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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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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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