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  • China Now Has the Most Global Diplomatic Posts, Overtaking U.S.

  • Translation: “A Great Undercurrent Hiding Beneath the Likes”

  • Sinopsis: The European Parliament China Friendship Cluster


Photo: Beijing Summer Palace, by tom_stromer

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China Now Has the Most Global Diplomatic Posts, Overtaking U.S.

According to the Lowy Institutes’ 2019 Global Diplomacy Index, China now operates more global diplomatic posts—including embassies and consulates—than any country, including the U.S. which now takes second place. BBC News reports:

According to the Lowy Institute, China overtook the US in 2019, with 276 embassies and other representative offices globally.

That’s three more posts than the US – France, Japan and Russia are in the next spots.

[…] China’s diplomatic rise has been rapid in recent years. In 2016, it was still third behind the US and France with only 267 diplomatic missions. In 2017 it had moved to second spot.

Beijing’s new missions have been popping up especially in countries that it wooed away from ties with Taiwan: Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, the Gambia, and Sao Tome and Principe.

[…] The US has also increased its missions since 2016, but only from 271 to 273. [Source]

The Lowy Institute’s index ranks Taiwan at 32 with 107 posts, only 15 of which are embassies. Read more about Beijing’s steady global lobbying for diplomatic allegiance from countries that formerly officially recognized Taiwan. The most recent switch in September by the Solomon Islands left Taiwan with only 16 remaining diplomatic partners recognizing it as an independent nation.

Coverage of the index from The Guardian’s Ben Doherty relays comments from a Lowy Institute research fellow on the global significance of China’s taking of the lead, and notes that this comes at a time when the U.S. State Department has a quarter of its key posts unfilled:

A Lowy Institute research fellow, Bonnie Bley, said although Beijing had put a significant diplomatic infrastructure in place, it reflected China’s ambition more than its influence.

“The US remains the global hub for diplomatic activity,” she said. “It is – by a wide margin – the most important place for countries to locate their diplomatic posts … China … is a distant second.”

[…] Only 73% of the US state department’s key positions are filled, the index reported. The former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, told Congress this month a “hollowed-out” department was in “crisis”, saying “the policy process is visibly unravelling”. Australia went without a US ambassador for two years.

Bley said staff vacancies nearly three years into Trump’s term were concerning, but that the US’s diplomatic influence, developed over decades, would not be unwound in a single presidential term.

“Instead, president Trump’s abrupt abandonment of multilateral initiatives – the trans Pacific partnership, the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement – is a greater threat to enduring US diplomatic influence,” she said. [Source]

At Foreign Affairs, the Lowy Institute’s Bley goes to greater length on how the new report can serve as “a barometer of [China’s] national ambition” and may mark a turning point in the diplomatic competition between Beijing and D.C.:

This shift could mark a turning point in great-power competition. As Beijing becomes more and more willing to deploy its global power, seemingly no longer interested in former leader Deng Xiaoping’s instruction to “hide your strength, bide your time,” it has invested in active and far-reaching diplomacy. Washington, meanwhile, has seen both a turn inward and a privileging of other tools. Where once the United States enjoyed global diplomatic primacy, the playing field is now leveling.

[…] The United States’ diplomatic presence has been sclerotic since 2017. After closing the doors of its consulate general in St. Petersburg in 2018, amid rancorous relations with the Kremlin, and without any new openings in recent years, Washington reduced its total posts to 273. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department remains hollowed out: even as President Donald Trump approaches the end of a four-year term, only 73 percent of key positions are filled, according to a Washington Post tracker. Add to this the Trump administration’s desire to cut the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development budgets by up to 23 percent, and it is no surprise that U.S. diplomacy looks increasingly rudderless to other governments. Trump’s 11,000 tweets, over half of which attack someone or something, are no substitute for a properly functioning diplomatic network.

[…] Other governments are increasingly setting up posts in second- and third-tier Chinese cities—something to watch closely in coming years. Still, it would take a serious reshuffling of the global diplomatic order for the status quo on this particular metric to change in China’s favor in the near future. […] [Source]

The South China Morning Post’s Linda Lew quotes a Chinese international relations scholar who notes that the recent uptick in new Chinese consulates is related to Xi Jinping’s ambitious and controversial Belt and Road Initiative. The scholar also comments on China’s diplomatic positioning amid the U.S.’ waning proactivity:

Renmin University international relations professor Shi Yinhong said China had close and growing trade and investment ties with many developing countries, especially those taking part in the Belt and Road Initiative, increasing the need for consulates.

“One of the consulates’ main goals is to serve the citizens and businesses located in those countries,” Shi said.

[…] “Even though the US has a strong diplomatic base but it is not so proactive any more. It has fewer consulates and fewer foreign service workers,” Shi said.

“For the long term, China is in a more advantageous position.”

But a country’s diplomatic ability and influence did not rest on the number of foreign service postings and the US still held more international diplomatic sway than China, he added. [Source]

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Translation: “A Great Undercurrent Hiding Beneath the Likes”

Last week on Matters News, user KeketuohaiDeXue (可可托海的雪) published an essay on online public opinion in China. The author argues that it is difficult to glean an accurate understanding of a nation’s collective opinion in an environment of tight censorship. (The username means “the Snow of Koktokay, [Altay, Xinjiang]”; their bio describes them as “a person from Xinjiang.”) The essay includes a screenshot of a Weibo conversation showing much more nuance in opinion and understanding of a sensitive geopolitical topic than is usually allowed on the highly censored platform. Matters is a blockchain-based Chinese-language forum that aims to give Chinese users a way to express themselves without worrying about censors. CDT has translated the essay in full:

A Great Undercurrent Hiding Beneath the Likes

I have to say that in the wake of Xi Jinping’s ascendance to power, Chinese public opinion has become more and more extreme and confident. It seems that all of a sudden this brand and that country are getting boycotted. This is indeed a fact, and it also reflects certain changes in society. 

But if you can only see the surface-level “public opinion,” then you will make the wrong judgment.

According to my observations, the most active “little pinks” [xiǎo fěnghóng (小粉红)—online nationalists] are mainly students. This is not to say that only students are little pinks, but that the most active and most radical ones are students.

With the strengthening of the firewall and the increase in China’s national strength, this generation has not experienced the relative freedom that existed in the previous era. At the same time, material wealth has greatly increased and many of this generation have traveled abroad, where they witnessed inequality, violence, and drug abuse.

So I have to ask a question: have all Chinese become little pinks?

As the title of this article suggests, the opinions of common Chinese must be found beneath the surface […].

To clarify to foreign guests who are unfamiliar with China’s conditions, Sina Weibo is currently the largest public discussion platform inside the firewall—if what happens there can be called “discussion” at all. Not only are there accounts that are shut down there, but there are also comments that are prohibited.

Weibo posts published by official media often ban comments and do not allow reposts to be shown. Obviously, the government has good self-awareness, which shows that socialist education has a long way to go.

But some Weibo posts do not forbid comments, likely due to negligence or self-confidence. The scenery in the comment section below these posts may not resemble what it did in the past, when everyone was a flag guard.

I took this screenshot last year. I can’t remember the original text. It roughly had to do with boycotting some brand that treated Taiwan as a country. What did everyone say?

@JiazhouLaoYuehan: Almost all countries in Europe and the United States treat Taiwan as an independent country. To forge iron, you need a strong hammer. It doesn’t help to keep making trouble this way. In fact, they are not trying to be malicious. It’s just a matter of opinion.

@XiongXiaohua: So even comments need to follow the Three Views?

@HaiHangDeShijie: A patient who has broken his finger should go to the hospital to treat his finger. But he just wouldn’t go to see the doctor, forcing everyone around him to agree that his broken finger is still his. If you do not agree, then he will get angry and quarrel with you. A kind-hearted person advised him to stop talking and go directly to the hospital to treat his finger. He immediately frowned, and said “If you think it’s so easy to treat it, then you do it.”

@ShuangFengWanli: Can the airport list Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan as domestic departures?

@LaoshiDunhouDeRouJiang: Boasting everyday about its superpower capability and yet still quibbling over this?

@HainanZixunPindao: Boring

@BanyeLuanjiao: Boycott, resolutely boycott. IKEA’s 1RMB dessert is still good, let’s go shopping there tomorrow.

@ZhaZhaLiangJiaoShou: After reading the comments, it seems that it is not so easy to brainwash those born after the 90s after all hahaha

@YishengPi: What the government is doing everyday is basically paying lip service, this country is already so messed up, yet they still think about recapturing others.

@DahanGuangWuDi: According to the comments, the government’s lack of credibility is entirely the government’s own fault

@Ccmeme666: Apart from shouting slogans, adhering to formalism, and cutting chives there is nothing else. 

@UNANaShiWo: I have been working abroad for 6 years, and I have been to some countries. With the exception of mainland Chinese, in the psychology of foreigners—including young Taiwanese—Taiwan is just Taiwan. Sometimes you don’t have to argue too much, if you are in full bloom, the breeze will come.

@RyanCanton: Annoying

@NewPantsPeking: If someone gets a May Fourth hairstyle in the future, will they all become secret supporters of Tsai Ing-wen?

@XiaoheXiangxi: Who the fuck cares who it belongs to? Improving senior care, housing, and the medical system is what matters. You group of people above should be a bit more practical. What does it have anything to do with you whether Taiwan is returned to China?

@VincentXiaoSong: A large number of the comments really do have the sense of wisdom, of the people being awakened… The most abominable is the mainland media, shameless stuff. Taiwan is good as it is. At least there is no one-party dictatorship, no toxic milk powder, no fake vaccines, no so-called “Public Servants”

@YunShuMianhuatang: If you want to be great then see whether the vaccines are good, whether you can die from a Didi ride. You spend every day in obscene fantasies, really the character of a superpower country.

@DiandiJiYu: The officials, civil society, and the international community all uphold this, it is just that this simply cannot be said in mainland China.

@DuiZhegeShijieSuozhiShenShao: When your son was given a fake vaccine, or your stuff was stolen and the police didn’t care—at those times, I didn’t see you guys come out to fight for your rights. Have you cared about how much tax you are paying for the things you buy? Worrying about nonsense everyday. That is a legally run enterprise that pays taxes and create jobs. You guys with ulterior motives just want to label others Taiwan independence supporters and bring them to their death.

Take a look at the number of likes. Every like is a Chinese person who dares not speak up.

I used to be one of them. I only dared to forward the news in WeChat, but I didn’t dare to comment. But now I have decided not to remain silent anymore, I am going to voice my thoughts.

I don’t want people in the future to think that today’s China consists only of slogan-shouting nationalists and simple-minded neurotics.

We want freedom, but not freedom with guns and drugs.

We don’t like the double standards of the West.

We care more about whether or not we will be robbed while walking down the street, than whether or not we are able to access Google.

We don’t think that we must pick a side in every matter, that things are either black or white. Everything should be based on reality, pragmatism is paramount.

More importantly, we should not be silent.

Freedom should not be defined by just a few people. [Chinese]

KeketuohaiDeXue’s words about rejecting silence recall another essay translated by CDT last year amid a wave of consternation at the abolition of presidential term limits. In it, Beijing resident Zhao Xiaoli lamented that “hiding in metaphor, hiding in a system of ambiguous language, hiding in silence and furtive glances on the street, this has brought us neither strength, nor space. […] I will no longer be silent. I will not satirize or use sarcasm. I will not complain. I will not use metaphor. I will clearly express my point of view.”

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Sinopsis: The European Parliament China Friendship Cluster

The following article has been reposted from Project Sinopsis, with permission:

Repurposing Democracy: The European Parliament China Friendship Cluster

Paper presented at the workshop “Mapping China’s footprint in the world II”, organized by Sinopsis and the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

By Jichang Lulu


While the CCP’s influence operations in Europe are vast and remain largely unscrutinized, some of the tactics, agencies and targets involved can be usefully summarized through case studies of organizations at the intersection of multiple aspects of such influence activity. An informal “China friendship group” in the European Parliament enjoys diverse links in China and Europe, warranting its use as such a case study. The group effectively functions as a proxy for CCP domestic and external propaganda: in China, the presentation of statements by its members helps engineer the perception of a global endorsement of the party-state’s rule; abroad, it conveys support for CCP initiatives through credible voices. A systematic overview of the group and its activities is presented here for the first time, along with its links to a wider network of CCP-aligned organizations that are best analyzed as constituting a cluster. The description of the cluster’s interactions with its partner agencies across the CCP political influence apparatus is accompanied by brief overviews of these agencies, highlighting their role in other aspects of influence work. In particular, the political cooption efforts reflected in the friendship group’s activities overlap with those that seek to engineer a discourse landscape favorable to CCP policy. In such a China discourse environment, European decision-makers are not only exposed to local proxies faithfully transmitting CCP talking points, but also surrounded by an anodyne “neutrality” that legitimizes such proxies and shields audiences from any critical scrutiny of CCP operations. A component of such discourse-engineering work relies on the cultivation of Europe’s policy think tanks. Both the participation of one such think tank in interactions between group members and the CCP and the absence of study of the group and its links by Europe’s leading policy research institutions illustrate aspects of the development of a CCP-friendly discourse landscape in Europe. Contrary to views of totalitarian power projection as primarily disruptive, this paper adds to a growing body of research that establishes the focus of CCP influence activity as repurposing democratic governance structures to serve as tools of extraterritorial influence, rather than destroy them.

Full text [PDF]

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