Senior Chinese diplomats have called for more “Wolf Warriors” to defend the country abroad despite warnings that this combative approach was likely to alienate the rest of the world.
On Sunday Foreign Minister Wang Yi defended this combative approach – named after a series of nationalistic action movies – saying that China would fight back against “slanders” and “firmly defend national honour and dignity”.
“We will lay out the truth to counter gratuitous smears and resolutely maintain fairness and justice and conscience,” Wang said.
Wang also insisted that China had no desire to lord it over the world no matter what state of development it reached, saying “those who go out of their way to label China a hegemon are precisely the ones who refuse to let go of their hegemonic status”.
Wang’s comments were echoed by Liu Xiaoming, the outspoken ambassador to Britain, who has previously clashed with TV journalists when defending the country.
“Some people said China now has many Wolf Warriors’, the reason is that there are many ‘wolves’ out there in the world now. If there are ‘wolves’, we must have ‘Wolf Warriors’ to fight,” Liu told state broadcaster CCTV.
“We encourage diplomats at all levels to actively fight. Where there is a ‘wolf’, we need to fight back actively to protect national dignity and interests.”
But Liu said diplomats should still bear in mind that they need to make the general public in other countries understand that China is a country that wants cooperation and values friendship and truth.
Wang and Liu did not explicitly state who they thought was “smearing” or “slandering” the country, but an editorial in Global Times, a state-owned tabloid, said the United States was more wolf-like than China.
“In terms of ‘Wolf Warrior’, the US has peaked in its diplomacy. Just look at how many countries are being sanctioned by the US, in how many places is the US stationing its troops and how many countries’ internal affairs are being interfered with by the US,” the editorial said.
The article, published on Sunday evening with the headline: “Wolf Warrior diplomacy a US trait”, concluded: “Labelling Chinese diplomacy as ‘Wolf Warrior’ reflects an extreme ideology.”
But observers warned that no matter how much China tried to justify its more aggressive approach to diplomacy, it was likely to backfire.
Fergus Ryan, an analyst from Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that both Xi Jinping and Donald Trump’s attitudes affected diplomats’ behaviour.
“Ultimately, there’s only one person in the Chinese system whose opinion on this aggressive style of diplomacy matters, and that’s Xi Jinping.
“Another key factor is rising hostility from the United States towards China which is helping to accelerate the shift towards a truculent approach to foreign affairs,” said Ryan, who argued that to some extent Chinese diplomats were copying the US president’s own belligerent tone.
“Beijing will continue its pugnacious tone if the approach helps to achieve its diplomatic objectives. But it’s more likely that these displays of aggressive nationalism will only serve to drive the world further away from China,” Ryan said.
Chen Daoyin, an independent political scientist, echoed Ryan and said one of the worst scenarios China could face was a new bloc of countries alienated by the “Wolf Warrior” approach.
“Due to the coronavirus outbreak, many countries are rethinking the negative effects of globalisation and gradually inching closer to the US,” Chen said.
“If irritated by China’s aggressive stance and actions, countries might form a circle to confront China together, leaving China isolated.”
Jia Qingguo, professor and associate dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University and a member of China’s political consultative conference, urged diplomats to chose their words carefully.
“There are still things Chinese diplomats have to learn. Different forms of expression can achieve totally different results. So I think China’s diplomacy might have better outcomes if they improve their way of working,” Jia said.
Chen Gang, assistant director of National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute, said the “Wolf Warrior” style could become the norm as China was ready to adopt a head-on approach to pressure.
“China’s tensions with the United States and its allies could escalate in the short run due to the wolf-like diplomats, and some of China’s external behaviour will come under more scrutiny from these governments,” Chen said.
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