Tuesday 05 Jul 2022 | 08:01 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 05 Jul 2022 | 08:01 | SYDNEY

DFAT: A small step into western China


Alex Oliver


20 March 2012 17:04

In only his third media release as Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr has today announced (together with the Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Competitiveness) that Australia will open 'as soon as possible' a new Consulate-General in Chengdu, western China.

As Mr Carr explains, Chengdu is a 'major gateway' to inland China, a threshold the Australian Government has only today resolved to cross. Although China is now our largest trading partner with nearly one hundred cities of populations exceeding five million, Australia has had until now only three diplomatic posts there, and those only on the coast: Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The Chengdu post will serve a population of more than 14 million, will service the Sichuan province of 80 million, and will be Australia's first diplomatic undertaking in inland China (Austrade already has a presence there, but it doesn't offer diplomatic or consular services).

This new post is a positive move and a recognition that Australia's international network needs significant rebuilding if Australia is to maintain its prosperity and protect its international interests.

Interestingly, DFAT Secretary Dennis Richardson, in last night's final hearing in the ongoing Parliamentary inquiry on Australia's overseas representation, gave no hint of any announcement, saying only that an expansion of Australia's representation in Western China was 'being considered', along with a new mission in West Africa. Perhaps today's announcement was made to end the speculation that followed Kevin Rudd's farewell remarks to DFAT, in which he heralded new posts in western China and Francophone Africa. Or perhaps it was an attempt to move on from last week's escapades in the Pacific. 

Whatever the reason, this should be seen for what it is: a small step in the right direction, where giant leaps are required. The investment of one new post in western China is a fraction of the reinvestment required in Australia's overseas network. Our 95 missions (96 if you add the new Chengdu post) covering 193 UN member states falls lamentably short of the OECD average of 133 missions. That's 37 missions below the average, despite Australia having the 13th largest economy in the world.

Photo by Flickr user JanneM.