NEW DELHI: No incident has quite captured the shift in China’s dealing with other countries than its recent fall out with Australia.
Ever since Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an enquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, China has applied a mixture of rhetoric, tariff and intimidation to make the Australians toe the line.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lijian Zhao tweeted a doctored image of an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child, which he later deleted but refused to apologise for. Australia has responded to the Chinese offensive in equal measure and is refusing to play ball to Beijing’s new brand of diplomacy.
However, the squabble has signaled a marked shift in China’s behaviour towards other nations and confirmed that it has embraced a new brand of foreign policy called “wolf-warrior diplomacy”
What is wolf warrior diplomacy?
A phrase propagated widely by Chinese media and leaders, wolf warrior diplomacy is Beijing’s new combative-style foreign policy to defend its national interest by means of confrontational rhetoric on social media.
And the chief architects of this new brand of nationalism are the Chinese diplomats, known as “wolf warriors”.
The ‘Wolf Warriors’ are a new breed of Chinese diplomats and spokespersons who have taken a more hands-on and combative approach to international relations.
Many observers have noted the increased presence of Chinese envoys and ambassadors on social media sites, particularly Twitter, in the past year or so. A pattern has emerged in their interactions on the microblogging site so far — an eagerness to sow doubt, promote conspiracy theories on coronavirus, and an effort to take on the ‘virtual’ fight with those spreading the so-called “anti-China propaganda”.
The term comes from the Chinese patriotic movie “Wolf Warrior”. The movie was a big hit in China, prompting a quick sequel in 2017. The tagline of the second movie in the series is “even though a thousand miles away, anyone who affronts China will pay.”
For long, the Chinese were known to work in the background, never bringing too much attention to themselves when it came to international matters.
It is largely believed to be the legacy of former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, taken forward by Deng Xiaoping from the 1980s. “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership” — these words of Deng came to define the Chinese approach to foreign policy.
Until Xi Jinping came along.
A key facet of Xi’s overhaul of China has been his unrelenting focus on foreign policy. Due to this, foreign policy has become a key performance yardstick for those working with the government. Xi has empowered his diplomats with a enhanced budget to work on materializing his foreign policy agenda.
Another factor that has led to the emergence of the overzealous envoys is the inclusion of a component in performance appraisals that broadly covers the “public relation” activities. There is a direct link now between your ranking within the government in proportion to your public displays of taking it to the naysayers publicly, something which this new crop of diplomats have taken to.
Q:Your take on comments such as “wolf warrior”?A:It’s a misunderstanding of China’s foreign policy－an independent… https://t.co/9DoZSzPBm1
— Liu Xiaoming (@AmbLiuXiaoMing) 1590363729000
Finally, this headline-grabbing online punching has given these diplomats a new homegrown audience who is in awe of their direct, confrontational style of working.
Fan communities, online pages have been around for celebrities and leaders since long, but now it’s becoming a thing for the officials who have taken on the West and other interest groups over the perceived “anti-China” remarks.
USA: 1963– I have a dream2020– I can’t breathe. https://t.co/ENcx1wgrQq
— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) 1602082141000
On the issue of Hong Kong, or Taiwan, China now appears to be ready for confrontation no matter who is making the statements.
But what is this leading to?
The recent arm-twisting with Australia, its continuous disagreements with the US, its bullying tactics in the South China Sea is making more and more countries apprehensive of the Chinese.
Add to it the coronavirus, which originated in China and has now engulfed the world for a complete year, one can see the coming together of nations opposed to the Chinese.
Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the UK, has been on at the forefront of China’s replies to the Western world over the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
He has been regularly using Twitter to hit back against critics of Beijing in Europe. He claimed in a BBC interview in July 2020 that Uighurs live in “peaceful and harmonious coexistence with other ethnic groups” even when he was confronted with drone footage of them being blindfolded, kneeling and being led to trains.
“I can’t breathe.” https://t.co/UXHgXMT0lk
— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) 1590849799000
He has since amassed a following of over 800,000 on Twitter, with his boss Hua Chunying also garnering over 700,000 followers on the social media giant. Both have been frequently referred to as the embodiments of what the new way of Chinese diplomacy is going to be in the foreseeable future.
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