The Israeli Foreign Ministry denied any intention of closing consulates or embassies in order to make possible the opening of a diplomatic mission in Chengdu, China, The Jerusalem Post reported on Thursday.
A spokeswoman for Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin issued the denial in response to a media story concerning an internal dispute over whether to keep a consulate in Philadelphia open and, if necessary for budgetary purposes, close an office elsewhere.
One ministry official acknowledged that it would send the wrong message if Israel closed a consulate in Philadelphia to facilitate one in China.
There is reportedly a solid consensus in the Foreign Ministry that as relations with China develop, more consulates will need to be opened. The question is only what to cut to make available the necessary funds for an expanded presence in China.
During a ministry discussion, an official questioned the need for an embassy in Belarus, a country shunned by much of the West, or a consulate in St. Petersburg.
“Why not close the embassy in Albania or El Salvador?” he continued. “Do we really need embassies there? Do I need boots on the ground in El Salvador? Can’t that be covered by a non-resident ambassador from Guatemala?”
Elkin was quoted as arguing that in view of Israel’s embattled position in international forums, it is important for Israel’s flag to fly in as many capitals as possible.
Israel currently has an embassy in Beijing and missions in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Though Chengdu is an unfamiliar name to many Israelis and Americans, the capital of Sichuan province is one of China’s most important financial and communications centers, with a population of some 14 million people,
MK Nachman Shai (Labor), who heads the Knesset caucus on U.S.-Israel relations, objected to the suggestion that the Philadelphia consulate might be expendable.
“Israel should be adding more consulates in the U.S., not closing them, even though we also need more consulates in China,” he said.
“We are in the middle of an important struggle for support in the U.S. Closing it now would harm that effort.”