Geopolitics

China's Next Step In Quest For Diplomatic Supremacy

The Asian giant still trails the United States economically, but it is now the world leader when counting total number of embassies and consulates. Bad news for Taiwan — and for the rest of the world?

Ribbon cutting for Chinese and Ukrainian ambassadors in Kiev
Ribbon cutting for Chinese and Ukrainian ambassadors in Kiev
Frédéric Schaeffer

BEIJING — China's ambition is to compete with the United States, not just on the economic front, but also diplomatically. The Asian giant's ambition to be a diplomatic superpower can be measured in its having established more embassies, consulates and permanent missions around the globe than any other country.

Looking through the diplomatic network of 61 countries (OECD countries, G20 countries and most Asian countries), the Australian think tank the Lowy Institute notes that China now has a total of 276 diplomatic representatives. That's three more than the United States, and nine more than France, which has the third largest diplomatic network.

Specifically, China has 169 embassies, 96 consulates, eight permanent missions and three other diplomatic offices, compared to 168 embassies and 88 consulates for the U.S. State Department.

For Bonnie Bley, senior research fellow at the Lowy Institute, the rapid expansion of the Chinese diplomatic network is, at this stage, more a reflection of China's ambition than of its current influence. Xi Jinping's China has set itself the goal, she notes, of regaining its place and influence as a world leader by 2049, the date marking the centenary of the Communist regime.

It's in parallel with its strategy of isolating Taiwan from the diplomatic arena.

In the meantime, though, the United States remains by far the global center of diplomatic activity and the most important place for countries to establish a diplomatic post. But on the world stage, America's footprint is shrinking due to steep budget cuts and serious personnel problems in the State Department, where only 73% of key positions are filled, according to The Washington Post. The closure of the U.S. Consulate in Saint Petersburg is worth noting as well.

China's diplomatic presence, in contrast, is expanding — and occurring in parallel with its strategy of isolating Taiwan from the diplomatic arena.

Under pressure from Beijing and its "checkbook" diplomacy, several of Taiwan's diplomatic partners decided to change course and establish diplomatic relations with China, the last two being the Solomon Islands and the small island archipelago of Kiribati. Taiwan is now recognized by only 15 states worldwide, most of them in Latin America and the Pacific, down from 22 in 2016.

While Taipei brought its diplomats home in the hours following the loss of partner countries, Beijing quickly set up new embassies, the Lowy Institute notes. Beijing has opened new embassies in Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, the Gambia and São Tomé and Príncipe, all of which previously had diplomatic ties to Taiwan.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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