On the World Stage

HE Lee Hiong Tan Wee, Am­bas­sador of the Philip­pines to In­done­sia, turns to di­plo­matic du­ties to main­tain 70 years of col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Indonesia Tatler - - Faces - Jamie Mckin­non writes

First a teacher in physics and elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing for six years at his alma mater in 1968, HE Lee Hiong Tan Wee had the idea to be­gin sell­ing sea­weed; later on, the fam­ily com­pany also branched out to real es­tate with the de­vel­op­ment of Boni­fa­cio Global City (BGC) among many other sky­scrapers built over the last 10 years. Now, hav­ing been an ac­tive and suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man for more than 50 years in the sea­weed busi­ness, the com­pany has been handed over to his six chil­dren who are adding a gar­ment-pur­chas­ing line from Solo to help sup­ply uni­forms to teach­ers and mil­i­tary mem­bers in the Philip­pines.

HE Wee him­self, how­ever, was of­fered the post of the Filipino Am­bas­sador to In­done­sia by Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, and he em­braced it with the same fo­cus and pas­sion he had ap­plied to his busi­ness. “It was the right time to do some­thing for my coun­try,” he ex­plained. “I’m not a trained diplo­mat but a busi­ness­man, which is why I will fo­cus on the bi­lat­eral busi­ness be­tween the Philip­pines and In­done­sia.”

These back­grounds al­low HE Wee to see things with a unique per­spec­tive and led him to fo­cus on mak­ing an ef­fec­tive dif­fer­ence. He be­lieves that: “Be­ing an eco­nomic diplo­mat is the high­est form of diplo­macy in the For­eign Ser­vice be­cause you can make things hap­pen both in in­dus­try and in busi­ness and cre­ate em­ploy­ment for the peo­ple.” The new role as an am­bas­sador has also al­lowed him to travel ex­ten­sively across In­done­sia to con­nect with dif­fer­ent sides of so­ci­ety, with the first re­sult be­ing a new con­nec­tion be­tween North Su­lawesi and the south­ern Philip­pines.

Im­prov­ing flight times from Davao City to Manado to just one hour, which nor­mally takes around 18 hours, is one of the many de­vel­op­ments be­tween the two cities planned to­day. There will also be the re­vival of ship­ping routes to and from Port Bi­tung in North Su­lawesi and Davao that will open up trade and, dur­ing a visit, HE Wee also spent time with Filipino com­mu­ni­ties that in­clude those in con­tact with Philip­pines com­pa­nies in Manado.

“I hope that Davao will be the first step to im­prov­ing trade, so you can have cargo brought in from China to be shipped all over Eastern In­done­sia with­out pass­ing through Sin­ga­pore or Jakarta,” said the am­bas­sador. “When you de­velop liveli­hood and trade, peo­ple will fo­cus on their liveli­hood in­stead of ter­ror­ism-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties.”

Mov­ing for­ward, the role of an eco­nomic diplo­mat will ex­pand, but Am­bas­sador Lee does not see this as a chal­lenge be­cause of his choice of poli­cies. “I’m not try­ing to apply pri­vate-sec­tor prac­tices in diplo­macy due to less bu­reau­cracy,” he said. Fur­ther­more, he hopes for a more ac­tive role for the Filipino em­bassy here among the di­as­pora com­mu­ni­ties, and the con­nec­tion be­tween Manado and Davao to be the first step to con­nect other places in the coun­try. Manado truly holds a spe­cial place for HE Wee as he has one eye on re­tir­ing on a peace­ful beach nearby, and there he will help the lo­cals to earn a liv­ing by farm­ing sea­weed: “Suc­cess is help­ing the peo­ple, and not help­ing your­self.”

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