potential for investments here in the Philippines, however, regulations have to come into place. This is an area where you can match Norwegian competence and know-how with the potential here in the Philippines.”

“There’s a very strong link between the Norwegian maritime sector and the energy sector – especially offshore – and a lot of the capacity and competence we have built up over years especially relating to oil and gas is now being reused within the renewable fields,” comments the ambassador.

He focuses on areas with clear interest among the Filipinos: “We try to engage with the government in areas where we have common interests.

Ambassador Christian Lyster visits Samal Island and a UNDP project
Ambassador Christian Lyster visits Samal Island and a UNDP project

So far, the engagement with the host country has been positive: “The Philippine government is all open doors for opportunities, and the government and the Filipinos are very open-minded to influences and experiences from abroad. One reason might be the fact that at any given time a lot of Filipinos are working somewhere else in the world.”

“It’s also important to mention the close cooperation within the Philippines-Norway Business Council – representing and promoting business interests here and finding areas of competencies that can be beneficial for the Philippines as such.”

“More Norwegian companies are seeing investment potential here, going forward. This is an important part of the embassy’s work: to support Norwegian companies and businesses,” says the Ambassador.

“We are also seeing more liberalisation of certain sectors. More industries are allowed to take part in foreign ownership, which makes the country a more interesting market for not only Norwegian companies and investors but also from the whole of the Nordic region!” he adds.

“Making sure that the regulatory framework for business and trade is predictable over time is also very important. And right now, within various sectors, a lot of very good work is going on,” he adds.

The Norwegian Embassy in Manila also works on joint projects with other Nordic embassies here in Manila, such as The Nordic-Philippine Climate Executive Dialogue together with the Embassies of Finland, Sweden and Denmark in Manila.

Shipping in Norwegian fjord
Norwegian fjord

“We had the first joint project, and my two key takeaways are: 1) Nordic countries have a similar approach on the areas of climate and sustainable development, it’s very good that we can join forces together to promote this agenda. 2) It is not possible for a government to do everything alone and vice versa for the private sector to do it all. The Nordic countries are very used to this approach of cooperation between the public and the private sector.”

“The sustainability agenda was something all Nordic countries have in common. Another key takeaway is the strong interest in how we do things in the Nordics. Some of it can hopefully inspire the Philippines and local companies in their sustainability goals,” the ambassador comments on the latest forum.

75 years celebrations throughout 2023

The celebration of 75 years of diplomatic bilateral relations will continue throughout 2023. “Sustainability is high on our agenda this year, and we engage Norwegian companies on offshore wind and circular economy to take presence here in the Philippines.”

“Norwegian seafood export is another area with lots of potential, and we hope to expand seafood exports to the country.”

“The celebration of 75 years of Norway and the Philippines ties also extends on areas such as development, peace and reconciliation, and human rights. Over time, we have worked and cooperated within a broad spectrum of different sectors creating very strong bilateral ties between our two countries.”

“It’s not the embassy as such that created these ties over those years – it’s the Norwegian and Filipino companies, Norwegians that live here and Filipinos living in Norway, the Filipino seafarers, government agencies, and civil society organizations – it kind of encompasses everything. It’s a celebration of ties on many levels, within different sectors and of course my predecessors have helped to create these ties too!”

Ambassador Christian Lyster and NTC Cadets at Lyceum University
Ambassador Christian Lyster and NTC Cadets at Lyceum University

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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