Under the Spotlight
Michael Heath takes on his new role as U.S. Consul General
U.S. Consul General Michael Heath wants
Americans to know that the Consulate staff are dedicated to providing
American citizens with timely and courteous service and that he is open to
comments and suggestions.
Michael Heath is the latest diplomat to take up residence in the
beautiful old building inside the U.S. Consulate General and, after living
in Beijing for three years, is enjoying Chiang Mai’s easy going ways, nice
climate and friendly people.
Ken Foster, the previous Consul General returned to the United States some
months ago as his term as interim Consul General came to an end and Michael
was ready to take up his role representing the United States in Northern
Michael is a native Los Angeles, Californian although he spent much of his
early youth abroad as his father’s job moved them from Ireland to the United
Kingdom and Belgium. An experience that Michael says contributed to his
interest in the State Department. He returned to Los Angeles and finally
Northern California for his high school years and graduated from Stanford in
International Relations. At the time, he noted that he was more limited in
opportunities to live overseas but now, with the globalization of the world
economy, young people have many more options open to them.
Mr. Heath studied International Relations with a focus on Economics and East
Asia. At the time, he pointed out, the U.S. was very focused on Japan and
the Tiger economies of Asia and growing up on the West Coast there was a
strong orientation to Asia and the Pacific.
Despite his focus, Michael said one his more interesting posts was in Guyana
where he was met by the President on his arrival as a new State Department
official. “The country was so small that I was greeted by the President on
my first day!” He said that one highlight was working on the Bureau of
African Affairs in the late 1990’s where they implemented trade preferences
for African nations that had started economic and political reforms. “It had
an impact and its visible in stores today when you see products made in
Africa. Even with the bad headlines coming from some countries in Africa, a
lot of countries are succeeding.” He added that although the policy didn’t
cause the changes it certainly helped.
Michael’s new role as Consul General is mainly management, managing the
Consulate operations and appearing as the public face of the Consulate and
the U.S. government at functions around Chiang Mai and the North. “I find
that there are a lot of ceremonial duties here but it I enjoy it because it
gets me out of the office to meet a lot of very interesting people in Chiang
The Consulate provides services to American citizens in Northern Thailand,
he noted that the area has become a very popular place for retirees and so
there are many Americans living here. The Consulate estimates there may be
upward of 10,000 Americans living in the North.
The Consulate has played an important role in the Chiang Mai Creative City
initiative, with the roots of the initiative put in place over three years
ago in a conference held with then U.S. Ambassador Eric John. He noted that
large scale industrial development never developed in Chiang Mai, in large
part due to the lack of access to seaports. With no major investments in
manufacturing Chiang Mai focuses on small scale business with creative
skills such as Web/IT, design etc. “Our goals are to help Chiang Mai move up
the value chain using design, creativity and innovation of products rather
than mass production. We encourage linkages between private and academic
sectors,” he pointed out, “from a design standpoint, Chiang Mai has the
necessary artistic background.”
The Consulate also works with Thai officials and NGOs on issues of mutual
concern, such as the illegal drug trade and human trafficking.
However, the Consulate does not carry any influence on the Thai judicial
system as some citizens might think, Mr. Heath added. He said that the
Consulate can liaise with people back home; family and relatives but, he
said, “I think people overestimate our ability to influence local legal and
bureaucratic processes. Like all residents here, we respect and follow the
laws and institutions of the host country, just as Thai diplomats do when
posted in the United States. He did point out that he encourages all
Americans in Thailand to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program
or STEP, “This makes it easier for families to get in touch with relatives
here and for consular officers to contact people in an emergency.”
He also encouraged residents to keep in touch with the Consulate via social
media such as Facebook and Twitter as well as monitor the State Department’s
website for travel information. www.travel.state.gov , chiangmai.
usconsulate on Facebook and USConsChiangMai on Twitter.
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