A new bi-polar world?

A survey of top posts conducted among London’s diplomats reveals the return of a bi-polar world – but this time with China emerging as America’s new rival.

The results may make for uncomfortable reading for the Foreign Office, as London’s status as a top diplomatic capital appears to be on the wane.

The survey also reveals a number of new emerging capitals that London’s diplomats are watching closely, proof that Prime Minister Cameron’s strategy of nurturing multiple relationships may be a wise approach.

Foggy Bottom is top

Compared to a similar study conducted in September 2003, soon after the invasion of Iraq, Washington’s position as top posting has strengthened markedly, possibly due to the ‘Obama effect’.

London meanwhile, which came a very close second in the 2003 study, has slipped to a distant fifth in the rankings.

New York, which came a poor third in 2003 – linked to the crisis of confidence that befell the UN after the war in Iraq – is now is ranked second, with close rival Beijing in third, making it the biggest mover, climbing up the ladder from fifth.

Enlargement and the Lisbon Treaty do not seem to have had an impact on the stature of Brussels – home to the EU and Nato – which retains its position in fourth.

Other posts to make the top ten included, in descending order, Moscow, Berlin, Delhi and Geneva on level pegging, with Brasilia in 10th position.

Diplomatic hubs

While Foreign Secretary William Hague has pledged to defend Britain’s network of diplomatic missions, the FCO may be forced to close some posts.

With spending cuts expected in many foreign ministries, diplomats were asked to pick the best ‘regional hubs’ from which to coordinate their diplomatic efforts.

In North America, respondents chose Washington above New York; in Asia, Beijing overtook Tokyo; Brussels trumped London in Europe; in the Middle East, Cairo was a clear winner as was Brasilia in Latin America and Pretoria was the top choice for Africa.

Emerging powers

When it came to ranking “ones to watch”, Beijing topped the league (moving up from second in 2003), revealing that diplomats still consider it an emerging power.

Brasilia, which came second, and Ankara, which came fifth, both entered the top five for the first time. Delhi slipped from top emerging post to third, while South Africa moved down from third to fourth.

Trading hubs

As trade ties become increasingly important, the Embassy Network was asked to pick the top trading hubs.

Foreign Office mandarins, with their new mandate to concentrate on commercial diplomacy, will be pleased that London remains a prized trading post, coming a close second to New York.

Tokyo was ranked third, Singapore fourth and Hong Kong fifth. According to the respondents, Asia is home to half the top ten trading hubs.

In responding to the survey, diplomats did warn that their rankings were influenced by their own “world view” as well as regional interests. Even allowing for geographic variations, trends in the top five rankings in each category were clear.

1 Washington
2 New York
3 Beijing
4 Brussels
5 London

1 Beijing
2 Brasilia
3 Delhi
4 South Africa
5 Ankara

1 New York
2 London
3 Tokyo
4 Singapore
5 Hong Kong

North America – Washington
Europe – Brussels
Latin America – Brasilia
Asia – Beijing
Middle East – Cairo
Africa – Pretoria