Interview with H.E. Mrs. Annette Knobloch, ambassador of Germany in Laos
I THINK SOUTHEAST ASIA IS CURRENTLY ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING AND EXCITING REGIONS IN THE WORLD
Interview by Dr Pick Keobandith, Founder and International Director, Inspiring Culture
H.E. MRS. ANNETTE KNOBLOCH
Laos has had its first ever high speed train since the 3rd December 2021. It is called Lane Xang (Million Elephants) as Laos was previously known as the Lane Xang Kingdom. The train’s exterior is red, blue and white, representing the national flag of Laos from 1975. The interior seating is patterned with Dok Champa (Magnolia champaca).
The Ambassador of Germany in Laos, H.E. Mrs. Annette Knobloch, explains the priorities of German Diplomacy which focuses on “maintaining and promoting stability, prosperity and freedom in the Indo Pacific region”. The fight against climate change as well as Art and Culture are also high on her agenda.
- Germany has a strong reputation as an economic power yet its diplomatic influence is less well known. Can you tell us about Germany’s diplomatic position and objectives, especially in Southeast Asia?
Germany has an excellent reputation in many areas of bilateral cooperation with Southeast Asian countries. We are addressing important issues such as climate and environmental protection, renewable energies and vocational training.
Germany is very aware that the Indo-Pacific region, especially Southeast Asia, has gained in importance in recent years. In September 2020, the German government adopted a strategy, the Policy Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific, establishing a new framework for Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy.
As you point out: Germany is a global trading nation. Therefore, we have a keen interest in maintaining and promoting stability, prosperity and freedom in the Indo-Pacific region. Over 20 percent of Germany’s trade exchange takes place in this region. The EU member states are among the most important investors in the Indo-Pacific.
Germany is committed to strengthening the rules-based international order, to ensure thatit remains a place of inclusive cooperation. Germany therefore advocates open shipping routes, open markets and free trade, a level playing field, digitalisation, connectivity and human rights – in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.
One of the biggest challenges facing the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, is the fight against climate change. The German Government intends to find solutions to this together with the countries of the region and is therefore supporting projects, including within the framework of the International Climate Initiative.
• How do you and the other European diplomats work together in Vientiane?
Laos is a particularly good example of excellent local cooperation between European diplomats. We are closely coordinating with our colleagues from the European Union, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Hungary as part of “Team Europe”. Last year, the Team Europe strategy 2021-2025 was adopted.
The areas in which Team Europe and the Lao government work together in a spirit of trust include “Green and inclusive economy”, “Human Capital Development” and “Good governance”.
With funds of over EUR 550 million, Team Europe supports the Lao government in the implementation of the 9th Socio-Economic Development Plan 2021-2025. At the same time, Team Europe is supporting Laos in the graduation process from LDC status in 2026.
Germany is pleased to contribute approximately EUR 90 million to the Team Europe strategy, making it the second largest bilateral donor within Team Europe for the period. Three quarters of the funds are primarily used to support the further development of a green and inclusive economy.
• This year’s Documenta, the famous contemporary art gathering in Kassel,Germany, invited a collective from Indonesia to be artistic directors. This isan unprecedented initiative bridging eastern and western cultures. What importance does the role of culture have in your own actions?
It is an honor for Germany to organize one of the world’s most important exhibitions of contemporary art for 100 days every five years.This year’s Documenta – “documenta fifteen”,which ends on September 25, 2022 – is for the first time under the artistic direction of a collective of artists and creatives from Indonesia, who have created an exhibition of art and creativity from across the Global Southand beyond.
I used to work in the field of art and culture. That is why I visit the Documentas or other art exhibitions whenever I can. I recently visited the National Institute of Fine Arts in Vientiane.
Art and culture, as a central part of civil society, play an important role for the activities of the German embassy in Laos. The outside murals of our embassy were painted by a young Lao artist and has attracted a lot of attention.
With our cultural projects we aim to convey a modern image of Germany in Laos and provide insights into cultural life in Germany. Our cultural work also includes promoting the German language and cultural exchange between Germany and Laos.
In recent years, Germany has supported Laos primarily in the area of cultural preservation. Around EUR 2.3 million has been made available since 1989 as part of the German cultural preservation program. Our projects range from the preservation of old Buddhist writings on palm leaves to the restoration of important Buddhist photographs and the training of monks in conservation tasks.
The most outstanding project is certainly the restoration and conservation of the murals of Vat Sisaket in Vientiane, which was completed and handed over in 2017 after six years of funding.
• Can you tell us something about your personal experience of Laos? Being immersed in new countries and their cultures is certainly an attractive part of your work. What have you discovered in Laos?
Since I worked on Southeast Asia in Berlin from 2017 to 2021, the region was not unknown to me before I took up my post as Ambassador to Laos. By the time I arrived in Vientiane in July 2021, I had already traveled to a number of Southeast Asian countries – except for Laos.
I think Southeast Asia is currently one of the most interesting and exciting regions in the world – from a political, economic and cultural point of view. I was really looking forward to my new post in Laos.
However, when I entered the country last summer, the country’s borders had been closed. Not an ideal start for beginning a new posting, not an easy time for the people of Laos. Together with the Lao people, I was delighted when the decision was made to open the country in spring.
Although I have been here for about a year, I still regularly discover new things – in particular cultural peculiarities of Laos, Buddhist festivals and customs. I am currently looking forward to this year’s Boun Oook Phansaa, which I will be spending with my family in Luang Prabang. The trip planned last year was canceled at short notice due to the lockdown.
Fortunately, I still have many weeks and months ahead of me when I will have the opportunity to unearth further numerous cultural treasures in Laos.
H.E. Mrs. Annette Knobloch © German EmbassyVientiane / Team Europe © EU Delegation Vientiane
Europe Day 2022 © Thiane Khamvongsa / Visit in Oudomxay © German Embassy VientianeVat Sisaket © German Embassy Vientiane
Exposition © German Embassy Vientiane