A permanent diplomatic mission in Thailand is typically known as an embassy, and the person in charge of the mission is known as an ambassador to Thailand. The term “embassy” is often used to refer to the building or compound housing an ambassador’s offices and staff. Technically, however, “embassy” refers to the diplomatic delegation itself, while the office building in which they work is known as a chancery.
Ambassadors can reside within or outside of the chancery; for example, American diplomatic missions maintain separate housing for their ambassadors apart from their embassies in Bangkok. Ambassadors residing outside of the chancery retain special protection from the host country’s security forces and the ambassadorial residences enjoy the same rights as missions. In Thailand the police have a “special branch” working with the Embassies.
All missions to the United Nations are known simply as permanent missions, while EU Member States’ missions to the European Union are known as permanent representations and the head of such a mission is typically both a permanent representative and an ambassador. European Union missions abroad are known as EU delegations.
In the past a diplomatic mission headed by a lower-ranking official (an envoy or minister resident) was known as a legation. Since the ranks of envoy and minister resident are effectively obsolete, the designation of legation is no longer used today.
A consulate in Thailand is similar to (but not the same as) a diplomatic office, but with focus on dealing with individual persons and businesses, as defined by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. A consulate or consulate general is generally a representative of the embassy in locales outside of the capital city. For instance, the United Kingdom has its Embassy of the United Kingdom in Washington, D.C., but also maintains seven consulates-general and four consulates elsewhere in the US. The person in charge of a consulate or consulate-general is known as a consul or consul-general, respectively. Similar services may also be provided at the embassy (to serve the region of the capital) in what is sometimes called a consular section.
In cases of dispute, it is common for a country to recall its head of mission as a sign of its displeasure. This is less drastic than cutting diplomatic relations completely, and the mission will still continue operating more or less normally, but it will now be headed by a chargé d’affaires (usually the deputy chief of mission) who may have limited powers. (A chargé d’affaires ad interim also heads the mission during the interim between the end of one chief of mission’s term and the beginning of another).
Contrary to popular belief, diplomatic missions do not enjoy full extraterritorial status and are not sovereign territory of the represented state. Rather, the premises of diplomatic missions remain under the jurisdiction of the host state while being afforded special privileges (such as immunity from most local laws) by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Diplomats themselves still retain full diplomatic immunity, and (as an adherent to the Vienna Convention) the host country may not enter the premises of the mission without permission of the represented country. The term “extraterritoriality,” therefore, is often used in this broader sense when applied to diplomatic missions.
As the host country may not enter the representing country’s embassy without permission, embassies are sometimes used by refugees escaping from either the host country or a third country. For example, North Korean nationals, who would be arrested and deported from China upon discovery, have sought sanctuary at various third-country embassies in Thailand. Once inside the embassy, diplomatic channels can be used to solve the issue and send the refugees to another country.
The Role of Embassies in Thailand
“The functions of a diplomatic mission consist, inter alia, in representing the sending State in the receiving State; protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law; negotiating with the Government of the receiving State; ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State; promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations”.
The rights and immunities (such as diplomatic immunity) of diplomatic missions are codified in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.