One of the first outings that Norwegian Ambassador to Thailand Kjetil Paulsen went on was a visit to Klong Toey slum community, Thailand’s single biggest shanty town right in the middle of Bangkok. There, a Norwegian non-governmental organization helps maintain a daycare center and kindergarten for children from underprivileged families. As someone from one of the world’s most egalitarian societies, the ambassador’s reaction was uncharacteristic in the sense that he was neither shocked nor judgmental about what he saw.
That must have a lot to do with his 31-year diplomatic career, with strong emphasis on human rights and humanitarian affairs. Ambassador Paulsen has seen the whole range of human miseries caused by wars, natural disasters or epidemic outbreaks, in many international hotspots spanning continents. So perhaps it’s only natural that he immediately switched to pragmatic problem-solving mode.
“It’s a problem that I hope can be solved,” the envoy said matter-of-factly in a recent interview with ScandAsia. “Let’s hope that there will be some kind of conscience that – in any society, not just Thailand – if you are doing okay, you got good education, are making good money and have risen up in the society, then it’s important that you don’t pull off the ladder thus preventing struggling people from developing, pulling themselves up.”
He said Bangkok may be the wealthiest city in Thailand, but there are still hundreds of thousands of people living in poverty. “I went there [to Klong Toey] because I wanted to see how people are living – not only those who live in fancy high-rises but also people who live under the expressway, in slums in very poor conditions.”
The ambassador said reduction of poverty and inequality is important in any country and that if such related issues as lack of access to education, poor sanitation, unemployment and social injustice, are left unattended to, then there will always be a source of conflicts. He pointed out that any social and economic development model that ignores inequality will not be sustainable.
“People cannot forever accept that situation. Wise politicians should be aware of this. It should be one of their highest priorities.”
In line with the position taken by most western democracies on what happened to Thailand’s democracy, the ambassador said Norway regrets the ouster of a democratically-elected civilian government by the military, trying of civilians in military courts and restrictions on civil liberties. He hopes that Thailand will return to genuine democratic rule as soon as possible.
In the mean time, Norway wants to continue to engage in dialogue the [current] government along with the civil society and stakeholders in Thailand’s political, social and economic life. “So we are not running away. And as ambassador I have no restriction whatsoever in interacting with the Thai government,” Paulsen stressed.
He said military governments used to be common among developing countries in 1970s and 1980s. Then gradually democracy has grown stronger in Latin America, Africa and Asia. And for a while in the past several years there were only a handful of military governments in world. Against that background, it’s hard for Thailand not to be seen in negative light.
Norway has always had strong commercial interest in Thailand. The ambassador is keen to meet with the Commerce Ministry and ICT Ministry to discuss issues related to foreign businesses and the country’s telecom policy.
With Telenor/dtac on the verge of implementing a strategy to make additional huge investment to make internet available to every person in Thailand. “We want to see good framework for businesses that has strategic goal for Thailand. That investment if go through will be a big step forward for both Thailand and Norwegian businesses.”
For many years now, Thailand has not received any traditional foreign aid from Norway or other countries. Most of Norway’s ongoing cooperation programmes in Thailand are about natural resource management, fisheries and climate and related issues on the transboundary development framework in Southeast Asia, he said.
About 150,000 Norwegians visit Thailand each year. 7,000-8,000 residents live in Pattaya, Phuket, Hua Hin and Chiang Mai. According to Thai Embassy in Oslo, there are about 14,000 Thais, most of them married to a Norwegian, living in Norway. The Norwegian Embassy in Bangkok issued almost 10,000 visas for Thais to travel to Norway every year.
Another key responsibility of the Norwegian Embassy is to assist nor Norwegian citizens who need help. “Norwegian pensioners are getting older and sicker. We have to make sure we can assist them in proper way. We will need help and are exploring possibility of cooperation with Thai authorities and maybe to also get Thai businesses involved.”
The Embassy has 15 people working on assistance to Norwegian citizens.
According to the Norwegian Embassy, it is estimated that the approximate 8,000 Norwegian retirees who live in Thailand full-time or most time of the year, collectively spend about 500 million kroners, or the equivalent of THB2.5 billion baht, of their living allowances drawn from their pensions, including medical expenses.
At work, he tends to take inclusive approach in and delegate as many tasks as possible to my colleagues.
Thai people are very sympathetic, cautious, pleasant and a bit subtle.
Ambassador Paulsen lives in Bangkok with his 17-year-old son, Trym, who has just finished high school in Oslo and is now spending time weighing his options for further studies. His wife, Pia, is assistant to the State Secretary in charge of European affairs. Their other son, 19, is attending university in Norway.
“She is happy for my posting in Thailand. But I hope she misses me,” the ambassador said.
The ambassador regularly uses BTS Skytrain to travel to and from work, which takes less than 5 minutes, if weather permits. He is also a keen tennis player at a neighbourhood tennis club in Sukhumvit area.
1983 Start of career in the foreign service.
1985-88 First posting as a junior diplomat in New York City.
1988-90 Lagos, Nigeria.
1991-94 Bucharest, Rumania.
1995-2002 Back to Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo working mainly in human rights and humanitarian affairs. Travelled extensively to virtually all countries in deep crisis. Came to Thailand for the first time visiting refugee camps on Thai-Myanmar border.
2002 Promoted to Geneva UN office to work on security policies, disarmament.
2006-2009 Back to Oslo.
2009 Promoted as first-time ambassador to Macedonia.
2012-2014 Back to Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo again 2012-14
From August 28, 2014 Ambassador to Thailand