With the overthrow of democratically-elected civilian government by the military in May this year, Thailand has entered another difficult phase in its political, economic and social development, according to Danish Ambassador to Thailand Mikael H. Winther. But the envoy pointed out that given the country’s resilience and its ability to bounce back from past setbacks, there’s room for optimism.
“We, the EU and Denmark, are very concerned about the ongoing situation. You have a democratic government put out of power and a military takeover. That’s a cause for concern. We are worried about human rights, including freedom of speech, voting rights, access to justice and rule of law,” said the ambassador in an interview with ScandAsia. “But I also say, because I have been here long enough, there’s a way out for Thailand and the Thai people will find it.”
“We follow the situation closely and I myself am optimistic. I have seen for myself during [Thailand’s] other difficult time, the Thai people eventually found the solutions to their problems. And that’s encouraging,” said Ambassador Winther, who had served as first secretary at the embassy in Bangkok during the turbulent years of 1995-98 and witnessed Thailand’s 1997 meltdown that led to East Asia’s financial crisis.
He said openness to the world is one of positive attributes of the Thai society.
“Now even as we see the current political setback as a matter of great concern, I would say the openness is still there,” the ambassador said. “Openness is a cultural thing. It’s not a matter of choice of the Thai government [what Thailand’s future will look like]. It’s the choice of the Thai people.”
As good friends and partners in trade and development, Denmark would like to see the restoration of democracy, rule of law, human rights and freedom of expression in Thailand as soon as possible.
“It is my job as a Danish ambassador to promote Danish interests and values. I try to persuade my Thai partners and friends to consider features of Denmark’s inclusive democratic political system, green economic model and egalitarian social values that have worked very well for us – which might serve as an inspiration for the Thai society.”
The ambassador stressed the importance of social equality, which underpins an inclusive democratic political system and sustainable economy, saying he disagrees to the notion that widening income gap is a phase that all developing countries have to go through as they make progress.
“From our experience, Denmark has demonstrated that you can progress faster with relatively high level of equality. Equality in standard of living, access to education and life opportunities contribute to wealth and happiness,” Ambassador Winther said. “We have proved it. Denmark has consistently been ranked among countries with the highest level of equality and income in the world.”
The ambassador said Thailand’s attractiveness for trade and investment in the eye of Danish companies remained undiminished. “Danish companies continue to be interested and invested in Thailand. Thailand’s investment promotion policy has hardly ever changed under successive governments, or even under the military rule,” the ambassador said, describing Thailand’s attitude towards foreign investment as always very welcoming.
“Danish companies are very much aware of that. And we continue to encourage Danish businesses to come.”
People-to-people contact between Denmark and Thailand remains strong, with more than 170,000 Danish tourists visiting Thailand each year, the ambassador said, adding that also intermarriages between Danish-Thai citizens are becoming more common.
Caption: Danish Ambassador Mikael H. Winther and his ergonomic, height-adjustable workstation at which he works standing up most of the time.