According to the United Nations, there are 193 member states that it recognizes. Additionally, it recognizes what it calls observer states, which are the Vatican City and Palestine. The Encyclopedia Britannica lists 196 nations, including the Vatican City, Taiwan, and Kosovo. Most countries in the world allow for foreign embassies on their soil. This is done in order for countries to communicate with each other on issues such as problem solving, issues of mutual benefit, and to represent the interests of the foreign government and foreign citizens in the country. I have been fortunate to have visited embassies in Asia, North America, Europe, and Latin America.
The U.S. has 185 embassies or foreign missions in Washington, D.C. In contrast, the small country of Bhutan only has diplomatic relations with Bangladesh and India. Vatican City (44 hectares of total area) and Lichtenstein (61 square miles) are countries so small that they do not have foreign embassies on their soil. However, they work through foreign diplomats assigned to their countries.
Looking up the term “diplomat” in a dictionary leads to two general definitions. The first is “a person who is skilled at dealing with other people,” and the second is “an official representing a country abroad.” Both sides of the definition accurately describe diplomatic officials I have met or worked with throughout my career. An ambassador is in charge of an embassy; however, he/she will be assigned diplomats who work for him/her in fields such as cultural affairs, commerce, security, and health. Most diplomats tend to be well-educated, well-spoken, and knowledgeable about the country to which they have been assigned. This is a given, as countries do not want to station people abroad who are apt to cause problems or international incidents.
During my career, I have met and talked with five Mexican ambassadors to the U.S. and two U.S. ambassadors to Mexico. I have met ambassadors of the European Union (EU). One visit with an ambassador from Spain still stands out in my mind. During our conversation, he was brutally frank about the problems the EU is facing in generating entrepreneurship in major EU countries, as well as the feeling of entitlement in certain member countries that is putting a strain on productivity, and thus their economies. I have also met with Russian, U.K., Japanese, Canadian, Venezuelan, Costa Rican, and Colombian diplomats, I have worked on projects with people who eventually became diplomats, and I’ve served with retired diplomats on various foundations.
Two recent events caused me to think deeply about diplomats. The first was a meeting I hosted in my office with two Chinese diplomats who were stationed at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, one of which was at his second posting at that embassy. He has a total of twenty years representing the Chinese government in the U.S. The meeting covered a myriad of subjects. Of particular interest on their behalf was how the Borderplex region of New Mexico, Texas, and Chihuahua interacted. However, the visit eventually turned to a discussion of U.S.-China relations, and the current trade war in which both countries are currently engaged.
The diplomats and I agreed that it was unfortunate that the relationship between our two countries had deteriorated to the point that we are now engaged in a fully-fledged trade war. They recounted to me several exporters from China that had been severely affected by the tariffs that the U.S. was imposing on Chinese imports. I told them about companies I know in the border region that also had lost business because of the trade war. In the end, we hoped that our two governments would better communicate and cooperate. We agreed that this was not only important for China and the U.S., but for the security and welfare of the entire world.
The second diplomatic trigger was reconnecting with Akihisa Inagaki, who was lent in the 1990s to the states of Arizona and New Mexico by the Japan External Trade Organization, which promotes mutual trade and investment between Japan and the rest of the world. “Andy,” as we would call him, worked hard to develop relations between these two U.S. states and his country. Like other diplomats, he was polished and extremely knowledgeable about his subject matter. He served as a mentor to me in my early career, teaching me business manners, how to dress, and conduct international business. I am forever indebted for his guidance.
After he retired from his private company in Japan, I lost touch with him. I tried to find his contact information, but to no avail. A few days ago, I received an international letter from Andy. He told me that he googled me on Christmas Day and found my contact information. I gave him my email address and we are now chatting frequently – he from Tokyo and me from Santa Teresa, New Mexico. I told him that reconnecting with him was the best Christmas gift I could have been given.