Dogged diplomacy | Monocle

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Name: Charlie

Breed: Cocker-King Charles spaniel cross
Owner: Jari Sinkari, Finland’s consul-general to Hong Kong and Macau ­

Up on top of Victoria Peak, a popular spot for tourists and school groups, it’s nearly impossible for Jari Sinkari, Finland’s consul-general to Hong Kong and Macau, to make it a few metres without someone taking a picture of Charlie, his 12-year-old cocker-King Charles spaniel mix. “He’s a great ice-breaker,” says the diplomat, who moved to Hong Kong last year to take up the head role in one of only two Nordic consulates in the city. “Charlie has an interesting attitude towards people: he is both interested and very shy. His act of acceptance is shown when he brings his favourite ball in front of a guest. I would call him a typical complicated New Yorker.”

It was in New York, where Sinkari served as head of media and culture in the Finnish consulate from 2001 to 2005, that Charlie found his place as a diplomatic dog. Having been spotted by Sinkari’s two daughters at a pet shop on Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue, Charlie has been with the family ever since. After New York there was a nine-year stint back in Helsinki before Sinkari and his wife Caroline (pictured, top) moved to Hong Kong with their youngest daughter (the eldest is studying in Finland) last June. And while Sinkari didn’t exactly plan to be a dog owner it’s clear that he’s besotted by Charlie, who he speaks to in a mix of English, Finnish and French (Caroline is originally from Paris). “He was actually on sale at 30 per cent off,” says the consul-general, who Charlie happily follows around even when off-lead. “Someone had bought him and returned him, probably because he’s not a pure breed.”

Walking with Charlie allows Sinkari to think properly, he says. There is a lot on his plate. Building stronger connections between Hong Kong and Finland’s green-technology companies and young start-ups is one focus, while also learning from Hong Kong and Macau’s experience with business in mainland China. “Finland is the closest European country to Hong Kong,” says Sinkari. “The daily non-stop flight to Helsinki takes less than 10 hours and during summer there are two flights a day.” And while his consulate offers the usual services to the 300 or so Finns who live in the region, it also functions as the front desk for the Schengen visa to all Nordic countries.

Despite his age, Charlie makes the steep 45-minute walk up from the Sinkari’s residence to Victoria Peak at least once a week. While his collar – decorated with American flags – may give away his place of birth, it’s Charlie’s Finnish heart-shaped dog tag that Sinkari makes sure is positioned perfectly for each picture. “You know, it cost more to move Charlie out here than it did for any of us,” says Sinkari jovially. “Finnair wouldn’t take him so he had to fly with klm via Amsterdam. He’s pretty calm about it. The only thing I think he will miss is the snow; he would get very excited about snowfall in Finland.”

Special diplomatic skill: Charlie may not be as calm and collected as other members of the Finnish foreign service but he’s a great conversation starter when Sinkari and his family are exploring Hong Kong.


Names: Toby, Zlatko and Sharik  

Breeds: Beagle, vizsla-cross and laika-cross
Owner: Michael Borg-Hansen, Danish ambassador to Serbia

­ The Danish ambassador’s Belgrade residence is home to a canine community with a suitably international flavour. Three sets of muddy paw prints mark the staircase leading up to the front door and inside there’s a distinct welcome from each of Michael Borg-Hansen’s dogs.

Ten-month-old Zlatko, a golden-haired hunting dog of Serbian-Hungarian heritage who came free with a case of wine, bounds into the room with enthusiasm. The black-and-white muzzle of Sharik, a three-year-old former street dog, pops up to offer a friendly nibble. Finally, Toby, a 12-year-old beagle, enters with a slightly disdainful shuffle.

“He thinks he went to private school,” says Michael, admitting that Toby is the only one of the dogs who would be allowed to attend a diplomatic dinner. “The big ones would eat the food on the table,” adds his wife Marianne (pictured, far right).

Marianne has driven the Borg-Hansens’ passion for dogs, as they have picked up a pet in each of their past three postings. They were stationed in London and Kiev before moving to Belgrade in 2013. A residence in the British capital that opened onto Battersea Park was ideal for Toby but a posting in Ukraine proved a different kind of canine experience.

Territorial packs of strays roamed the streets of Kiev during the Borg-Hansens’ stay; Marianne says there were as many as 30,000 of them. She became involved in animal-welfare efforts through an organisation called Four Paws, appearing on talkshows to advocate humane treatment of the strays.

Some extremely high-level Ukrainians were receptive, including the current president Petro Poroshenko, who attended a dog-welfare event at the behest of the Borg-Hansens and donated cash to Four Paws. “We did some good there,” says Michael. “Poroshenko still asks after Sharik. It’s a sign of civilisation; you should treat the weakest individuals in society – be they human or animal – as humanely as possible.”

A dog’s life in Belgrade is not to be sniffed at. Zlatko, Sharik and Toby enjoy daily walks in the woodland of the city’s Kosutnjak district or the Usce Park at the confluence of the Danube and Sava. And that provides their owners with a chance to break out of the ambassadorial bubble by meeting ordinary citizens exercising their own animals. “We call it public diplomacy,” says Michael. “We meet lots of people,” adds Marianne, thinking back to Kiev, “but never the oligarchs.”

Special diplomatic skill: Toby is often the centre of attention at diplomatic do’s. But he also enforces home time for guests: “He pulls at their feet until they get the message,” says Marianne.


Name: Milou

Breed: Bichon frisé
Owner: Leon Grice, New Zealand’s consul- general to Los Angeles

Within New Zealand’s foreign ministry, the decision in 2012 to dispatch Leon Grice to serve as the country’s consul-general in Los Angeles required great consideration. Grice, a businessman and former Wellington lobbyist, would be the country’s first-ever political appointee to an overseas diplomatic post. But within the Grice household, the deliberations involving two children – then aged nine and 12 – were more narrowly focused. “The only question we had was, ‘Can we take the dog?’” says Grice.

Milou is a bichon frisé with an orange streak along his back that leads his owner to conclude he likely possesses a bit of shih tzu, too. The eight-year-old dog, named after Tintin’s companion, has accompanied the Grices through Leon’s stints as executive of a software company and director of the New Zealand 2011 office in charge of the Rugby World Cup. But Milou had never travelled abroad, let alone represented his country there. “He’s not as intrepid as Tintin’s dog,” Grice says. Since crossing the Pacific three years ago, Milou’s greatest adventures have taken place within the bounds of the consul’s residence in the Brentwood hills.

There are approximately 22,000 New Zealanders in southern California but the consular duties are slight: expediting business visas for Hollywood types seeking to take advantage of New Zealand’s burgeoning film industry and the recurring crisis of “Kiwis losing their passports in Las Vegas”. Instead Grice has been encouraged to approach his job more broadly than his predecessors in Los Angeles. “The government felt we could do more with an economic focus,” he says. “My brief was to bring a different kind of energy to our presence here.”

Grice works on supply-chain issues linking New Zealand wine to the market and in 2013 he used the America’s Cup yacht race in San Francisco to illustrate the country’s prowess in non-agricultural sectors. “Almost every boat was operating with New Zealand hardware and science,” he says. “We were able to showcase New Zealand know-how without having to say ‘We’re smart’.”

Milou is a permanent fixture on national holidays such as Anzac Day and Waitangi Day, when the Grices regularly host up to 300 people at the residence. “He helps build the idea that you’re coming to the New Zealand family home because we’re not much for formality in New Zealand,” Grice says. On those occasions, Milou makes his presence known by begging guests for food.

Although not very diplomatic, his specific enthusiasms do serve as a useful trade-promotion exercise for a country eager to expand its dairy exports to the US. “If someone has cheese,” Grice says, “he’ll stare at them until they relent.”

Special diplomatic skill: Milou is a firm negotiator with visitors but doesn’t revert to conflict: Grice proudly notes the dog has never bitten anyone.

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