Sunquist Assumes Ambassador's Post
by Paul Martin
Ken Sunquist (BADMIN'70), one of a long list of Saskatchewan-born members of Canada's foreign service, has a ringside seat in a nation that has epitomized the rise and fall of the emerging Asia-Pacific region.
Sunquist recently presented his credentials to Indonesia's head of state as Canada's newest ambassador, the pinnacle of a career that, so far, has put him at the heart of global transformation.
Ambassador Sunquist visited his home province in early March, a stop on his return to the south Pacific after being recalled to Ottawa to help Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy begin preparing a Canadian policy on recent developments in East Timor. Now that Canada is a member of the United Nations Security Council, Sunquist adds, all members of the foreign service will undoubtedly participate in more active policy development.
The Regina-born Sunquist, who headed the Student's Union at the old Regina campus in the early 70's, says his early experience at campus is now being played out in his new home. He recalls fighting for the Carillon, the outspoken student newspaper at the Regina campus and finding himself in regular contact with campus administration. Today, he notes, Indonesia has spawned roughly 700 new newspapers as press censorship rules were dropped with the departure of former president Suharto. In fact, adds Sunquist, the new Indonesian administration finds the unshackled press corps is helpful in rooting out and exposing the corruption that dominated the former administration.
Sunquist characterizes his recent Indonesian appointment as a foreign officer's dream - being able to witness such profound change in a nation and a region - but this isn't his first high profile assignment for Canada. Before Jakarta, Sunquist was the second ranking officer in Canada's Beijing embassy with responsibilities that included trade initiatives. That put him in the catbird's seat for the famed Team Canada effort headed by Prime Minister Jean Chretien and included the premiers as well as several hundred Canadian business leaders.
Dozens of buses filled with Canadians clogged Beijing and Shanghai streets. It brought the vice-premier of China to a special signing ceremony featuring hundreds of Canadian and Chinese businesses simultaneously inking contracts.
"No Chinese business had ever attracted the vice-premier," he notes, adding that Canada's large ensemble helped to elevate the profile of their Chinese business counterparts in their own land. In fact, he adds, for two or three years after the Team Canada initiative, any time the Canadian embassy advanced the cause of a Canadian firm, the Chinese would ask if the company had been a Team Canada member.
Prior to China, Sunquist backed up another University of Saskatchewan alum- Len Edwards (MA '69) - when the pair were posted in Soeul, South Korea. Edwards was ambassador and Sunquist looked after trade activities. Joining the foreign service after his 1971 graduation, Sunquist's firstoff-shore assignment was in Jamaica before stints in Belgrade, San Francisco and Ottawa where he spearheaded development of international trade centres across Canada.
In his new posting, Sunquist has found Canada enjoys a high level of approval among Indonesia's refreshed leadership. Noting that in his first few months he has had personal meetings with 31 of the country's 37 cabinet ministers underscores our relationship with this highly-populated emerging nation that is home to roughly 2,000 Canadians. But it's a country in the midst of massive restructuring.
After the collapse of the economy, the country's long-time strongman was deposed. Elections in a few weeks will install a democratic government, a key step in the rebuilding process.
The country, says Sunquist, now appears headed for stability on both the economic and political fronts. Inflation has fallen to five per cent from a year ago and, while unemployment remains inordinately high, he expects Indonesia will at least be able to feed itself this year. Last year, the combination of a drought and economic collapse, made that impossible. After hitting bottom, the country he says, is poised to begin the rebuilding process. A stable economic and political system mean "now there's some opportunities for growth." Similarly, he notes, the political restructuring has also led to improvements on the human rights front and Canada is a key player in this effort.
Along with a free press, a new human rights commission, which includes two Canadian members, "has allowed us to build better relationships," he notes in pointing to expanded activity by the Canadian International Development Agency.
Saskatchewan also figures prominently in the bilateral relationship between our nations. Roughly 40 per cent of our $450 million in exports to Indonesia is wheat. Fertilizer, much supplied by Saskatchewan potash producers, is another major piece of our business relationship.