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China has overtaken US as world’s largest diplomatic power, think tank says

China has overtaken the United States as the country with the most diplomatic posts across the world, a stark indication of Beijing’s growing international ambitions, a new report published by an Australian think tank has revealed.

Published by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute Wednesday, the Global Diplomacy Index is an analysis of the number of embassies and consulates maintained by countries worldwide.

According to the report, China now has 276 diplomatic posts globally, three more than the US. While they have an equal number of embassies, Beijing has more consulates around the world than Washington.

“Broadly speaking, consulates facilitate economic cooperation between countries, whereas embassies nurture political relationships,” said lead researcher Bonnie Bley from the Lowy Institute.

“(The results) suggest that, on a practical level, China’s network of overseas consulates can support the rollout of Beijing’s economic ambitions.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping has been building his international profile since coming to power in November 2012, seeking to put Beijing at the center of global affairs.

One of Xi’s signature policies has been the Belt and Road Initiative, which offers huge infrastructure funds to partner nations to create new capital projects and trading corridors for China.

As China has expanded its international reach, the US has stepped back.

Since coming to power in 2017, President Donald Trump has attempted to make substantial budget cuts to the US State Department. A number of key diplomatic posts also remain vacant, prompting warnings that the Trump administration risks undermining diplomats’ safety and morale.

“Establishing a robust diplomatic infrastructure is the first practical step to bolstering a country’s diplomatic influence. In China’s case, we can say with certainty that it has invested in its diplomatic infrastructure, which serves as a telling metric of its international ambitions,” Bley said.

After China and the United States, France is the next most connected diplomatic power, according to the report, with 267 embassies and consulates around the world. Japan is in fourth place, with Russia ranked fifth.

Bley said that while China was reaching out to the world, the country itself was still lagging far behind in terms of embassies established on Chinese soil.

While in 2019 the United States is home to 342 embassies and consulates from 61 countries, there are only 256 diplomatic missions in China.

“Quantity is one thing, but the quality of China’s diplomatic engagement will determine the real boost to its international reputation,” she said.

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