TOKYO - China has overtaken the United States as the country with the most diplomatic posts around the world, Australian think tank data show, underscoring Beijing's growing international ambitions.
China has a total of 276 embassies and other representative offices globally -- three more than the United States -- while France came third with 267 diplomatic missions and Japan fourth with 247, the Lowy Institute said in its latest Global Diplomacy Index.
While China has grown its international network by five diplomatic posts in the last two years, the United States reduced its missions by one.
"China's ascent to the top spot has been rapid," said Bonnie Bley, a research fellow at the institute's Asian Power and Diplomacy Program. "This shift could mark a turning point in great-power competition."
While President Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from multilateral initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord under his "America First" mantra, China has expanded its international reach through its Belt and Road Initiative, a massive cross-border infrastructure project critics say is intended to draw countries deeper into Beijing's economic orbit.
Significantly, China's advances have come at Taiwan's expense. Beijing has opened five embassies in the last two years -- in El Salvador, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Dominican Republic -- all countries that formerly recognized Taiwan.
"This list of countries is not random," Bley said. "Following a persistent campaign of what's commonly referred to as 'checkbook diplomacy,' Beijing has succeeded in picking off a handful of Taiwan's last remaining diplomatic partners."
China, led by the Communist Party, regards Taiwan, a self-ruled, democratic island, as a renegade province to be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.