By Kevin Gray
The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries, including an estimated 8,000 deaths and as many injuries in Thailand. As the water receded, Suriya Chindawongse ’87, a member of the Thai diplomatic corps in his native country, was one of many who sprang into action to support rescue efforts and help families reconnect.
In the following months, Chindawongse developed strategies for regional cooperation. A paper he prepared on this work became the basis for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) disaster management plan.
Now director of the ASEAN division for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok, Thailand, Chindawongse is playing a key role in the creation of the ASEAN Community, an initiative intended to help Southeast Asia maintain strong inter-country relations, boost economic competitiveness, and attract investors.
“The ASEAN division of the ministry is the principal focal point in preparing Thailand to become part of the ASEAN Community, which will be realized by 2015,” Chindawongse explains. “It is the national secretariat in all matters dealing with ASEAN integration, responsible for coordination on all issues related to the three pillars—political-security, economic, and socio-cultural.”
Chindawongse, who has chief responsibility for political and security matters in his division, has also been appointed as speechwriter for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the first woman to hold that position in Thailand.
“In this interconnected world, it is so important to have good communications and understanding between countries,” Chindawongse says. “The fundamental job of the diplomat is to create the best conditions for better understanding, from which will flow mutual benefits.”
“My job is to help people understand Thailand better, and appreciate it as an open society and democracy that welcomes foreign investment and tourism and is a strong supporter of the ASEAN Community and the United Nations,” he explains. “And, most importantly, [it involves] helping Thai people around the world when they are in need.”
The son of diplomat, Chindawongse grew up with a bird’s eye view of this life of service that he now leads.
His father served in embassies in nine different countries. Born in Thailand, Chindawongse moved to Paris when he was 2 years old. He went to kindergarten in Moskow, elementary school in Iran, middle school in Thailand, and finished high school in Vienna, Austria.
An international affairs and economics and business graduate, Chindawongse says he appreciated the interdisciplinary approach at Lafayette that allowed him to have an open mind and look for new ideas for problem-solving. Another valuable experience, he says “was my involvement in organizing events for international students, which gave me a lot of management and negotiating skills that are invaluable in my line of work.”
Chindawongse holds a doctorate in international relations from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. He worked at Citibank, Thailand, before joining the Thai Foreign Service at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand. Chindawongse also served at the Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations in New York from 2001 to 2003.