A Foreign Policy magazine report has recently spotlighted that Chinese President Xi Jinping appreciates the confrontational style of rhetoric called “wolf warrior diplomacy”, that has been radiating from Beijing.
The offensive diplomatic attack against foreign nations, pursued by Chinese mandarins was coined after Rambo-style Chinese action film Wolf Warrior-2 was released in 2017. Social media platforms have been chosen as the launchpads for this style of in-your-face diplomacy.
But the Chinese diplomatic offensive is now backfiring. The staff-in-charge of these social media accounts are usually lower ranking officials, who have demonstrated a tendency to make embarrassing errors. For example, the twitter account of Chinese ambassador of Britain, Liu Xiamong “liked” an explicit video on twitter, creating a hilarious social media storm. It also brought to light the account’s history of liking posts that criticised the Chinese government, as reported by Business World.
Given the heavily surcharged political mood in China, online jingoistic rhetoric is often seen as a way to get noticed by junior bureaucrats. This leads to bombastic- and often mediocre bureaucrats getting promoted in periods of heightened political tension than the diligent individuals diplomacy requires.
Since these lower ranking officials are known to be pliable and pose less of a threat, the high-level officials act as patrons to them to eliminate the fear of betrayal in an atmosphere of political paranoia. But the challenging external environment faced by China, coupled with the rise of mediocre officials can wreck international relations.
In March 2021, the US, UK, Canada and EU targeted sanctions on officials responsible for alleged genocide of Uyghur Muslims, as reported by The Financial Times. Beijing retaliated with an unbelievable counteroffensive, with the diplomatic and state media accounts tweeting about the province 2000 times and attacking European academics, parliamentarians and think tanks, marking an eight-fold spike in frequency. But this quantity has not translated into quality. Many posts focus on the west’s human rights record, sprouting a clumsy moral equivalence.
The flood of propaganda posts is only fuelling a backlash and scathing criticism among foreign governments. For instance, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) shared an offensive post on its official Weibo account that juxtaposed images of a Chinese rocket launch and cremations in India. Naturally, the Indians reacted with anger and disgust. Even though the post was deleted after 5 hours, other lower-level official accounts such as the Hainan Provincial Public Security Bureau, continued to share the post.
The French foreign trade minister has commented that China cannot respond to legitimate concerns about the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang by intimidating academics and parliamentarians. Even Japan had to call out China in a strongly worded criticism urging action to improve the human rights condition for Uyghurs and stop a crackdown in Hong Kong, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
A global riposte, including smaller and less developed countries, to China's unpalatable Wolf Warrior diplomacy is now beginning to show. For instance, on May 11, Taiwan’s foreign minister went ballistic when China sought to deny Taipei’s membership of the World Health Organization (WHO). The Chinese argue that mainland China was taking care of Taiwan’s interest.
In his tweet-storm Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu thundered. “Shameless lies! Just goes to show the CCP can’t tell the truth,” he wrote. “After what #Beijing has done to #Xinjiang, #Tibet & #HongKong, no sane person would believe it could take care of #Taiwan’s health needs or otherwise. Think about #COVID19 & African swine fever. Thank God we aren’t under #China’s control! Please help us keep it at a distance.”
Even prior to Taiwan’s comeback, the Philippines Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin told China on May 4 to “GET THE F*** OUT” of its South China Sea exclusive economic zone.
And on May 11 Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, A.K. Abdul Momen, told reporters, in response to China's warning to Dhaka against joining the Quad alliance with the United States, Japan, India, and Australia that, “We are an independent and sovereign state. We decide our foreign policy. Any country can uphold its position. But we will take decisions considering the interest of [our] people and the country.”
It is time that Chinese diplomats understood that aggression rarely works in diplomacy that requires dialogue and squanders the geopolitical gains to be made. In case China persists with its Wolf Warrior game, it could also hurt its economy, as diplomatic threats feed into the domestic politics of targeted countries, where opposition parties can legitimately question leaders of pursuing business-as-usual policy with Beijing, even under humiliating threats.