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Commentary: Canadian diplomats being told to do less with less

At a time when most are having to do more with less, a government report says Canadian diplomats should be discouraged from going above and beyond the call of duty for fear of raising expectations. In particular, the Foreign Affairs department evaluation cites Canadian envoys working in other countries for exceeding established standards when it comes to their treatment of visiting dignitaries and officials, such as airport pick-ups. “The evaluation found that the use of discretion to exceed service standard has resulted in inconsistent service delivery to stakeholders across missions,” the reports reads. This is an issue, the report says, because when those same visitors do not receive the same treatment at another Canadian embassy or consulate, “this leads to confusion and a sense of dissatisfaction.” In their defence, diplomats told evaluators a degree of flexibility in applying the standards was necessary given the different contexts and environments in which Canadian embassies operate around the world. They also noted that smaller diplomatic posts generally get fewer visits from senior officials, and so picking dignitaries up at the airport gives the envoys an important opportunity to discuss strategic issues. Former Canadian ambassador to the UN Paul Heinbecker said he ran up against government rules and standards when he was in the foreign service, “but I never listened to that much.” Heinbecker said he believes things have gotten worse since he was in government, particularly as accountability has become a major buzzword in recent years. “What you have to do is keep firmly in mind what you’re there for, which is (to) advance Canadian interests,” he said of the foreign service. “The rules are not supposed to be there to prevent you from doing that.” Staff at Foreign Affairs, like at all federal government departments, are being forced to submit to cabinet proposals on how to cut five and 10 per cent from their spending. Experts expect travel and hospitality funds to be one of the first areas to be hit.



Consular affairs: Weird world of consular requests

Asking for rock superstar Phil Collins’ telephone number and checking on the Prince of Wales’ shoe size are among the odd requests made to British consular staff abroad, it has been revealed. Records also showed that staff in Spain were asked by a man to contact a dominatrix who had left him stranded at the airport. A man rang the consulate in Sydney to ask what clothes he should pack for his holiday while a Briton in Sofia, Bulgaria, wanted the consulate to sell his house for him. A woman in Moscow wanted embassy staff to visit her flat to get something done about a loud buzzing noise there, while a consulate in Greece were asked how to put a chicken coop up in a man’s garden. In Florida, a man called the consulate to report there were ants in his holiday villa and asked what he should do, while another hopeful caller asked consular staff in Dubai to meet his dog at the airport and help the pet through customs as he would be away when the animal arrived. A caller asked staff in Malaga in southern Spain in mid-September where she could get a Christmas lunch as everywhere she had phoned was already booked up. Staff in Greece were asked for tips on the best fishing spots and where to purchase good bait. The caller – to foreign office staff in Spain – who wanted Prince Charles’ shoe size wanted the information so he could send him shoes as a present. Consular Affairs Minister Jeremy Browne said: “We will always try to help where we can but there are limits to the support that we can provide. It is important that people understand the level of help we can offer. “Our priority is to help people in real difficulty abroad and we cannot do this if our time is diverted by people trying to use us as a concierge service. We need to be able to focus primarily on helping victims of serious crimes, supporting people who have been detained or assisting people who have lost a loved one abroad.”



Consular affairs: Consulates expand in Mumbai as India grows

Foreign consulates with their gun-toting security guards have been iconic addresses in south Mumbai since the sixties. Later this month, the US consulate will bring down curtains on one such recognizable structure-the Lincoln House in Breach Candy-and move to a spanking new and more spacious setting in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC). The consulate’s expansion and its northbound move are in keeping with a transition that is underway across foreign service offices in the city. Many consulates are witnessing a ballooning of staff, services and offices in recent years, in what foreign affairs experts believe is a sign ofIndia’s growing importance on the global stage. Australia plans to double its diplomatic staff strength in Mumbai; Britain has been expanding the scope of its work here; and, a few months ago, the New Zealand consulate opened a new office in BKC. Experts estimate that there are roughly 80 diplomatic missions in Mumbai. The buzz is palpable in diplomatic circles. The US consulate’s shift from its 53-year-old address, for instance, was necessitated by the need for a larger office space to accommodate its ever-increasing services. “Our new home reflects the overall trend of US-India ties. Our relationship withIndiais growing and modernizing, and our Consulate must do the same,” saysUSConsul General Peter Haas. The optimism is most evident in the Australian consulate. Till mid-2010, it had only one Australian staffer in the city; today, it has many more diplomatic staffers on board. It now plans to double its staff strength and relocate its offices to Crescenzo in BKC by next February. The British Deputy High Commission was the first to make the shift from south Mumbai to BKC in 2008 in the wake of furious Indo-British engagement on business and visas-a decision Peter Beckingham, British Deputy High Commissioner forWestern India, describes as “a sound move.” A spokesperson of the British Deputy High Commission in Mumbai estimates their visa operations in India to be the UK’s largest in the world-they processed around half a million visas last year. The complex also houses the trade development agencies ofScotlandandNorthern Ireland. Consular growth also reveals the city’s business trajectory. Anais Rieu, attache de presse from the Consulate General of France, told TOI that their decision to move base to BKC in December 2010 was taken since they noticed the centre of gravity of Mumbai moving towards the area.



Commentary: Do diplomats need UK in-transit visas?

You should be aware that not only diplomats but also government officials and members of governments need to complete certain application forms when they are travelling through the UK, even though they may be travelling in an official capacity. The application form that is completed will vary, and it will depend on your purpose for travelling to or through the UK. If the diplomat, government official or member of government is travelling to or through the UK for private reasons, such as a tourist or on a course of study, then that person would have to make an application for a visa in the conventional way. With respect to diplomats, government officials and members of government, there are various reasons these categories of travellers could be required to complete the appropriate diplomatic application forms. Such officials in these categories would be required to do so if they are a diplomat going to the UK on an official posting. In addition, a particular application form would need to be filled out for a dependant of a diplomat who is also entering the UK on an official posting. Also, a certain form would be needed to be filled out if the diplomat is in transit through the UK and is on his or her way to take up a diplomatic post in another country, and this would also apply to a diplomat who was travelling to theUKon official business. When a diplomat is posted to the UK he or she would have to fill out the form VAFDIP1. With respect to a dependent of a diplomat who is posted to theUK, he or she would have to apply for entry using form VAFDIP1DEP. Also, when diplomats are ‘in transit’ through the UK and who are on their way to take up a diplomatic posting in another country or for members of foreign governments who are also ‘in transit’ through the UK to another country on official business, those individuals would have to make their applications to transit through the UK using VAFDIP3. In addition, as stated above, diplomats who are travelling to the UK on official business and for members of foreign governments who are travelling to the UK on government business would also need to make an application and would need to use form VAFDIP2. Further, diplomats, government officials and members of government, as part of their application, will need to enrol their fingerprints and facial image, this is known as ‘biometric information’, at a visa application centre in whatever country they are travelling as part of their application.



Commentary: The Saudi Ambassador of Sangfroid

There were women who lost their heads over Adel al-Jubeir, back when the Saudi ambassador was a charming playboy. Given that his father was a diplomat too – one of the first Saudis to have a college degree – maybe the 49-year-old’s equanimity is in his genes. He is far more understated than his flamboyant predecessor, Prince Bandar, who was so plugged into the Bush dynasty he was known as “Bandar Bush.” Jubeir stayed cool even when American officials informed him several months ago about the latest stunning chapter in theSaudi Arabia-versus-IranGreat Game for supremacy in theMiddle East: an outlandish plot by an Iranian-American used-car dealer inTexaswho said his cousin was a senior member of the Iranian Quds Force. As evidence mounted of money transfers and taped conversations, Jubeir accepted that, as President Obama said, the plot was “paid by and directed by individuals in the Iranian government.”Irandenies that, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Fareed Zakaria: “Do we really need to kill the ambassador of a brotherly country?”  “It went from ‘I can’t believe this,’ ” the ambassador said with a dry smile, “to ‘Man, these guys really know how to ruin a man’s day.’ ” He had to force himself to live a normal existence for months, not telling family or staff, until a criminal complaint was unveiled and theTexascar dealer was before a judge. Gathering his shaken staff in the embassy, he said: “Nothing befalls us except that which God has written for us. If anything, it should reinforce our resolve. Otherwise the bad guys win.” He got a standing ovation. His family was “shocked” and his frightened twin 9-year-old daughters called his office to grill him. He reassured them that there was “a bad guy but no danger.” Still, they pressed: “O.K., when are you coming home?”‘ I asked if he thought he was targeted because of his tough position onIran, underscored in a 2008 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks quoting him reiterating that King Abdullah wanted theU.S.to “cut off the head of the snake.” “You should ask the perpetrators, not me,” he said wryly. “We do what we have to do, and we can’t let issues like this deter us.”



Consular affairs: U.S. diplomat backs consulate’s HK role

The US consulate in Hong Kong will continue its “deep engagement in all aspects of life” in the city, and its role is “understood and appreciated” by Beijing, a top US diplomat said. The comments by Dr Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, come two weeks after Beijing warned the consulate to stop meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs. Campbell is on a whirlwind tour of Asia that will end this week in Beijing. Campbell defended the consulate in an interview with the South China Morning Post, saying Washington was very pleased that it had been able to maintain a close partnership with Hong Kong through a “very strong consulate” deeply engaged in all aspects of life in the city. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing, through its Hong Kong office, rebuked the US consulate late last month, citing cables released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. These showed that the consulate was interfering in the city’s constitutional development by holding meetings with various people, it said. A spokesman for the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the US of contravening the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which forbids diplomats from interfering in the internal affairs of host states. WikiLeaks released 960 diplomatic cables from the US consulate in Hong Kong at the end of August. Some messages mentioned discussions about the city’s democratic development, its financial markets and how it handled waste and water supplies. Campbell said of Beijing’s accusations: “We all believe that the [US] consulate continues to play a vital role and function [in Hong Kong]. I think that role, frankly, is also well appreciated by Chinese friends.”


Commentary: Nations are exploiting power of ‘weiplomacy’

The world became a smaller and flatter place thanks to the Internet. But with the emergence of Weibo, the micro blog, cyberspace has again become multidimensional, as Weibo has been chosen as the most effective and immediate platform for people to say not only who they are, but also how they got that way. The micro blog frenzy continues to expand, spreading to the Chinese and foreign embassies in China. In the West, it’s called “twitplomacy” – after Twitter. InChina, “weiplomacy” has come into being in this country with nearly 500 million netizens and 195 million micro-bloggers. So far, a large number of foreign embassies and international organizations in Beijing have registered their accounts on China’s various micro blog service providers. The list of nations includes the United States, Japan, India, Thailand, Belgium and many others, covering nearly all the major continents. Some, such as the US, have also registered official accounts for each of their consulates in the country’s different regions. While some embassies, such as those of the US, India and Korea, have posts on their micro blogs explaining their visa application policies, the embassies of Thailand and France offer language courses, and the French micro blog also often holds Q&A sessions and distributes gifts to the its followers. All the embassies have created innovative ways to bond with their fans. The up-to-the-minute news and messages these embassies post show that the micro blog has become the medium of choice for foreign diplomatic agencies to conduct public diplomacy. While diplomatic events and news conferences, for example, were previously open only to diplomats and journalists, times have changed. Anyone interested in diplomacy can now become involved with the help of these modern media. China’s Foreign Ministry registered a micro blog account, in April, which is named Waijiao Xiaolingtong (Diplomacy Source). As the first Chinese ministry with a micro blog account, it attracted around 470,000 followers within a few months and has more than 1,300 posts to date. More than a platform for releasing information about top Chinese officials’ state visits and providing timely contact information to overseas Chinese when emergencies occur, the micro blog operates seven days a week and sometimes after office hours. It also shares with netizens the experiences of diplomats working abroad and other, more whimsical information, such as proper table manners.



Consular affairs: Magsaysay winner granted US visa

Four days after rejecting her application, the US consulate here granted a US visa to Neelima Mishra, one of this year’s Magsaysay Award winners, her father said. “Neelima was called to the consulate again Monday with a fresh application. It has been accepted and she has been granted the US visa,” her father Chandrashekhar Mishra told IANS. Neelima called up her father and conveyed the news to the family. She had applied for an online visa last week and was called for an interview last Friday. However, her application was rejected, ostensibly on the ground that she was not financially well-off and could not support herself financially in the US. Neelima has been invited by the Chicago-based group, India Development Coalition of America, to deliver the keynote address at their upcoming convention next month. Last month, Mishra had gone to the Philippines to receive the Magsaysay Award for social work. In 2007, eminent social worker from Maharashtra Prakash Amte’s US visa application had been similarly rejected. “The grounds cited for me was that I am economically backward and hence not eligible to support myself in the US, so the visa was rejected,” Amte, who was conferred a Magsaysay Award in 2009, had told IANS. “Following a media uproar, I was granted the US visa within 24 hours, and it was sent to my home,” Amte said.


Consular affairs: Award winner fails to get US visa

The American consulate denied Magsaysay award winner Neelima Mishra a visa as she did not have “strong social, economic and family ties” outside the US. Mishra said she applied for a visa last month after she was invited to address the 9th conference of the Indian Development Coalition of America. “I sat for the visa interview on Friday, and I was asked why I wanted to visit the US. I mentioned the conference as well as the fact that I had won the Magsaysay award this year. But those interviewing me said they did not know what the Magsaysay award was,” she said. According to the letter, all applying for a non-immigrant visa are presumed to be intending immigrants. In other words, the letter implied that Mishra, who won the award for her work in the field of rural micro-credit in the villages of Maharashtra, intended to sneak into the US, never to return. However, Mishra got a call from the consulate in the evening, asking her to visit the office with her rejection letter on Monday.


Commentary: New U.S. Ambassador To China Sees Growing Frustration

In a high-profile speech in Beijing to two U.S. business groups, new U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke said his “top priority” would be to work to generate American jobs by trying to expandU.S.exports toChina, increasing Chinese investment in the U.S., and seeking a level playing field for American companies in the mainland. Locke, a former commerce secretary whose relatively modest workstyle has captured the attention and support of ordinary Chinese, told a gathering of the American Chamber of Commerce and U.S.-China Business Council yesterday that the U.S. welcomes a prosperous and strong China because it’s helpful to people in both countries and will benefit the global economy. However, he also said that China needed to move away from an economic model that emphasized low-cost exports, noting “if anything, China’s challenges have accelerated in the past few years in the wake of the global financial crisis and the continued weakness in China’s overseas export markets.” The country can “redefine its economic position in the world as well as its partnership with the United States” by pursuing goals laid out in its latest five-year plan that emphasize the expansion of domestic consumption, innovation in new industries, and the service sector, along with cutting energy intensity, he said. Locke noted, however, that “there is a gap between the goals China identified in its five-year plan and the steps it is taking to achieve them. Goals like the expanding domestic consumption and fostering innovation require an acceleration and expansion of the economic reforms China has undertaken in the past decade versus a return to the state planning and industrial policies of the past.” Speaking even more bluntly, Locke then said, according to a prepared text, “China’s current business environment is causing growing frustrations among foreign business and government leaders, including my colleagues in Washington.” Locke then identified what he believed to be “the single largest barrier to improved U.S.-China cooperation:  A lack of openness in many areas of Chinese society—including many areas of the Chinese economy.” “A few areas where more opening could help create a more dynamic and prosperous Chinese economy,” he said, include foreign direct investment policies. “Foreign businesses face substantial restrictions in participating in a variety of industries in China, ranging from healthcare to energy to financial services and several others,” Locke said. Businesses including Microsoft are widely seen as being hurt by Chinese IPR protection standards.  Other U.S. businesses active in China include GE, GM, Citicorp and Boeing. Besides IPR, Locke also addressed another hot topic, the value of China’s currency. “Almost all economists believe the renminbi remains substantially undervalued in relation to other currencies,” Locke said. “Allowing the renminbi to appreciate more rapidly would help reduce inflation, including the price of goods and services coming into China, allowing Chinese consumers to buy more with their income,” he said.




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