On average, every two days in 2018 Chinese president Xi Jinping met, visited or talked with a key foreign counterpart; headline references to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief appeared in a chunky third (31.8%) of the PRC’s official foreign diplomacy recordings last year – followed by Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi (28.7%), Premier Li Keqiang (26.4%), Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Yang Jiechi (5.5%) and Vice President Wang Qishan (3.3%). Those are some of the findings from an in-depth analysis published by Wei-Feng Tzeng (曾偉峯), assistant research fellow of the Center for Quantitative Analysis and Decision-Making Simulation (量化分析暨決策推演中心) in the January 2019 edition of the Defense Situation Monthly (國防情勢月報).
The takeaways, from research that sifts through statements published between November 2017 and November 2018 on the PRC’s foreign ministry website, are more than just CCP propaganda of its party chief. It shows a methodical and deliberate diplomatic push – in a 365-day period – by China’s most senior leaders to buttress Beijing’s expansionist “Belt and Road” ambition.
“Face to face diplomacy is the focus for China’s leaders,” notes Tzeng.
All but one of the top 10 nations busily courted by China’s top leaders last year were those on the “Belt and Road” map (see below table). Looking ahead, He Lifeng, chairman of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission and also the director of the leading small group under the State Council promoting “Belt and Road” (國務院推進「一帶一路」建設工作領導小組辦公室主任), who appeared alongside Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang in their many diplomatic meetings last year, will be worth following. He Lifeng’s appearance symbolizes China’s diplomatic focus to build its land and maritime routes around the world.
The following tables are compiled by Tzeng based on information from the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (PRC) between 27 November 2017 and 27 November 2018: