As US diplomacy stagnates, China has expanded its diplomatic network in a bid to increase its global influence.

According to a study by an Australian think tank, China has surpassed the US in terms of the most diplomatic outposts in the world.

Research by the Lowly Institute says that China has 276 diplomatic posts, three more than the US, followed by France, Japan and Russia.

Turkey is sixth on the list with 234 diplomatic posts, an increase of nine since 2017, which puts it just ahead of Germany.

China’s focus on diplomatic missions is in keeping with its broader strategy of expanding its economic and political power across the world in a bid to challenge US hegemony.  

The report includes both embassies and consulates, and the findings are indicative of the political ambitions of states. 

Since 2016, the US has increased its diplomatic missions by only two, whereas China has increased by 13.

China’s global economic ambitions, in particular, the One Belt and Road initiative that encompasses investments and infrastructure projects in 152 countries, mean that Beijing will continue to deepen and expand its diplomatic missions. 

Turkey’s growing network of embassies

Since 2003, Turkey has sought to expand its bilateral relations with African countries in trade, science, and education. 

According to Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country has to date signed 39 trade agreements with African countries, up from 23 in 2003.

Turkey’s trade volume with Africa has increased to more than $20 billion, a significant rise from 2003 when it was less than $5 billion. 

Another area which Turkey has chosen to focus on is Latin America, where there is growing trade and investment. Recently Turkey opened an embassy in Guatemala, which will be followed by Uruguay. 

Turkey now has 17 diplomatic outposts across Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Brexit and Trump effect

Since 2016, the United Kingdom has seen a reduction in its diplomatic posts, going down from 215 to 205 now. 

Boris Johnson and other supporters of the Leave campaign have touted that Brexit would “unleash Britain's potential”. With Brexit consuming much of Britain’s political landscape in the last three years and for seemingly years to come, unleashing Britain’s purported potential may take some time yet.

Across the Atlantic, the election of Donald Trump as US president has resulted in a different sort of political dynamic.  

As Trump nears the 2020 elections, more than 50 ambassadorial positions remain vacant in critical organisations and countries across the Middle East and Latin America. 

The Trump administration, according to one retired ambassador, lacks “a sense of fill these senior positions.''

US diplomatic credibility has also been seriously harmed after Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement, Paris Climate change accord, attacked the EU and NATO, and rolled back engagement with Cuba. 

Fired Ukraine ambassador turned Trump critic, Marie Yovanovitch, described the US foreign service as being in “crisis”. 

Soft power

A soft power index published in 2018 showed that China diplomatic missions are paying off, as it made it into the top 30, although it has some way to go to catch up with other countries like the US, Japan and even Greece. 

While the numeric superiority of diplomatic posts may not be the only measure of success of a country’s diplomatic strategy, it is a significant indicator of the country’s priorities and political ambitions. 

Source: TRT World