"The embassy area in Beijing is becoming a miniature United Nations!" sighed a staff member at the Foreign Housing & Property Office, a part of the Administrative Bureau of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. A growing number of countries have been applying to enlarge their embassies in China in the past two years, which has resulted in a sharp increase in workload for related departments at the Foreign Ministry.
Nowadays, the number of diplomats from Canada, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) approaches the number of those sent by their countries to the United States. The total number of foreign diplomats in China is sure to rank among the first, possibly only next to the US. It is by no means coincidence that so many countries are vying to enlarge their embassies in Beijing. This phenomenon reflects the fact that China's influence on the world is growing despite some disputes about the country's mode of development.
A world of difference in the size of past and present embassies
Mr. Nicolas Chapuis, Minister Counselor of the French Embassy in Beijing, told the Global Times that the French Embassy has long needed to be expanded.
"I first came to work in China in 1980, when there were only 60 people in our embassy, and there are now more than 200. Paris still complains about a shortage of hands in China and often says it will send new people here. I too want more people to come to work. But we do not have enough offices for them. So I have to tell them to 'wait' again and again. I am also anxious. There is a need to build a new embassy as soon as possible. The present embassy is rented and has to be returned to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The ministry also told us that more than 20 countries have lined up to rent buildings for embassy use. The Foreign Ministry also hopes that our new embassy will be completed soon so that we can move out sooner." He added that the new embassy will be very big with a floor space of up to 20,000 square meters and, when the new embassy is completed, the number of staff is expected to be more than 300.
Many embassies nowadays are far larger than in the past. Before the normalization of Sino-US diplomatic ties in 1979 there was only ever an American liaison office in Beijing with a couple of staff members. After that, the office was upgraded to the US Embassy, but there were not so many American diplomats in China then. At present, the number of diplomats and local employees in Beijing has exceeded 700 and the embassy located in Jianguomenwai does not have enough space. The US Embassy has had to open 11 working venues across Beijing. The new US Embassy project began in February 2004, and it is expected to be finished prior to the 2008 Olympic Games. It will be one of the largest and most luxurious embassies the United States has ever built, with a budget of US$275 million.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Sino-Egyptian diplomatic relations. In September 2005, at the request of new Egyptian Ambassador Mahmoud Allam M. Allam, the Egyptian Embassy began expanding. The visa section will be enlarged to four times its current size. According to Ms. Johnson, a representative from the Press & Culture Section of the Dutch Embassy, the new Dutch embassy will be completed in 2007, and over the past four years, many new sections have been established. As well as Political Section, Economic Section and Agricultural Section, the new embassy has created a Transportation, Science and Technology Group and a Health Welfare and Physical Culture Group in the Economic Section. Staff who are responsible for promoting Dutch culture have been included in the Political Section. The Security Section, Military Section and Customs Affairs Section will be also established in the second half of 2006.
Mr. Jiang from the Office of General Services at the Embassy of the ROK said that they are prepared to complete construction of their new embassy in October and move in as quickly as possible. There is an acute shortage of work space because of the increase in the volume of business. The present embassy site will not be sold, but retained as part of the new embassy.
The German Embassy does not currently have any plan for expansion but its housing area is now being converted into office space.
Consulates are also expanding. France, which used to have four consulates in China (Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Wuhan), added a fifth in Chengdu last year, and relocated its consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Wuhan to larger offices. The "youngest" German consulate in Chengdu has also moved to a new site, with a much larger working area.
Three reasons for expansion
Why are so many countries anxious to enlarge their embassies to China?
Firstly, they want to know more about China.
Mr Chapuis from the French Embassy said: "There are only six diplomats in our Political Section, which is no different than in the 1980s, but as far as I know, there are more than 30 diplomats in the Political Section of the US Embassy. Such a big gap is very unfavorable for us. We need greater analytic strength and to know more about China. As China's global importance is on the rise, our statesmen at home hope that we can provide them with more in-depth analysis reports. At a conference last month, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin decided to increase the capabilities of our embassy. Many countries have become aware of China's importance in the world and to deal with this, new staff are added on an annual basis."
Secondly, countries need to meet the demands of bilateral communication. As with America, the number of delegations from France is also growing, with an average of three a week. Last year the French Embassy received 15 government ministers. There is currently at least one high-level official visit each year. The Germany Embassy owes the continuous dispatch of diplomats to China mainly to the dynamic relationship between the two nations. Sino-German trade constitutes 40 percent of the trade volume between China and the EU. Both sides have a special interest in bilateral cooperation in energy and environment, as well as the banking sector. The augmentation of the Economic Section is the most prominent in the Germany Embassy. This section is currently managed by experts who are familiar with financial policy and the banking business. They have recently been joined by some experts in transport and communication.
Now more and more Chinese people wish to go overseas. During the interview, the reporter witnessed a long line of people waiting outside the visa section of the French Embassy. Last year 500,000 Chinese people visited Paris. The French Embassy issues 500 visas a day. A diplomat from the Egyptian Embassy told the reporter that an increasing number of Chinese people are traveling to Egypt. Last year 50,000 Chinese went to Egypt, 60% of who were tourists. This year the number may double. Unfortunately there is only one small office in which visa applications are made and processed. Many visa applicants have to wait outside the embassy; a bigger office is urgently needed.
Thirdly, foreign countries wish to advertise their home country in China. The Egyptian diplomat said the new visa section has another function -- as a showcase for a mysterious and modern Egypt. When the new building is completed, portraits of Pharaohs and Egyptian artwork will be used to decorate the new lobby, and information on Egypt will be displayed. Documentaries and films will be shown for the benefit of visitors. The aim is to acquaint the people of China with Egypt.
During the interview, the reporter realized that every country considers its embassy to be part of a showcase. The French Culture Center in Beijing has long been involved in the teaching of French. It also holds movie galas, painting exhibitions and other activities. The French bookstore there is also very famous. The new part of the Dutch Embassy was designed by a well-known Dutch architect. Ms. Johnson expects that the new embassy will be the work of another Dutch designer, like so many buildings going up in Beijing, such as the new CCTV tower and new terminal at Capital Airport.
China is in its primary stage of development
Feng Zhongping, a researcher at the Chinese Institute of Contemporary International Relations, says it is no accident that in the last two years, foreign countries have been enlarging their embassies in China. Early this year, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mentioned "nations shaping the track of historical development", one of which is China, in her speech entitled Transformational Diplomacy. A century ago, the world was centered around the Atlantic Ocean. Nowadays, the center is moving gradually toward the Pacific, and China is the fastest developing nation in this region. Western diplomacy is very pragmatic. Their diplomacy has always been adjusted on the basis of national strengths and interests. In such circumstances, it is natural that they would their diplomat missions in China. The economy, energy and the environment are their common focuses. Yet this is not the basis of all communication. There is also communication and cooperation in culture, education and legal systems. The growth in diplomacy means greater competition and a better outcome for China. China today is not only an indispensable part of the globe, but also an important arena for competition. It is therefore vital to for foreign countries to observe and analyze China, as well as develop strong communication channels. No-one wants to lose this game.
Just as Mr. Chapuis said, the reason relations between China and other nations have more potential is that China has more potential for growth.
He said: "If people take a photo of China, they will surely see a host of problems in the picture. And if people take a video of China, they will see the country is undeniably in its primary stage of development. China has never in its history experienced such high-speed economic growth for 25 consecutive years."
Source: Global Times (Front Page, August 18, 2006), translated by People's Daily Online