Thu, Nov 28, 2019 - Page 1 News List

China leads world in diplomatic posts, showing ambition

The Guardian

China has ambitions to rival the US as the world’s diplomatic superpower with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs running more embassies and consulates around the world than the US Department of State, which still has a quarter of its key positions unfilled.

This year’s Lowy Institute Global Diplomacy Index maps the size and reach of 61 diplomatic networks around the world by embassies, consulates, permanent missions and other diplomatic posts.

Tracking all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and G20 countries, and most Asian nations, it showed an emerging China rivaling and, numerically at least, surpassing the US, which it said is caught “in a period of limbo.”

China has 276 posts, three more than the US, and 96 consulates to the US’ 88, a reflection of its emphasis on its economic and diplomatic interests.

Although Beijing has put a significant diplomatic infrastructure in place, it reflects China’s ambition more than its influence, Lowy Institute researcher Bonnie Bley said.

“The US remains the global hub for diplomatic activity,” she said. “It is — by a wide margin — the most important place for countries to locate their diplomatic posts ... China is a distant second.”

China continues to expand its diplomatic footprint — it has added five posts in the past two years — while the US’ footprint has shrunk. The US closed its St Petersburg consulate after its fallout with Russia. The administration of US President Donald Trump has not announced any new posts.

Only 73 percent of the US Department of State’s key positions are filled, the index report said.

This month, former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told the US Congress that the “hollowed-out” department is in “crisis,” saying that “the policy process is visibly unraveling.”

Australia went without a US ambassador for two years.

Staff vacancies nearly three years into Trump’s term are concerning, but the US’ diplomatic influence, developed over decades, would not be unwound in a single presidential term, Bley said.

“Instead, President Trump’s abrupt abandonment of multilateral initiatives — the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement — is a greater threat to enduring US diplomatic influence,” she said.

Significantly, Beijing’s advances have come at Taiwan’s expense. Beijing has opened five embassies — in El Salvador, Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe and the Dominican Republic — all countries that formerly recognized Taiwan.

Australia’s diplomatic footprint ranks 27th in the world. It is second-last in the G20, ahead of only Saudi Arabia — and 20th among the 36 OECD countries.

“Australia continues to run a diplomatic deficit: At 27th place, it is on par with Belgium, despite having more than twice the population and almost three times the economic size,” the report said.

Measuring diplomatic influence is more complex than a sum total of posts, but “looking at where countries are investing resources and building diplomatic infrastructure can tell us a lot about national priorities,” Bley said.

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