In diplomacy, a chargé d'affaires (French for "charged with (in charge of) matters"), often shortened to simply chargé, is a diplomat – usually a diplomatic secretary, counselor or minister – who heads a diplomatic mission (e.g., an embassy) in the absence of its titular head (e.g., an ambassador).
A chargé d'affaires represents his or her nation in the country they are accredited to, and enjoys the same privileges and immunities as a regular ambassador. However, chargés d'affaires are outranked by ambassadors and have lower precedence at formal diplomatic events. In most cases, a diplomat would only serve as a chargé d'affaires on a temporary basis in the absence of the ambassador. In unusual situations, a chargé d'affaires may be appointed for an indefinite period, in cases where disputes between the two countries make it impossible or undesirable to send agents of a higher diplomatic rank.
Types of chargés
Chargés d'affaires ad interim ("a.i.") are those who temporarily head a diplomatic mission in the absence of the accredited head of that mission. It is usual to appoint a counsellor or secretary of legation to be chargé d'affaires ad interim, and he is presented to the foreign minister of the receiving state by the former head of mission before he leaves his post. Chargés d'affaires ad interim are not themselves deemed to be formally accredited, as they do not possess diplomatic credentials.
Chargés d'affaires en pied are appointed to be permanent heads of mission, in cases where the two countries lack ambassadorial-level relations. They are appointed by letters of credence from the foreign minister of the sending state to the foreign minister of the receiving state. They have precedence over chargés d'affaires ad interim, but are outranked by ambassadors.
Long-term chargé-level relations
In certain cases, a chargé d'affaires may be appointed for long periods, such as when a mission is headed by a non-resident ambassador who is accredited to multiple countries. In addition, a mission may be downgraded from an ambassadorial to a chargé d'affaires level to show displeasure, yet avoid taking the extremely serious step of breaking diplomatic relations. For example, Saudi Arabia and Thailand have not exchanged ambassadors since 1989, due to the still-unresolved Blue Diamond Affair.
When diplomatic recognition is extended to a new government, a chargé will be sent to immediately establish diplomatic representation. However, if a timely exchange of ambassadors does not take place, this may result in a prolonged period of chargé-level relations. For example, the United Kingdom recognized the People's Republic of China in 1950 and posted a chargé d'affaires in the new capital of Beijing. However, China was unwilling to exchange ambassadors until the United Kingdom withdrew its consulate from Taipei. Sino-British relations were not upgraded to the ambassadorial level until 1972.
Since a chargé d'affaires presents his credentials to the foreign minister rather than the head of state, the appointment of a chargé may avoid a politically sensitive meeting that would imply approval or recognition of that head of state or government. Similarly, the receiving country may decline to receive an ambassador, but still maintain diplomatic relations by accepting a chargé. For example, the Republic of Cyprus appoints a number of chargé d'affaires en pied to its embassies abroad.
In modern use, chargés d'affaires do not essentially differ from ambassadors, envoys or ministers resident. They represent their nation, and apart from rank and precedence, enjoy the same privileges and immunities as other diplomatic agents.
However, there have been rare historical circumstances in which a diplomatic post, formally ranking as chargé d'affaires, was in fact employed in a more significant colonial role, as commonly held by a Resident. Thus, in Annam-Tonkin (most of present Vietnam), the first French chargé d'affaires at Huế, the local ruler's capital, since 1875; one of them (three terms) was appointed the first Resident-general on 11 June 1884, as they stopped being tributary to the Chinese empire, less than a year after the 25 August 1883 French protectorates over Annam and Tonkin (central and northern regions).
In French usage, chargé d'affaires may be used outside diplomacy either as a specific position, or in general terms to indicate an individual with some more or less temporary responsibility for a specific area of activity.
Spelling and grammar
Chargé d'affaires generally follows French usage: chargé d'affaires is singular, chargés d'affaires for plural. The "d'affaires" is always in the plural form, and should be lowercase even if Chargé is capitalized. Although non-standard and unusual, chargée d'affaires (with the feminine ending) may be seen where the chargé is female.
For temporary chargés, ad interim may or may not be added depending on the context, but is always lower case; it may be italicized or shortened to simply a.i.
- Boczek, Boleslaw Adam (2005). International Law: A Dictionary. Scarecrow Press. p. 48. ISBN 978-0810850781.
- "13 March 1972". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) (House of Commons).
- "Cyprus Diplomatic Missions Abroad". Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- eDiplomat.com: Glossary of Diplomatic Terms
- WorldStatesmen-Italian states to 1860