The new guard of Chinese foreign politicians and ambassadors no longer wants to know anything about diplomatic customs. They are so aggressive in their dealings with the outside world that they are internationally known as “wolf warriors“. They owe the nickname to the 2017 cult film “Wolf Warrior 2.” Its star Wu Jing frees Chinese hostages held abroad as a hero and Rambo cut. Defending the wolf warrior fad that has since entered foreign policy, theGlobal Timessaid, “Our diplomats protect national interests in unequivocal ways. They show extreme restraint in their ‘pushbacks’ compared to the bellicose and antagonistic Western media and politicians.”
In revealing arrogance, China’s ambassador to France Lu Shaye demanded of foreign countries this week in an interview with the patriotic website Guancha.cn: “Our diplomatic style has changed. It is you who must adapt to our new style.”
The new trend first made itself felt in 2018 at the Beijing Foreign Ministry’s routine press conferences scheduled for 3 p.m. daily. Their spokespersons were regularly late. They no longer felt it necessary to apologize to waiting journalists for their tardiness. Unpleasant questions were brusquely and often insultingly deflected. Conspicuously belligerent foreign office spokespersons like Zhao Lijian or bureau chief Hua Chunying use social media like Twitter to “defend” China against foreign lies, praised the Global Times. Although Twitter, Facebook or Youtube are banned inside China and blocked by censorship.
A prime example of the wolf warrior mentality was recently offered by China’s chief diplomat Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. On March 18, they met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Instead of putting out feelers to the new administration of Joe Biden, they used the live two-minute public greeting provided for each side to engage in a grotesque exchange of blows. Blinken provided the pretext after announcing in his brief statement that he wanted to address sensitive issues in the meeting, such as the situation in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan and cyberattacks from China. Yang felt provoked and berated the US in front of running cameras in a 15-minute tirade for its democratic deficits, anti-China actions and racism. China’s Internet community applauded him enthusiastically online.
Three months later, things were no better. On June 11, the two foreign ministers spoke on the phone. Their press statements, released by the Beijing Foreign Ministry and the State Department afterwards, read as if they had been on different dates. Demonstratively, they spoke past each other. According to Beijing’s reading, Yang presented China’s fundamental positions and also informed Blinken about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Communist Party. Only in the last sentence does it say that the two also talked about other things. The State Department’s statement, which is barely half as long, lists only the dozen or so current problems that Blinken addressed, from North Korea, Iran, and Myanmar to Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and his concern for US and Canadian citizens imprisoned in China.
Pragmatic Conflict Solutions are a Thing of the Past
Despite steadfastness, China’s foreign policy makers used to understand the art of “Jiang Li” and the search for pragmatic solutions to conflicts. The veteran of this diplomacy, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen (1988-1997), revealed in his memoir Ten Episodes in China’s Diplomacy how China managed to emerge from its isolation after the June 4, 1989, massacre and resolve global boycotts. “It was my most difficult time as foreign minister, when one country after another announced sanctions against China.”
Instead of foul-mouthedly attacking all critics and hitting back with tighter counter-sanctions, as it does today, Beijing pragmatically opened up to the outside world during the 1989 crisis. Of course, there was a calculation behind this, but it also had to jump over its own shadow. Between 1990 and 1992, for example, it established diplomatic relations with states such as Indonesia, South Korea and Israel, joined APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) in 1991, and accepted the simultaneous membership of Taiwan and Hong Kong. Qian prepared these many moves, which in the end also brought about the opening of the West towards China. Qian also engineered the China visit of Japanese Emperor Akihito and his wife in October 1992: “Once Japan’s emperor visited China for the first time in the 2000-year history of Sino-Japanese relations, it could not only break the Western countries’ ban on high-level visits, but also improve China’s relations with Japan.”
Since the beginning of 2021, China’s wolf warriors have been acting even more arrogantly. Party leader Xi Jinping had encouraged them with his January speech to the Party High School. There he triumphantly issued the new motto: “Time and momentum are on our side” (时与势在我们一边). In view of China’s new power, disruptive maneuvers by the West would fail: “The circle of our friends is constantly expanding, the balance of history is tilting toward China.”
That was five months before US President Joe Biden, the G7 group, Nato and the EU agreed in June to jointly oppose Beijing’s expansionist development, to the delight of Asean countries. After the Wolf Warrior movie, a new film is suddenly in the works two weeks before the party’s centennial celebrations: “China – Home Alone.”