Thailand and Indonesia celebrated their 70th diplomatic relations in 2020. Expat Life’s Kathy Pokrud sat down with H.E. Mr. Rachmat Budiman, the new Indonesian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand. Accompanied by Madame Reitanty Budiman, the diplomatic couple arriving to Thailand directly from Jakarta in December last year. In April, Ambassador Rachmat presented his credentials to His Majesty Raja Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua. In January, his ambassadorship also assumed the official duty as the Indonesian Permanent Representative to the UNESCAP. Ambassador Rachmat was the Inspector General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia from 2017-2019. He served as the Indonesian Ambassador to Austria and Slovenia and Ambassador/Permanent Representative to UNODC, UNIDO, CTBTO, IAEA, OFID, and IACA from 2012 – 2017.
Which city were you born and brought up?
I was born and grew up in Tasikmalaya, a small town located at the southeastern West Java Province. It is around 120kms from Bandung and 250kms away from Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. Tasikmalaya is known for its beautiful mountainside scenery, plaited mats, painted paper umbrellas, embroidery, hot springs and batik of particular designs and colours. I am proud to say that Tasikmalaya’s batiks are among the batik collection of King Rama V. One of the most famous places in Tasikmalaya is the remains of the Galunggung Mountain eruption, which happened in April 1982.
At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat?
I never had a dream to be a diplomat. Raised in the countryside, I spent my childhood playing in the paddy fields, catching kites, fishing barehanded and swimming in the river. Diplomacy had never crossed my mind until I finished my study at the faculty of law of the University of Indonesia in Jakarta. Being studied in one of the best universities in Indonesia opened my mind and perspective and that was how I finally started to apply to be the Foreign Service officer at the Indonesian foreign ministry.
Do you have any other diplomats in your family?
No, I do not have any relatives that worked or work as a diplomat. I am the only one of the five siblings of the family that pursues this career.
How do you see Thailand today, in ASEAN, and in a wider context?
Thailand is not only a neighbouring country, but also our close partner from the very beginning of the Independence Day of the Republic of Indonesia in 1945. Thailand is well known as a trusted and reliable friend and one of key economic drivers of ASEAN. These have undoubtedly provided strong and solid foundation for Thailand to engage with any other countries in the world including Indonesia.
In the context of ASEAN, as we know, both Indonesia and Thailand are the founding fathers of ASEAN in 1967. Since then, both countries continuously play significant roles in the ASEAN, particularly in promoting peace, security and prosperity in the region. Indonesia and Thailand underlined the importance of ASEAN as main regional mechanism in achieving regional stability and sustainable development.
Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand?
Historically, the fraternal ties of our two people dated back centuries ago through trade, religious contacts and exchange of cultural missions between our various kingdoms. We shared many similarities in term of culture and values. In term of language, we also shared many similarities, especially words derived from Sanskrit language such as Putra; Singha; Bhumi; Manusia/manut and Samudra/samut. Indonesia and Thailand also share same story of Ramayana and Panji or Inao in Thai.
We also have the same traditional ceremonies particularly one that is held during harvest season when neighbours show their kindness in helping those in need without asking for money or in return. In terms of cuisine, almost all of the fruits and vegetables grown in Thailand can be found in Indonesia as well. Similar menus of Thai and Indonesian food include Sate, Gado-Gado, Serabi dan Rujak.
Do you have children, if so at what age and where do they go to school, university or work?
Yes, I have a daughter and she got married in July. As a child of diplomat, she went to schools wherever I was assigned such as in The Hague, Perth, Vienna, and New York. She finished her Bachelor’s degree in Japan and now she lives in Jakarta with her husband.
How do you look upon your work here? How does an average day look like?
As close partners and friends, both countries have various cooperation mechanism in term of bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation. There are many opportunities to strengthen the existing cooperation such as maritime, trade and investment, defence, research and education, agriculture, energy, as well as social and culture. I have mapped out many programmes and activities to be conducted before I arrived in Bangkok, but due to Covid-19 pandemic, some need to be adjusted and some of them have been postponed.
During the pandemic, most of the programmes and activities are conducting virtually. We do hope that the situation will be better soon and I lam looking forward to having many activities, discussions and events to promote and strengthen the bilateral relations between Indonesia and Thailand.
For the time being, my average day is working at the office where I will have some meetings or discussion with my team. I frequently also have online meetings with the capital to discuss many issues ranging from political, economic, social-cultural, consular and education. As the Indonesian Permanent Representative to the UNESCAP, I also attend UNESCAP meetings and chair some of their meetings, which are very crucial and relevant to Indonesia’s interest. As the situation gets better, I also have plan to have meetings or pay a courtesy call to high ranking officials in Thailand at the Ministerial level or Director General. In June 2021, I had the privilege to pay a courtesy call to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and we had a friendly discussion on issues of our two countries’ interests.
I am also looking forward to meeting business communities, media, academician and other related stakeholders. I believe it is very essential for me to listen to everyone’s thoughts and ideas on how Thai and Indonesia can forge ahead together not only for the interest of our bilateral relations, but also of the regional and global.
Have you set some goals you would like to fulfil before you leave Thailand?
Giving the fact the tremendous potential and opportunities the two countries possess, I have set definite goals to achieve during my assignment as the Indonesian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand. In the economic sector, my target is to boost our export to Thailand to enable us to have a more balanced trade and to increase two-way investments. Indonesia and Thailand offer many opportunities and potentials that need to be tapped into. I also believe on the importance of increasing ‘people to people contact’ that will lead to a better understanding amongst us.
Have you managed to travel in Thailand yet?
Unfortunately, I arrived in Thailand during the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. The number of daily infection cases was higher than before and at that time the Thai government made a regional zoning policy based on the Covid situation development in each province.
Yet, I would love to travel across Thailand when the situation permits, as the Land of Smiles offers so many beautiful natural landscapes and historical heritages and more importantly its friendly people. I am definitely looking forward to that opportunity.
When you have a day off, what do you prefer to do? Hobbies or pastimes?
I usually spend my free time to do sports and enjoy art and music. Before the pandemic situation in Bangkok is worse, we used to play soccer, tennis and badminton at our premises and sometimes I tried to play golf. We are fortunate enough that our embassy is equipped with sport facilities such as a football field, tennis court and a multi-purpose sport hall. However, since there are current restriction policies from the Thailand government, especially a ban on mass gatherings, we have to temporarily suspend our group sport activities.
How many of your countryfolk are living in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?
Currently, there is approximately 2,000 Indonesians living in Thailand. Most of them are students or professionals working in the international organisations or in private companies. A small percentage of them are Indonesian’s married to Thais.
Indonesians choose Thailand because Thailand is a quite open country for foreigners to live in and also its close proximity to Indonesia, which is only three hours flight. In addition, Thailand and Indonesia share similar weather and culture, which make us easier to adapt and adjust to the environment and surroundings.
For students, Thailand is a friendly place, with many international class universities. Not only is Thailand a safe place, but another advantage is that Thailand has many choices of low cost airlines available before Covid-19 pandemic, so it is relatively convenient for Indonesians to go back and forth.
Does your country and Thailand have an exchange programme for students?
Indonesia and Thailand have provided some scholarship schemes for students in both countries so they can study and learn in some universities in Indonesia and vice versa. The scholarship aims not only to promote people-to-people contact, but also to enhance mutual understanding among youth of the two countries.
Some of the scholarships offered by the Indonesian Government are the Indonesian Arts and Culture Scholarship Programme (BSBI), Darmasiswa Scholarship Programme and Kemitraan Negara Berkembang Scholarship Programme for Thai Students. There are also other scholarships provided directly by Indonesian public or private universities. The BSBI and Dharmasiswa Scholarships have been successful in attracting the attention of Thais as the scholarships offer opportunities to learn Indonesian art and culture. We have actively promoted those scholarships to students across Thailand and I am proud to say that Thai students have shown great interest and enthusiasm in applying for the scholarships. Unfortunately, now we have to suspend the scholarships due to the pandemic but we will resume it once the situation gets better.
Any funny moment from Thailand that you’d like to tell us about?
Since I came to Thailand during the Covid-19 pandemic, I rarely had a chance to go outside the embassy to explore interesting places in Thailand, particularly in Bangkok. My fun moment so far in Thailand is that playing football at the Embassy’s premises with Indonesian students every Friday afternoon after office hours. It was really encouraging to see their spirit in playing football during which I had also the opportunity to talk freely on any issues of their needs and interests.
Do you regularly meet up with your community?
Yes, I have a regular programme called “Dubes RI Menyapa” to meet and greet the Indonesian community in Thailand. Dubes Menyapa is a suitable platform for me to meet our people here. During the meeting, we discuss a range of issues from consular and immigration issues, business opportunities, education, health, as well as a programme of Indonesian Diaspora in Thailand to promote bilateral relations between Indonesia and Thailand. We also created a platform to help and advise the Indonesian community in need due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Since there is a restriction on mass gatherings, we have held it online, but we will have it in person once the situation gets better.
In a normal situation, we also invite all Indonesian community to attend special occasions conducted by the Embassy such as celebration of anniversary of the Indonesian Independence’s Day and celebration of religious holidays or festivals.
We also engage the Indonesian Student’s Organisation in Thailand (PERMITHA) to collaborate with us in promoting Indonesia in Thailand, especially amongst their friends and community. We have great communication with Indonesian businessman in Thailand and held several programmes in order to support and strengthen our economic cooperation with Thailand.