Budget cuts affecting diplomacy, embassy galas

JIJI

The Foreign Ministry is worried that budgetary cutbacks have reduced the quality of receptions at diplomatic missions abroad, denting efforts to boost Japan’s diplomacy, gather information and build personal connections.

The ministry is calling for an increase in related outlays under the fiscal 2014 budget, from next March. The foreign affairs division of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in May adopted a resolution demanding that the functions of diplomatic establishments and missions be enhanced.

It is doubtful, however, whether the ministry’s request will be met, following criticism in recent years over generous benefits afforded to diplomats stationed overseas.

At a June 4 meeting of the Upper House Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida reported on the negative impact of crimped budgets. Some diplomatic missions have complained that they cannot organize swanky receptions, while some foreign guests have noted a steady decline in the quality of food and beverages served at Japanese receptions, Kishida said.

According to the ministry, outlays for receptions held on such occasions as the Emperor’s birthday have been slashed by about 40 percent over the past decade due to increasingly strained public finances.

A diplomat previously posted to the Middle East said his mission couldn’t afford to serve popular dishes like shrimp tempura at receptions, disappointing guests.

By contrast, diplomatic receptions hosted by China have grown ever more lavish. One senior Japanese ministry official lamented “the gap in momentum” between the two rivals.

In view of the deaths of 10 Japanese in the Algerian hostage crisis in January, which exposed Japan’s abysmal intelligence-gathering capabilities abroad, the LDP resolution voiced concerns over “the relative weakening” of the nation’s diplomatic structure.

One senior official at a government agency handling economic affairs expressed cynicism about the ministry’s funding request, saying, “The quality of food or wine does not dictate the quality of diplomacy.”

The Foreign Ministry’s hand also has been weakened by a series of scandals. In 2001, it was revealed that secret funds had been embezzled by one official, while subsequent misdeeds included the disclosure that public funds had been misused at one diplomatic establishment.