Jon Åström Gröndahl sums up his first year as Ambassador to Thailand

On 10 June, Swedish Ambassador to Thailand Jon Åström Gröndahl released his monthly newsletter to all Swedes in Thailand. In the newsletter, the Ambassador sums up his first year in the Kingdom and points out some of the difficulties and challenges the pandemic has brought along.

The newsletter reads:

Dear all,
It’s time, to sum up, my first year as ambassador to Thailand. But how do you really do that? A time like no other, where the pandemic has affected us all, perhaps more than we fully realize today. I do not primarily think of how different job activities have had to be postponed or canceled, such things can almost always be recouped. No, I’m thinking of everything else. The family reunion that never happened, Christmas celebration with loved ones, birthdays that had to be canceled, and perhaps in the worst case a funeral you could not be able to attend. Simply all the occasions where we come together as friends, families, and fellow human beings. We are now fully dependent on the digital world but a great deal is being lost there. I believe in the power of personal meetings and sincerely hope that we can soon meet again physically.

The embassy is facing the annual holiday period. Of course, we are open to foreign service throughout the period, but there may be slightly longer response times when we temporarily reduce staffing. For me, my first year as an ambassador has offered several great experiences. It is a privilege to represent Sweden in Thailand and I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with a fantastic team of colleagues. I am also glad that I have been able to make at least a few trips around Thailand. Unfortunately, not as many as we had planned, but there will be more opportunities later.

The light in the pandemic tunnel is thankfully getting stronger every month. Vaccinations start, slowly but surely. The embassy staff, just like probably many of you readers, are eagerly waiting to receive the first dose and some have been able to make an appointment in the national Thai vaccine program already. At home in Sweden, it also looks brighter than it has been in a long time. More and more people will be able to enjoy the summer with the increased security the vaccination offers.

Thailand is also in the middle of rebuilding the country’s economy. There is no doubt that the pandemic has created major challenges and we see all the direct consequences in, for example, the tourism sector. Entire areas are more or less abandoned waiting for visitors to return. Here, too, cautious flashes of light begin to appear, but I estimate that it will take a long time for tourists to fully return. And I think it would be wise, I know it has been done in the province of Chonburi, for example, to use this time to devise partly new and more environmentally sustainable offers for foreign tourists. I am convinced that international travel is facing major changes and countries are always wise to adapt to new behaviors and patterns.

Domestically, it has been, and in part still is, a turbulent time in the country. This is certainly not new for Thailand, but at this time I think there is a special reason to work for an inclusive political dialogue. The wounds between different groups can only heal through a real dialogue process, where everyone is allowed to speak. The new young generation of Thais needs to be heard.

The embassy is now planning for the work we have to do in the fall. We will welcome several new employees and also grow further in connection with the closure of the embassy in Phnom Penh in Cambodia and the responsibility being transferred to us in Bangkok. I wonder if we will be Sweden’s second or third largest embassy after this change ?! An exciting challenge. Our overall priorities remain the same. We will continue to assist Swedish citizens consularly, we will maintain good migration activities, we will promote Swedish entrepreneurship and we will market Sweden and stand up for Swedish foreign policy priorities.

The Government’s commitment to democracy continues with vigor and our regional development cooperation is facing an exciting new strategy period. Particular attention will need to continue to be paid to the very serious developments in Myanmar. In other words, there will be no shortage of work assignments. But first a little holiday after a very different financial year.

Finally, let me take the opportunity to wish everyone a really nice summer and hope that we can see each other soon in different contexts!

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