China Passes U.S. in Number of Diplomatic Missions Worldwide

Minister of Foreign Affairs and State Counselor of the People's Republic of China, Wang Yi (R) and the Dominican Republic Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas Maldonado (L), shake hands during the inauguration ceremony of the Chinese Embassy in Santo Domingo, on September 21, 2018. - Wang Yi is in Dominican Republic …
ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP via Getty Images

A study published by the Lowy Institute of Australia on Wednesday found that China now has more diplomatic missions around the world than the United States, with a total of 276 posts to America’s 273.

France’s AFP news service took this development as an ominous “bellwether for geopolitical shifts” because U.S. diplomacy is in “limbo” due to President Donald Trump’s budget cuts, staff turnover, and highly publicized disputes with the State Department.

As of 2019, however, the United States suffered a net loss of only one diplomatic post: the consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia, which was shuttered during an exchange of diplomatic sanctions between Washington and Moscow in 2018 after Russian agents poisoned former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain.

The United Kingdom closed more embassies than the U.S. during the period covered by the Lowy Institute report and is now ranked as 11th in the world. This was attributed to the ongoing chaos of Brexit and could reverse once that process is completed and the U.K. begins restoring diplomatic operations.

Nikkei Asian Review (NAR) noted that despite the cutback in foreign service officers early in the Trump administration, the United States still has almost 14,000 of them, compared to 10,000 for China. The U.S. also remains much more popular as a destination for foreign diplomats than China, in part because the United Nations is headquartered in New York.

China, meanwhile, picked up a few new embassies because it was able to pressure some of Taiwan’s allies to recognize Beijing instead. These new missions included Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Gambia, Sao Tome, and Principe. 

Rounding out the top five are France, Japan, and Russia. The Lowy Institute noted that China was in third place with 267 diplomatic missions in 2016, so its rise to the top spot by establishing nine more posts over the course of three years, over half of them at Taiwan’s expense, is significant but not meteoric.

“The report confirmed that diplomatic reach tracks closely with a country’s ability to fund foreign posts. Of the Top 10, only Spain, which came in ninth, is not in the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations,” NAR observed.

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