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China's ranking as the country with the biggest diplomatic network reflects its global rise

CGTN | Updated: 2019-12-03 10:08

The Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on March 15, 2019. /VCG Photo

Editor's note: Matteo Giovannini is a finance professional at ICBC in Beijing and a member of the China Task Force at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development. The article reflects the author's views, and not necessarily those of CGTN.

China has surpassed the U.S. for the first time to top the world's largest diplomatic network, according to an Australian think tank. The Lowy Institute's 2019 Global Diplomacy Index, released by a Sydney-based think tank last week, showed that China has 276 diplomatic posts worldwide while the U.S. was found to have 273. This news comes with no surprise considering that China was ranked third behind the U.S. and France in 2016 and jumped to second one year later.

According to the Index, China now has a number of globally diplomatic posts including embassies, consulates, permanent missions and other representations, surpassing the American network by three posts and leaving well behind France, Japan and Russia to complete the top spots of the list.

Going into detail what can be observed in this ranking is that China and the United States are very close in terms of the number of embassies while China has a clear advantage in the number of consulates with 96 compared with 88 of the United States. It is worth mentioning that embassies represent political power located in the capital of the host countries while consulates represent economic power located in the financial center of the host countries. This reflects that China may prefer to use the concrete economic and trade diplomacy than political diplomacy.

The importance of China on the global stage is also well represented by the fact that other countries have started to set up posts in second-tier and even third-tier Chinese cities. This could potentially lead to a drastic change of the current global diplomatic order in favor of China in the foreseeable future.

China's rise has become a central topic in every major country's agenda and every international event, such as the G7, the NATO or the World Economic Forum (WEF), and this is due to the size of its economy, the extension of its commercial network and the resources invested in its military forces.

The growing role of China on the international stage is strongly connected to the rise of Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. During the last seven years, Xi has been building his international profile and has put China once again at the center of global affairs. For example, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) purposed by President Xi well represents the role that China should play in the 21st century.

The setting up of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), an alternative to Western-led financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is another example of the growing importance of China in global policy and global markets. The clear message here is that China, little by little, is replacing the global leadership currently held by the United States, having found obstructions in being recognized as the world's second economy inside major multilateral institutions.

In terms of power, the distinction between "hard power" and "soft power" must be considered. Hard power reflects economic and military strength while soft power is related to cultural features, technology, education and immigration policy. In order to become a truly global leader, a country must possess a combination of both.

Since Deng Xiaoping's reform and opening-up policy took effect in late 1979, China has made enormous progress in terms of economic development in the four decades since, has become the world's second largest economy and has constantly improved its military status as recently demonstrated during the celebration for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

China has also invested in increasing its soft power through the setting up of Confucius Institutes all over the world, becoming a technology hub in direct competition with the United States as well as an absolute leader in fintech, investing a lot of resources in its education system as shown by the steady progress of Tsinghua University and Peking University in global rankings. At the same time, China has improved its immigration policies to promote economic and social development towards the attraction of talents representing a win-win situation for both China and foreign workers.

China is on the way to become a leading country in all possible metrics and fields through its rapid development, while the United States has entered a period of uncertainty with President Donald Trump's diplomacy of social media prevailing over traditional diplomacy.

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