Australia has added two new posts in the last two years – in Tuvalu and Morocco – and has plans to open five more in the Pacific by 2021. However, Ms Bley said that will still leave Australia’s diplomatic network underweight for the country’s size.
With 118 posts in all, Australia ranks 27th on the index, placing it behind Portugal, South Africa and Hungary, and on a par with Belgium, which has less than half of Australia’s population and a smaller economy.
Ms Bley said the five posts Canberra has slated for the Pacific are a “step in the right direction”, but will have minimal bearing on Australia’s ranking.
“Even with these future additions the only country we might overtake is Belgium” she said. “While many countries continue to grow … Australia is treading water but will not excel at the rate we are going at.”
She said more consular resources needed to be directed towards India and Korea where Australia has strong economic interests, while South America and Africa were also getting relatively little attention from Canberra.
But a spokesman for the Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs said the government was focused on protecing and advancing Australian interests “particularly in our own region.”
Canberra had set up the Office of the Pacific this year with more than 175 staff, representing a “major shift in how we engage in the Pacific” the official added, while Australia had also opened posts in Kolkata, India, and Shenyang, China in 2018-19.
China’s gain in diplomatic footholds seems to be partly at the expense of Taiwan, which has lost seven embassies in three years. Five of Beijing’s new embassies are in countries which used to be aligned with Taipei. Beijing’s network of consulates numbers 96 compared with Washington’s 88.
The US however is still ahead of China as a place where other countries want diplomatic representation. It is home to 342 embassies and consulates with China second at 256.
The Brexit effect is playing out differently for the UK than for other European countries, with London closing or downgrading 11 consulates or offices in the last three years while countries like Ireland and the Netherlands are boosting their networks, seemingly in preparation for Britain leaving the European Union.
A spokesperson for the department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the government had set up the Office of the Pacific this year with more than 175 staff, representing a “major shift in how we engage in the Pacific”.
Australia had also opened posts in Kolkata, India, and Shenyang, China in 2018-19, the official added.
Deborah Snow is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.