The US embassy was built some 9 years ago on a large tract of land at Ta’ Qali purchased from the Maltese Government for €14.6 million. The footprint of the Ta’ Qali Embassy is slightly over 4 hectares in size.
Earlier this week a development permit for a new Chinese Embassy at Pembroke, covering an area of around 2 hectares, was approved by the Planning Authority. The Chinese Embassy compound will be half the size of the US embassy complex but it still has quite a substantial footprint. The land to be developed as a Chinese Embassy was purchased from the Maltese Government for €7,880,000.
Why have these foreign governments been permitted to develop their embassies on such large tracts of land? If they really need space, would it not have been much more helpful if they were advised to restore some old, possibly historic building, as a result giving back something to Maltese society?
How long will it take before some other request for the development of another enormous embassy complex is made? From the Russian Federation maybe?
Does the debate on the American University in Malta not ring a bell? Have we not learnt anything from that public debate as a result of which the only functioning campus is at the former Malta Drydocks? The historic properties on that site, namely the seventeenth century Knights’ Building and the nineteenth century British naval workshops have been restored and given a new use. This has resulted in a net environmental gain, in the process protecting land at Marsaskala from development: a portion of our countryside was saved from ruin.
We will never have an honest reply to the basic question as to what all this space in the village size embassies is needed for. In addition to basic consular work and the development of relations with the business and local community these village size embassies are also inevitably an eavesdropping focus for intelligence gathering in the Mediterranean region.
Some tend to describe both the United States and the Republic of China as being very good friends of Malta. In reality it is a well-established foreign policy principle that countries do not have friends: they have interests. Diplomatic relations serve to further these interests.
Malta’s central location in the Mediterranean makes it ideal as a monitoring post and that is undoubtedly one of the basic interests for such large embassies. Ensuring that this interest is well catered for in Malta is a priority for both the United States of America and the Republic of China.
The recent debate on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) relative to US Forces is indicative. Only the naïve would have failed to note the unofficial comments flying around in order to understand what was going on around the negotiating tables.
In larger countries it may make sense to have large embassies. However, in Malta we could definitely do without them. In a small country such as ours, they are definitely not required to improve the relations with the United States, China or any other country.
The Embassy of the United States of America has now been built and it has been operational for the past nine years. The Chinese embassy is however still on plan. Even if it has just been approved the Chinese Ambassador could still give the matter some further thought and consider the possible rehabilitation of some old building or buildings, possibly historical ones, instead of his massive embassy, the size of a small village!
Possibly that could turn the problem of the location and land uptake of the proposed embassy on its head and develop it into a unique opportunity.
It is never too late Mr Ambassador to take note.
published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 1 November 2020