China’s reach is far and wide, tops US on Global Diplomacy Index

Mike Firn for RFA
China’s reach is far and wide, tops US on Global Diplomacy Index U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi shake hands during their meeting at the Munich Security Conference, in Munich, Germany, Feb. 16, 2024.
Wolfgang Rattay/Pool photo via AP

China has the world’s farthest-reaching diplomatic network, closely followed by the United States, as the two superpowers and economic rivals compete for influence across the globe, according to a new study by an Australian think-tank.

Beijing and Washington rank No. 1 and 2 on the Lowy Institute’s 2024 Global Diplomacy Index, published Sunday, and are at the forefront of a “diplomatic rush” to the vast region of the Pacific made up of small island nations.

Beijing has a bigger diplomatic footprint than the U.S. in Africa, East Asia and the Pacific islands, the report said. It also has a bigger presence in East Asia, following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Sydney-based institute said.

Washington’s reach is more extensive in Europe, North and Central America and South Asia, with the same number of diplomatic posts as Beijing in the Middle East and South America, the survey by the Sydney-based institute found.

“China and the United States lead the world, by some margin, in the size of their diplomatic networks. Beijing tops the Index with 274 posts in its global network, followed closely by Washington with 271,” Lowy said in its report.

“China’s rise to the top spot was rapid. In 2011, Beijing lagged behind Washington by 23 diplomatic posts. By 2019, China had surpassed the United States in having the world’s largest diplomatic network. In 2021, China pulled further ahead, leading the United States by eight posts, but by 2023, the gap narrowed again to China ahead by just three posts.”

Lionel Aingimea, Nauru’s minister of foreign affairs and trade, gives a speech after signing a joint communiqué on the resumption of diplomatic relations between China and Nauru, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, in Beijing, Jan. 24, 2024. [Andrea Verdelli/Pool via Reuters]

China’s expansion has come at the expense of Taiwan, as Beijing courts lower-income nations with offers of infrastructure, economic and administrative assistance, Lowy reported. 

In January, Nauru switched diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing. The move by the Pacific island country reduced Taiwan’s diplomatic allies to 12 nations, including the Vatican, Paraguay and Eswatini.

The index showed a rapid growth in diplomatic missions in the Pacific islands, seen as key geopolitical allies by the world’s two leading superpowers. Since 2017, the Pacific region has been home to the fastest rate of outside nations pushing to establish diplomatic posts there, Lowy said.

“The Global Diplomacy Index shows that governments continue to invest in diplomacy to project power and achieve their interests,” said Ryan Neelam, the director of the Public Opinion and Foreign Policy Program at the Lowy Institute.

“The ongoing rivalry between the United States and China is reflected in the superpowers’ dominance in the 2024 rankings, while geopolitical competition has propelled Asia and the Pacific into focus.”

The index was launched in 2016. This year, it covers the diplomatic networks of 66 countries and territories in Asia, the Group of 20 nations and members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Data was collected between July and November last year.

This report was produced by Radio Free Asia (RFA), a news service affiliated with BenarNews. 


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