When all the Kings came to Thailand

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Under the watchful eye of an impressive in-office Buddha, Diplomat met Mr. Chakri Srichawana, the Consul General of Thailand. The sang-froid he developed from surviving natural disasters gave him the cool head to handle his nation’s biggest ever gathering of royalty; perhaps the largest in the world.

While The Philippines may now be in the Hong Kong spotlight with stirring political turmoil, CG Srichawana got a stirring of another kind when he arrived in Manila on his first posting as a consul in Manila. From earthquakes to volcanic eruptions, he saw it all after he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1984.

The Thrilla in Manila

It was in 1991 that the young Srichawana xperienced his first volcanic eruption. It was a relatively gentle experience, delayed a day until volcanic ashes coming from Mount Pinatubo attacked Manila. ‘I remember the next morning when I woke up, (the city was) all covered by ashes, like snow!’

This gentle beginning led to bigger action. During his posting at Manila, he also survived an earthquake, where window cleaning platforms, high up on downtown buildings, swung like a pendulum. The earthquake felt like ‘a train running underneath’ the ground, as the Consul General described. The beginning of his career was characterised by earth-shaking occurrences that gave him a cool head for the rest of his career.

The young diplomat would probably think that these natural disasters are one of the biggest moments in his life, especially when Diplomat learned that his second posting was in London. It went ‘smooth’, as the Consul General recalls, but probably not as exciting as the life he had in the Philippines as the Anglo-Thai relationship was ‘stable’.

But as people say : ‘Big things have small beginnings’. For the Mr. Srichawana, his life in Manila and London were just a prelude for bigger things to come later. He returned to Bangkok and dived into protocol.

Protocol Passion Play

While Mr. Srichawana worked on many high level events, without a doubt the biggest was the Diamond Jubilee Celebration of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand – the highlight of his diplomatic career.

Royalty from around the globe came to attend the ceremony – 26 of them in total. Mr. Srichawana had to learn and execute on the protocols of ‘’different countries, different monarch’. Every country had its own protocol that had to be merged with that of Thailand, but also the other 26 nations represented. In addition to royal protocol, he also had to coordinate with the ‘lesser’ protocols governing politicians, other government officials and the vast operational complexity of this event.

The constellation of royals include Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands [now Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix], Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands[now King Willem-Alexander], Prince Albert of Monaco, the Sultan of Brunei, and even King Akihito, Emperor of Japan – noted to travel on only the most rare of occasions. The Emperor of Japan was, in the arcane world of royal protocol, held the most senior title, but, as the second longest serving monarch present, the Sultan of Brunei sat on the King’s right. The Duke of York represented Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth – who would have ranked #2 if she had had unfortunately been unable to attend.

The Royals were received in Anantasamakhom Throne Hall, specially built for the Jubilee. It wasn’t an easy task, but his efforts were paid off when he witnessed the historical group photo of different royal houses gathered together
to celebrate the King’s Diamond Jubilee.

At this historic moment, did the Consul General take a photo with the king then? “Unfortunately, no. I am not allowed to do so…for protocol work, we considered ourselves as the man behind the scenes, you have to be in the backstage for all times and make sure the front stage is OK’.

Mr Srichawana compares protocol work to risk management, where contingency plans have to be laid out beforehand to make sure everything runs flawlessly. He reminisced about the day when Prince Andrew, Duke of York who came on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II. The prince arrived Bangkok with a small private jet ‘with rains’. This is a challenge, as he recalls, but he also saw this as a chance to have his contingency plan tested.

At the same time, Mr. Srichawana revealed to us some inside details of the harmonious relationship between the two Majesties, including how the two address each other –

‘They [Queen Elizabeth II and King Bhumibol Adulyadej] are very close friends – they call each other brother and sister.’

Escape from Bangkok

His chance came in 2011, where his boss told him that he should go out and experience the world. He was appointed as the Consul General of Hong Kong and he feels ‘lucky’ about it.

He sees himself as diplomat that ‘looks deep on the social side’, as he doesn’t see any political problems between Hong Kong and Thailand. Not only he will continue represent the Thai government, he will also focus on assisting the Thai community and promoting Thailand’s image in Hong Kong.

Team Thai

To achieve this, he works seamlessly with his Team Thai in Hong Kong. This multidisciplinary group includes government officials from multiple ministries and the corporate world. They include officials from the Department of Trade, Commerce, Customs, Labour and Tourism, along with a representative from (government owned) Thai Airways who meet weekly to coordinate promotional activities. These officials each have different lines of reporting outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but cohabitate and meet weekly to work together. He stressed that his role as the Consul General includes ‘information’, where he has to report to the Thai government on the current situation in Hong Kong (‘But not intelligence’) to Bangkok, from finance, logistics to education system. Personally he sees Hong Kong as a role model for Thailand. The education system, for example, even if Hong Kong doesn’t top the list, but ‘it is still top’ and is good for Thailand to take reference on it.

Despite his daily duties, the Consul General also spends a lot of time with the Thai community in Hong Kong – approximately 3000 people. He reserves his Sundays for them, with activities held near Kowloon City – a place which has been regarded as Thai territory in Hong Kong. In addition to fellowship, this is where the Thai community organises to help their comrades acquire new knowledge ranging from language to culinary skills.

For other Consul Generals, they usually have a fixed posting, where they have to return to their home country after a few years. The Thai diplomatic service is different – they have no fixed term for incountry or foreign postings. This Consul General has no clue on how long he will be staying in Hong Kong – neither does Diplomat. As long has he can serve his King, country and fellow Thais, he seems happy to serve in Hong Kong.