VILNIUS - The Lithuanian government decided on Wednesday to establish the country's embassy in Australia.
Under the Foreign Ministry's proposal, the embassy should be opened in Canberra in July.
"We propose to establish our embassy from July 1 to properly protect our country's interests, develop political contacts, maintain relations with the diaspora, develop business relations, and provide consular services," Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told the Cabinet.
The Foreign Ministry estimates that Australia is home to around 50,000 people of Lithuanian descent.
Currently, Lithuania is represented in Australia by its embassy in Japan. According to the ministry, this embassy has restricted possibilities to cover Australia under non-residence conditions.
Under the ministry's proposal, the new embassy could also be accredited to New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Jakarta-based ASEAN secretariat.
A large Lithuanian community with deep traditions lives in Australia, the ministry noted.
"The Lithuanian community in Australia has on numerous times asked Lithuania's state leaders to establish Lithuania's representation to be able to preserve close ties with Lithuania and more effectively contribute to the realization of Lithuania's interests. The postponement of the decision to establish the embassy would disappoint Lithuanians in Australia," it said.
According to the ministry, not all applicants can be served during annual external consular missions. Some 150 people were served in 2016, 185 in 2017 and almost 300 in 2018.
Moreover, Lithuania incurs additional costs when organizing elections in the country where it has no embassy. The ministry's figures show almost 600 Lithuanian citizens voted in Australia last year.
The Foreign Ministry would have to allocate d 845,000 euros from its budget to open the embassy in Australia this year. The need of funding will stand at 981,000 in 2021 and 2022 each. Under the plan, the embassy would employ 6 people.
Based on the official 2016 census figures, over 16,000 people of Lithuanian descent reside in Australia. According to unofficial estimates by the Lithuanian community, however, the actual number could be over 50,000 people.