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Former UN Security Council chief warns against cuts in New Zealand diplomacy

01-11-2012 08:53 BJT

WELLINGTON, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- Planned cuts to New Zealand's diplomatic corps will jeopardize the country's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, a former senior New Zealand diplomat warned Wednesday.

The call is the latest in a series of warnings against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) plan to cut a fifth of its current staff about 200 jobs and close some overseas posts soon after March.

Terrence O'Brien, a former president of the Security Council, told Radio New Zealand that reducing the country's diplomatic spread would lessen its ability to lobby other nations to support the government's plan to seek a place on the Security Council in 2015-2016 at elections in 2014.

"This is a relentless, unending series of approaches to other governments over a period of three years leading up to the election," O'Brien told Radio New Zealand.

"If we're reducing diplomatic spread in the world because of these changes, then we're putting at risk our ability to do that."

O'Brien also said the cuts would reduce the ministry's professionalism, while similar-sized countries, such as Norway and Singapore, were enlarging their international efforts.

On Monday, both the main opposition Labour Party and the opposition New Zealand First party described the cuts as a "slash and burn" exercise that would harm New Zealand trade prospects and its international reputation.

Labour Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Phil Goff, the former trade minister who signed the Free Trade Agreement with China in 2008, said in a statement Monday that the MFAT was vital to New Zealand' s economic success.

"It is part of the reason New Zealand was the first developed country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with China. It is also important for our voice to be heard internationally," said Goff.

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, now leader of the New Zealand First party, described the move as a "serious, retrograde step" at a time New Zealand was desperately trying to increase its export trade.

"If you compare New Zealand's overseas presence with Singapore and Norway, two similar sized countries, you will see that we have less than 40 percent of their international effort," said Peters in a statement Monday.

"That is why those countries are flourishing and we keep sliding further down the OECD."

According to a New Zealand Herald report Monday, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said last year that the ministry's focus would shift from Europe to Asia, the Gulf States, South America and Africa and "where we do not need to have missions, we will close them."

New Zealand, which last served on the Security Council almost 20 years ago, is seeking one of the 10 non-permanent seats.

The government's official election bid, published on the MFAT website, says, "We are seeking early support from our friends from all regions so we can serve the wider membership again."

Editor:Zhang Hao |Source: Xinhua

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