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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.

Shana Kongmun
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 Thailand.
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 Mai society.”
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. , chiangmai. usconsulate on Facebook and USConsChiangMai on Twitter.

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Under the Spotlight: Michael Heath takes on his new role as U.S. Consul General