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Globalization and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy

Globalization and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy

by Juan  “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

In the context of globalization,  the following observations on  international migration can be made:

  • First, international migration as determined by economic and non-economic factors has become institutionalized;
  • Second, international migration is relevant to to development and security concerns; and
  • Third,  international migration has  increased the linkage between diplomacy and society particularly on  consular services and assistance provided by governments.

Migration has emerged on top of the global political agenda. However, managing migration remains as a big challenge among  origin, transit, and destination countries.  Some of the issues of mutual concern include the protection of migrant workers and how to jointly deal with with forced  and irregular migration.  In the current  environment, international migration is restrictive.

Based on figures from the United Nations (UN), an estimated 214 million people or three percent of the world’s population live outside their countries of birth. This phenomenon has become more prevalent due to the forces of globalization.   It is not surprising that the UN has recognized international migration as a top political agenda of governments.

The implications of international migration to  foreign affairs are two-fold: one is the necessity for greater international migration cooperation and second,  the enhanced role of consular affairs.

The global cooperation in international migration has taken several forms.  For example, the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) is an emerging platform to discuss migration issues.  The GFMD, however is only a forum among governments and non-state actors to manage international migration.  In  the absence of global governance on migration, countries have undertaken bilateral labour agreements to manage migration and to protect their migrant workers.

Emergence of Consular Diplomacy

In diplomatic scholarship, consular affairs have received little attention from students and academics. They regard consular affairs as dealing with the delivery of public service to citizens rather than management of international relations.

In view of the evolution of the diplomatic and consular practice, scholars like Maiike Okano-Heijmans and Kevin Stringer have noted the emergence of ‘consular diplomacy’.  In their view,  consular function is increasingly becoming a core task of Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The changing patterns of tourism, trans-boundary crime, terrorism, and natural disasters have increased demand for consular assistance .  For instance, consular function of MFAs were put to the test when Ministries had to deal with the protection of their citizens who were in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya in the  recent political crisis in the region. Natural disasters such as the recent tsunami that hit Japan also required consular action from governments to locate missing pers0ns and to bring their citizens home safely.

Iver Neumann asserts that “consular work has exploded and the potential tasks are literally infinite.”[1] The benefits of migration to both sending and host countries have prompted governments to increasingly tap labour migrants a for its development and economic aims.

Media has  played a key role in bringing consular assistance to a higher level of attention.  Media  covers cases of distressed citizens and the quality of government assistance to them. The promotion of rights of migrant workers and empowerment of migrant workers have increase their political leverage resulting in higher demands for proactive consular assistance. As a result, higher expectations of citizens for consular services are shaping the way diplomats and consular staff work.

The international landscape has wider implication on the practice of diplomacy and requires governments to adapt. In this respect, embassies and consulates are becoming extensions of ‘city halls’ that provide services to its citizen’s abroad.


[1]Iver Neumann, “Globalisation and Diplomacy,” Working Paper 724(2007).

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When is multilateral diplomacy more rewarding than bilateral diplomacy?

UN Security Council Chamber in New York.

Image via Wikipedia

When is multilateral diplomacy more rewarding than bilateral diplomacy?


by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

Between bilateral diplomacy and multilateral diplomacy, I believe that many diplomats would say that  bilateral diplomacy is more rewarding. For the “bilateralists”, multilateral or conference diplomacy is time-consuming and could be  frustrating.

Arguably, the benefits and impact of bilateral diplomacy are easier to measure  given that there are only two  players  with agenda items somewhat limited in scope. However, bilateral diplomacy is not a panacea. Due to the imbalance of power relations between strong and weak states, the latter may find it incapable of pushing for its national interests in  a bilateral negotiation. Thus, some issues are best addressed among various states. Some of these issues include addressing international challenges in trade relations, climate change, migration, and transnational crimes.

Multilateral diplomacy,  which takes place when there are three or more states in a conference, could address the limitations of bilateral diplomacy and, in these circumstances, is likely to be more rewarding.

A More Level Playing Field

One significant benefit of multilateral diplomacy is levelling the playing field among states with different political and economic levels. The British Foreign Secretary Canning, after returning from a series of conferences after the 1815 Treaty of Vienna, praised normal bilateral diplomacy when he said “each for himself and God for us all”. Such remarks sum up why multilateral diplomacy limits self-interested motivations of the states.

In the United Nations, the veto powers enjoyed by the five permanent members of the Security Council prevent the tyranny of the powerful by ensuring that one veto can outvote any acts  with selfish intention or when one state resort to aggression.  Thus, it could be said that multilateral diplomacy is an effective safeguard against unilateralism and hegemonic ambitions of powerful states.

Coalition-building

In the United Nations, states can form coalitions based on geographic and regional considerations. Some examples or regional groupings includes the Africans, Latin Americans and Arabs, and European Union.  The  Group of 77 is an aggrupation  based on economic commonalities of developing countries.  These sub-groups form coalitions, cooperate, and promote their common interests that may subdue more power states. For instance, the G-77 countries  plus China called for the ending of the Doha Round of  trade talks last year.  Another example is how member countries of ASEAN are able to navigate a region which is surrounded by powerful neighbours such as China and India through the regional  body.

Venue to Address Transnational Issues and Harmonise Policies of States

Multilateral diplomacy is also more rewarding in finding and formulating solutions to global challenges which are transnational in nature.  Some of these issues include peace and security, international trade, climate change, human rights and solving transnational crimes.

Through multilateral diplomacy, states could come up with agreed norms through treaties that harmonises the foreign policy of member-states.  The League of Nations and the United Nations were created to provide a forum for nation-states to prevent war and conflict. Although the League of Nations failed, the U.N. has succeeded in minimizing the possibility of World War III.

Promotes Peace and Security

The U.N. is also involved in peace-keeping operations and  promotes  peace in conflict zones.  The U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDG) agenda also provides the states with a clear target and benchmarks for global elimination of poverty. In the U.N., states are able to discuss and formulate common agenda on issues such as human rights, including the rights of women and children and rights of migrant workers and their families, which may not be tabled in bilateral diplomatic exchanges.

In the Asian region, the ASEAN+3 is the only confidence-building mechanisms and venue where rival countries such as China, Japan and South Korea could sit and negotiate on issues not just related to North Korea. At the same time, the Six-party Talks, which has as its members the United States, China, Japan, South and North Koreas, is another example of the effectiveness of multilateral diplomacy in discussing and diplomatically engaging North Korea.

Representation through Candidatures

Multilateral diplomacy is also a venue for states to exert influence in the international stage through candidatures in International Organisations. For instance, countries, regardless of political or economic levels, could field their own candidates to the U.N. bodies and International Organisations.   One example is that South Korea supported the candidature of former Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon  as U.N. Secretary-General to project South Korea  as an economic model to the developing world. Likewise, the Philippines fielded the candidature of a Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary, who lost his bid as Deputy Director General of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) , aimed at projecting the Philippines as  model in managing labour migration.

Inclusivity to Non-state Actors

Lastly, multilateral diplomacy can be more inclusive and therefore more rewarding to non-state actors.  Although the primary actor of multilateral diplomacy remains primarily the state, civil society groups are recognised for their valuable role and contribution to development and may sometimes be consulted in in decision-making process.

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