Six new embassies set to parry China

by Reiji Yoshida

Despite commitments to slash the size of government, the Finance and Foreign ministries agreed Friday to set up new embassies in six countries next year and to hire more local staff at embassies and consulates.

The six new embassies are to be set up in Malawi, Botswana, Mali, Lithuania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Micronesia. The new missions will bring the total number of Japanese embassies to 123 by March 2008.

The Foreign Ministry called for an increase in diplomatic offices, pointing to the growing influence of China in developing countries.

The two ministries, negotiating over the budget draft for the next fiscal year, also decided to increase the number of diplomats by 51, and boost local staff at overseas government offices by 100.

The decisions are in line with a proposal by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s special committee on diplomacy, which says Tokyo should eventually have more than 150 embassies, increasing the number of Foreign Ministry officials by 2,000 over the next 10 years.

“We appreciate (the decisions) as a big, steady first step,” said Foreign Minister Taro Aso at a news conference Friday afternoon.