BEIJING — China's ambition is to compete with the United States, not just on the economic front, but also diplomatically. The Asian giant's ambition to be a diplomatic superpower can be measured in its having established more embassies, consulates and permanent missions around the globe than any other country.
Looking through the diplomatic network of 61 countries (OECD countries, G20 countries and most Asian countries), the Australian think tank the Lowy Institute notes that China now has a total of 276 diplomatic representatives. That's three more than the United States, and nine more than France, which has the third largest diplomatic network.
Specifically, China has 169 embassies, 96 consulates, eight permanent missions and three other diplomatic offices, compared to 168 embassies and 88 consulates for the U.S. State Department.
For Bonnie Bley, senior research fellow at the Lowy Institute, the rapid expansion of the Chinese diplomatic network is, at this stage, more a reflection of China's ambition than of its current influence. Xi Jinping's China has set itself the goal, she notes, of regaining its place and influence as a world leader by 2049, the date marking the centenary of the Communist regime.
It's in parallel with its strategy of isolating Taiwan from the diplomatic arena.
In the meantime, though, the United States remains by far the global center of diplomatic activity and the most important place for countries to establish a diplomatic post. But on the world stage, America's footprint is shrinking due to steep budget cuts and serious personnel problems in the State Department, where only 73% of key positions are filled, according to The Washington Post. The closure of the U.S. Consulate in Saint Petersburg is worth noting as well.
China's diplomatic presence, in contrast, is expanding — and occurring in parallel with its strategy of isolating Taiwan from the diplomatic arena.
Under pressure from Beijing and its "checkbook" diplomacy, several of Taiwan's diplomatic partners decided to change course and establish diplomatic relations with China, the last two being the Solomon Islands and the small island archipelago of Kiribati. Taiwan is now recognized by only 15 states worldwide, most of them in Latin America and the Pacific, down from 22 in 2016.
While Taipei brought its diplomats home in the hours following the loss of partner countries, Beijing quickly set up new embassies, the Lowy Institute notes. Beijing has opened new embassies in Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, the Gambia and São Tomé and Príncipe, all of which previously had diplomatic ties to Taiwan.
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