What does it mean for China to have the biggest diplomatic network? First and foremost, it makes absolute sense, because China's big economy is closely linked to the rest of the world and interconnectivity is being strengthened as the BRI is being built and expanded.
Notably, China overtook the United States to top the index by having more consulates, which provide consular services to nationals and facilitate economic activities. Just like what I have observed on the field, China's growing diplomatic network brings service closer to people, both Chinese nationals and vibrant local communities motivated by opportunities, to facilitate better engagement.
That said, China's diplomacy is still trying to catch up with the service demand. Being closer to customers is the best way to offer services, and Chinese diplomatic resources thus committed are smart investments.
Secondly, the scope of diplomatic infrastructure reflects a country's investment in diplomacy, but overall national diplomatic strength is measured in multiple dimensions beyond network coverage. China's diplomatic network has grown significantly larger over the years, but the growth is mainly driven by trade and investment activities, instead of geopolitical schemes.
Unlike China and almost all other countries in the world, the United States remains unique in its overseas presence that combines both diplomatic and military resources. More Chinese diplomatic posts reflect an extension of economic and interconnectivity pursuit, and no sign suggests China is using its diplomatic outposts to pursue military gains. Therefore, there is no need to over-interpret China's growing diplomatic network.
Finally, the growth of a diplomatic network usually takes place when diplomatic relations are formed. Generally speaking, a diplomatic network stops to grow at a certain point of time. However, China presents a unique case of how economic activities and diplomatic engagement mutually support each other.
Looking into the future, given the fact that the global interconnectivity trend is gaining momentum and the BRI continues to push forward, China's diplomatic network is expected to continue to grow.