Britain will withdraw officials from Afghanistan and Europe to fund a diplomatic blitz in China and India aimed at securing new trading ties with the world's emerging economic powers, the country's government said Wednesday.
Foreign Secretary William Hague unveiled a sweeping reorganization of Britain's foreign service over the next four years, promising to bolster relations across Asia and Latin America to reflect the world's shifting balance of power.
Hague told the House of Commons that 50 diplomats would be redeployed to China, and 30 to India, while Britain will send new ambassadors to Kyrgyzstan and South Sudan, reopen posts in Madagascar and El Salvador and _ when it is judged safe _ open a full embassy in Somalia.
"This government will work to build up Britain's influence in the world, to forge stronger bilateral relations with emerging giants and old allies that have been neglected for too long, and to seize opportunities for prosperity," Hague said.
Britain's government has urged its diplomats to focus on wooing new trade partners since taking office last year with a mission to fix the nation's debt-laden economy. Prime Minister David Cameron has already led large delegations of British business leaders on sales tours to India and the Middle East.
Hague has also singled out Turkey, Indonesia and Brazil as key future allies and said the U.K. would open seven smaller diplomatic offices in emerging nations.
"Given that political influence will follow economic trends in the world and will increasingly shift to the countries of the south and the east over the long term, we need to plan ahead and create the right network for the future," he said.
The diplomatic drive in India and China will target growing cities outside national capitals, seeking to tap new opportunities for exports to win investment in British industry.
Main opposition Labour Party lawmaker Douglas Alexander warned that Britain could be choosing "trade over influence," in withdrawing staff from some traditional posts.
Britain plans to scale back almost all of its activities in Europe outside European capitals, meaning many staff based in cities including Munich, Milan and Barcelona will be deployed elsewhere. However, the U.K. will retain a full ambassador at the Vatican.
"We will need to find further savings in recognition of the fact that only three of the world's 30 richest cities are in Europe," Hague told lawmakers.
The diplomatic head count will also fall in both Iraq and Afghanistan, which will also reduce the costs of security.
"As the nature of the U.K. military involvement changes in Afghanistan we will redeploy staff elsewhere," Hague said, referring to NATO plans to hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces in 2014.
Britain's foreign ministry will sell off real estate and also trim the costs of postings overseas to fund the 100-million-pound (US$165 million) expansion program, which will mean fewer luxury homes for diplomats based abroad.
Already, the posts of 450 junior staff based overseas have been cut and the ministry is likely to ask some diplomats to share facilities in non-priority countries with colleagues from Britain's business ministry.
In a speech in November, Cameron said Britain would strengthen ties to key emerging economies to secure its status as a leading voice on global affairs. "Whenever I meet foreign leaders, they do not see a Britain shuffling apologetically off the world stage," Cameron said.
Hague has also previously insisted that Britain's new business focus wouldn't mean the U.K. would shy away from raising human rights issues in countries such as China or India.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects to "Wednesday" instead of "Tuesday" in the first paragraph.)