Thailand and Portugal have enjoyed over 500 years of bilateral relations, and Portugal was the first European nation to make contact with the Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1511. Expat Life recently sat down with H.E. Mr. Joao-Bernardo Weinstein, the new Portuguese Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand. Arriving directly to Thailand in January this year from his ambassadorship in Israel, Ambassador Weinstein received his credentials from the King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua in April. In addition to Thailand, he is also Ambassador non-resident to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Multi linguist career diplomat
Ambassador Weinstein was born in Lisbon, Portugal. He graduated with a First Degree and Ph.D. in History, and Masters in Political Sciences at the University of Paris. He speaks seven languages, including Portuguese, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Romanian. Ambassador Weinstein recalled why he chose a diplomatic career, “My German great grandfather was the Consul-General to the German empire. As a banker and businessman, he was very much involved of both diplomatic and business affairs. Our family moved to Portugal in 1880. I think I was already fascinated with the idea of becoming a diplomat since I was a 12 year old boy. I started off my first two years of working career as a professor before joining the Foreign Service in 1986”.
During a distinctive diplomatic career, Ambassador Weinstein has had overseas postings in Austria, Cyprus, India, Italy and Germany. His first ambassadorship was in Romania (2013) and in Moldova (non-resident 2014) followed by Israel (2017).
Impressions on Thailand
Expat Life asked Ambassador Weinstein on his views of Thailand in ASEAN, “Thailand as a founder member of ASEAN is an important and responsible partner. My impression is that Thailand often acts very discreet with traditional quiet diplomacy to deal with authoritarian regimes, as opposed to more outspoken countries. It is a very interesting manner of doing things that may be, in some circumstances, more efficacious.
On the subject of similarities between Portugal and Thailand, “Portugal is a country of sea traders and explorers, with our extensive history, there are Portuguese influence in Thailand in terms of architecture and cuisine. I am very impressed with the grandiose of Thai temples. I believe that there are similarities between our two countries. A very good, and touching, example is the love of children and the culture of close family orientation.”
With the current Covid restrictions, Ambassador Weinstein has frankly admitted that it has put certain limitations to his work. “For the first two months after my arrival, I was able to meet with representatives of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the diplomatic core and other business communities. Unfortunately, since the partial lockdown from April, meetings are limited to online. Video conferencing as the new form of communication cannot compare the effectiveness of face-to-face physical discussions. The uncertain progress of the Covid situation also dampens our ability to set goals. At this stage we focus on Consular work, trying to support Portuguese nationals living in Thailand and/or in the other countries we are accredited to, and study how best to resume our work in the cultural, business and political domains when the time is again appropriate for it.
On travelling around Thailand, Ambassador Weinstein regretted that he has not had the opportunity to travel around yet. On weekends, apart from enjoying his love of reading, “I like taking walks from our embassy to Chinatown to explore new temples or cultural attractions. I appreciated the visit to the National Museum and Jim Thompson’s House.”
Thailand as a tourist destination
According to Ambassador Weinstein, there is not a huge community of Portuguese living in Thailand, around 200. Due to the Covid situation, it has not been possible to meet up with his local community. Thailand is a desirable tourist destination for Portuguese visitors. “There is a classic Siamese style pavilion built in Jardim de Vasco da Gama, Lisbon. It was a tributary gift to Portugal from the Thai government. The Thai Pavilion was inaugurated by Her Royal Highness, the Princess Maha Sirindhorn in 2012, and represents a token of friendship and recognition of 500 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. There are Thai restaurants in Portugal. We also see Thai investment in our country.”
On the subject of students exchange programme, Ambassador Weinstein shared, “Currently, we do not have many exchange programme for students. This is one area that I hope to focus and improve on.”
As Expat Life closes the interview, Ambassador Weinstein shared, “Although I have arrived in Bangkok for a few months, I visited Thailand before as a tourist and very much looked forward to my posting here. Thai hospitality is well recognised and I totally agree. I have felt tremendously welcome since my arrival.”