Britain to boost diplomatic presence in emerging powers

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Britain will open five new embassies and send more diplomats to China and India to raise its influence with the rising powers of the 21st century, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday.

To fund the expansion, Britain will shut consulates in some European countries, and there will be staff cuts in Iraq and Afghanistan as the British military role winds down, he announced.

New embassies will open in El Salvador, Kyrgyzstan and South Sudan, as well as in Madagascar and Somalia when local situations stabilise.

"For the first time in decades our diplomacy is being extended not reduced," Hague said in a statement to parliament.

"We will embark on a substantial reinvigoration of the diplomatic network to make it ready for the 21st century; to expand our connections with the emerging powers of the world, and to signal that where Britain was retreating it is now advancing."

Britain will add 50 more staff in China and 30 in India, the world's "two emerging superpowers," Hague said. The new staff would be posted in the "fastest growing cities and regions" of both countries.

There will also be a "substantial" expansion in diplomatic strength in Brazil, Turkey, Mexico and Indonesia.

Britain will also open a consulate general in the Brazilian city of Recife, one of seven such missions in emerging countries.

It will add diplomatic staff in countries including Myanmar, Thailand, South and North Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

Hague pledged to keep all of Britain's 140 embassies and high commissions open but added: "This expansion does come at a price."

Britain would fund reductions of up to £100 million (114 million euros, $163 million) by reducing staff elsewhere, particularly in Europe, and closing some smaller diplomatic posts.

"Only three of the world's 30 richest cities are in Europe in terms of total GDP, and our embassies there still cost more than elsewhere," Hague said.

"Other savings will also be found as we reduce over time our diplomatic footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is very large relative to the rest of the network," he added.

© 2011 AFP

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