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.
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.”