Sandra Landi took over the post as the Danish ambassador to Singapore in august 2020. This was during a time where the pandemic was at its highest. Though it was an important time to step in to the role, it also proved challenging for the newly appointed ambassador.
”Taking over this position during the Pandemic was a challenge. We spent a lot of time trying to observe and report back to Denmark on what Singapore was doing in relations to the pandemic,” the ambassador says with and accommodating smile.
Singapore’s covid restriction was among the strictest worldwide, which made it difficult for the ambassador to fulfill her duties. For most of the first two years of her deployment, there was harsh restrictions on how many people were allowed to meet. Around 8-9 month they were only allowed to gather two people at any given time. This made it hard to create a network and to generate connections between Denmark and Singapore.
”Much of what we do is to bring people together. Our main job is to ensure that Danish companies or visiting delegations manage to meet with the right people. This is very difficult if you can only arrange a meeting between two people,” she adds with a warm laugh.
Another challenge at the embassy, was helping all the Danes who got caught in the various Corona restrictions.
“Traveling in and out of the country was not permitted. Or you could leave the country, but it was sometimes difficult to travel back in. So overall we spent a lot of time and energy on the pandemic.”
Her burnt red suit, that she bought on sale back in Denmark, brightens up the otherwise grey office space in 101 Thompson Road. Besides her own presence, the only colorful thing around is the two Danish flags placed on the dresser behind her desk and two framed pictures that indicates, that there is a private person behind this passionate and dedicated working woman.
Getting back to a new normal
”Singapore doesn’t make rules for fun. In the everyday life here you don’t really notice them. But you noticed during Covid, where there were so many strict rules to obey.”
When they removed most of the restrictions in the autumn, all the embassy tasks came pouring in at once. This resulted in some long and stressful months for the ambassador. Finally, she seems to have reached a point of normalcy. She is now beginning to get the sense of, what the everyday life as the Danish ambassador to Singapore in reality looks like.
”It’s really nice. It is much more fun and more giving to work on digitalization or the energy challenges than it is to talk about Covid restrictions and infection rates,” she adds with beaming eyes and a positive grin.
Not her first time in Southeast Asia
It is not the ambassadors first experience with southeast Asia. She was stationed in Bangkok from the end of 2013 to 2016. After that she worked in Washington for a few years, primarily at the World Bank. After that, she was back in Denmark for a year before she took on the position as Denmark’s ambassador to Singapore.
”I was very happy to come back to Southeast Asia. I think it is an incredible exciting region to work in. The countries are very different from each other. It is not a homogeneous region. But all countries seem to be keen on cooperating within the areas they are capable of cooperating on,” the ambassador says with a lot of enthusiasm.
One of the reasons why, the ambassador finds the region extremely interesting, is its diversity. The region is well known for its function as a form of production house. But the ambassador has witnessed a change in the attitude towards the production industry. An area that has become more focused on becoming greener.
“The whole green energy agenda has become relatively big in the region. This is very well, since that’s one of Denmark’s main agendas,” she adds.
Going green is not an easy transition
Unlike the Nordic countries, Singapore faces the problem of not having any wind. The country has therefore set up solar cells everywhere possible. Still, it is simply not enough to cover the country’s energy needs. Singapore is thereby challenged by the fact, that the country doesn’t have access to renewable energy. This is something the Scandinavian embassies spend a lot of time working on.
”It is something that we work on in cooperation with all of ASEAN. Both on a national level, regional level and on a broader scale.”
She then adds, that the collaboration between the environmental ministries has been proven fruitful. Among others, the ministries work together in support of Singapore’s Green Plan 2030.
”All parties agree that something must be done and Singapore is a very action-oriented country. This makes the collaboration even more interesting,” ambassador Landi adds.
Collaboration between the Nordics
According to the ambassador, there is a close cooperation between the Nordic countries, which all share the same green agenda.
”Together, we try to promote a green transition and sustainability. We all act together under this umbrella we call sustainability. Everything we work on is in some way related to creating sustainable solutions,” she says.
At the moment, the Nordic embassies have a joint project on circular economy. Here, each nation bring in talents from their respective country in cooperation with Singapore.
“Singapore is very inspired by how we run things in the Nordic countries. Singapore is a far more liberal country. Their tax level is much lower than ours, so it’s not because they wish to copy our welfare system, but there are still many areas in which they are very interested.”
According to the ambassador, the interest for the Scandinavian nations has also something to do with the fact, that they are all small countries.
“It’s like there is a mutual understanding between us because of that,” the ambassador adds.
Better late than never
According to Landi, Singapore has joined the climate battle a little later than many other countries. But despite the late start, the country is very set on reaching their goals for 2050.
”Right now, the country is known as “the little red dot”, but the goal is to be called “the little green dot” instead,” she tells with excitement.
One of the ambassador’s main focus areas has become energy efficiency of the buildings in Singapore. According to Landi, Denmark has many skilled companies within that field. This is despite the fact, that the Danish companies are mostly used to keeping the heat inside the buildings. But according to the ambassador, many of the same technologies can also be used in keeping the heat out and the cool air in. One of her core tasks is therefore to promote Danish solutions in energy efficiency. This would not only help reduce Singapore’s climate footprint, but also help create jobs back in Denmark.
Not just a one-way street
The cooperation between Denmark and Singapore is according to the ambassador, not just a one-way transaction.
”This is what makes the cooperation so interesting, that it is two-way. Of course, it is very important to us to sell Danish solutions, but we can also bring a lot back to Denmark.”
One of the systems that the Danish embassy is getting inspired by, is how Singapore manages the huge amount of rain they have without experiencing flooding. A system the ambassador thinks might be interesting to her home country.
She then explains how they are working on collaborating in several areas. The goal is for the two countries to extend the cooperate to involve research, further exports and attract investments from Singapore.
“In the past, Denmark looked more at Singapore as a market. It is still a market, but it has also evolved to be much more than that. That makes it so interesting to be a part of this bilateral cooperation.”
Much easier to collaborate
Back when ambassador Landi was stationed in Thailand, she experienced the military coup back in 2014. It made it difficult as a European diplomat to try and cooperate with a military government. A collaboration that proved to be complex and resulted in many projects being put on hold.
“The cooperation here in Singapore is much easier. We see more eye-to-eye on things,” she then adds.
According to the ambassador, this is one of the reasons why she believes Singapore to be a relatively easy country to be a Danish ambassador. She adds, that the cultural gap is not too deep.
“We are very direct in Denmark, and they are relatively direct in Singapore as well. Although they are not quite as direct as we are in Denmark. But as a Dane, you will probably always have to moderate yourself a bit when going out in the world,” she says with a warm smile and an affectioned laugh.
Not eye-to-eye on everything
”There is no doubt that one of the areas where we disagree with Singapore, is our views on freedom of speech. That is no secret. It is something that we talk openly about and we agree that we have different views on this. Singapore was built on painful experiences of ethnic clashes when they were part of Malaysia. This is why there is a fear of racist statements. That is Singapore’s reason for restricting freedom of expression in the country.”
At the same time, she makes it clear, that Singapore is not a restrictive regime on all levels. This is why the ambassador does not believe it to be a problem that affects their relationship.
“But it is something we talk about once in a while. Just like we raise questions on their use of the death penalty and caning (a physical punishment in the form of being whipped with a bamboo cane). It is certainly issues we often raise, not just from the Danish side, but from the EU as well,” the ambassador shares.
Despite the many areas where the two small nations seem to have a shared understanding, there are still difference in how they each go about creating the ideal society and how they define democracy.
Still, she doesn’t see it as a big barrier in their cooperation. They agree to disagree on certain areas and manages to have an open dialog about their differences.
Will miss it
With only a year and a half left as Denmark’s ambassador to Singapore, Sandra Landi can already say, that she is going to miss the country when she is set to leave.
“I will miss Singapore when I leave here in a year and a half. I still miss Thailand from my time there. To me, every country has some strengths and good sides that you will miss, when your time there is over,” she says with a bit of nostalgia.
Still, she makes it clear, that she is not focused on the future. Instead she tries to stay present and focus on the tasks ahead of her.
“You have to stay present when you live this changeable life as a diplomat,” she adds.
A skill she has also adopted for the sake of her two girls at the age of 9 and 11, who attends an international school in Singapore.
“It is equally important to them, that we focus on our everyday life here and have them feel a sense of security instead of focusing on what is going to happen next.”
Both girls are being taught Danish as a part of the curriculum in school, which is not an option most places.
“Another reason why it is such an easy place to settle down. There are many good schools in Singapore and they are easy to access. Singapore is in general a lovely place to live. It’s a nice place to be. There is a lot of work to be done, but there is a positive agenda here, which makes it much easier to get things done.”