Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has returned to the international stage, with appearances last year at the G20 and APEC meetings. Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong (黃英賢) last month visited Beijing and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit China next month. All of these show that Beijing is intent on improving diplomatic relations.
There are also new faces in the Chinese foreign ministry, while others have been removed. Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang (秦剛) has just taken up his new portfolio, while former ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅), who made a name for himself for his coarse behavior and dismissive remarks, has been given a sideways demotion. It appears as though “wolf warrior diplomacy” is being defanged.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum on Dec. 8, US National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell said that Beijing had finally realized that the wolf warrior diplomacy it had followed for the past few years failed to achieve its desired effect.
Whether it is growing tensions with Japan over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) — known in Japan as the Senkakus — or the military skirmishes with India along the two countries’ disputed Himalayan border, China has consistently made major diplomatic errors, seriously damaging its standing in the international community, Campbell said.
On the same day, speaking at the US-China Business Council in Washington, Qin, then the Chinese ambassador to the US, opened with a self-deprecating remark, thanking the organizers for their generous introduction, while noting that they had forgotten to call him a “wolf warrior.” The comment was met with applause, as Qin knew full well the negative image the “wolf warrior” persona had accumulated.
Even before his time as foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao had made a name for himself online for provocative comments that saw him promoted, encouraging other officials to follow in his footsteps.
Bloomberg journalist Peter Martin wrote in his book China’s Civilian Army: The Making of China’s Wolf Warrior Diplomacy, that wolf warrior diplomats are like a wing of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. They wear civilian clothes, but are armed with a soldier’s spirit, and embrace absolute loyalty and strict discipline.
Qin served as ministry spokesman twice before. In 2005, at the beginning of then-Chinese president Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) term, Beijing’s foreign policy was still cast in the “hide and bide” mold set by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平). There was not even a whiff of wolf warrior from Qin.
Things changed with Xi’s insistence on “great power diplomacy,” nationalist calls for a ”great rejuvenation of the Chinese people” and belief that a “risen” China be equal with other major powers. Xi encouraged people to fight courageously and not give an inch in matters of principle. This idea is perhaps best exemplified by Beijing this month retaliating against the entry restrictions of Japan and South Korea.
China, criticized for a lack of transparency over COVID-19 pandemic data and its irresponsible reopening to international travel while the virus is rampant, has complained about Japan and South Korea’s decision to require polymerase chain reaction tests for incoming Chinese visitors. Beijing retaliated by suspending the issuance of entry visas for Japanese and South Korean and canceling visa-free transit, for the apparent “slight” to China.
Clearly, the “wolf warriors” are still here, fighting for Xi’s foreign policy interests and political needs. “Great power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics” is alive and well; wolf warriors will not be silenced so easily.
Chen Yung-chang is a company manager.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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