China’s ‘Wolf Warrior’ Diplomacy

Source: By Rishika Singh: The Indian Express

With the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) 20th National Congress set to begin on 16 October 2022, it is widely expected that Chinese President Xi Jinping will get an endorsement for a third term as President. Under Xi, China has witnessed a unique style of governance, which differs in many ways from that of more recent Chinese leaders.

As China’s position has undergone a change in world affairs over the years, Xi has advocated for a more intensive approach towards handling issues both domestically and internationally. The “wolf warrior” style of Chinese diplomacy particularly attracted attention.

What does wolf warrior diplomacy mean?

A term that gained popularity, especially after Xi became President, “wolf warrior diplomacy” is a tactic for the Chinese government to extend its ideology beyond China and counter the West and defend itself. It is an unofficial term for the more aggressive and confrontational style of communication that Chinese diplomat has taken to in the last decade.

A 2015 Chinese action film, titled ‘Wolf Warrior’, and its sequel have served as the inspiration for the term. The films, with their nationalist themes and dialogues, focus on Chinese fighters who frequently face off against Western mercenaries.

A Financial Times article from 2020 noted how the term was directly linked to Xi’s ideas. Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, was quoted as saying, “Xi has said multiple times that Chinese officials and diplomats must unsheathe swords to defend the dignity of China,” he said. “The wolf warriors are just acting on Xi’s call to arms.”

What is the need for wolf warrior diplomacy?

The change in strategy has been attributed to many reasons, such as Xi’s more authoritarian tendencies as compared to earlier leaders, deteriorating US-China relations under former US President Donald Trump, the coronavirus pandemic-related accusations on China, etc.

According to Chinese officials, the move is simply about standing up to what they believe is Western interference. The South China Morning Post quoted China’s foreign vice-minister Le Yucheng saying in December 2020 that the term was rhetorical “tit-for-tat”.

Le told a conference at a university in Beijing that the term was a “misunderstanding of China’s diplomacy”, adding: “Now that they are coming to our doorstep, interfering in our family affairs, constantly nagging at us, insulting and discrediting us, we have no choice but to firmly defend our national interests and dignity.”

People’s Daily, the Communist Party-owned newspaper that is the largest in China, wrote in a December 2020 article, that “Safeguarding the interests of the country and the people serves as the lofty mission of China’s diplomacy. China’s dignity should not be insulted and its interests should not be undermined. If any country infringes upon China’s judicial sovereignty, China must resolutely fight back, which is the bottom line of China’s diplomacy.”

It added, “In the eyes of the Chinese people, this will be the voice of justice…As China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, she doesn’t see any problem in living with that ‘Wolf Warrior’ title, as long as we are fighting for China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, national dignity and honor, and international fairness and justice.”

What does this look like in practice?

Some examples can be seen in the form of messaging on social media too, where Chinese officials are quick to counter any allegations by the West and proactively launch attacks.

For instance, in 2021 Chinese government spokesperson Lijian Zhao tweeted a digitally modified photo of an Australian soldier killing a child, claiming the Australian army was killing children in Afghanistan. This led the Australian Prime Minister to announce he would seek an official apology, but China did not budge.

But this is not limited to Western countries. As C Raja Mohan, director, of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, wrote in The Indian Express, “The new ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’ confronts head-on any criticism of China in the public sphere. They lecture host governments and don’t always show up when ‘summoned’ by foreign offices. Delhi has been at the receiving end for a while — especially during the recent crises of Doklam and Ladakh.”

Will it continue in Xi’s third term?

It is difficult to say because Chinese diplomats’ comments have not gone unchallenged by countries. They can also damage China’s perception among allies, so there have been attempts to strike a balance.

In June 2021, President Xi Jinping asked China’s official media and diplomats to present the image of a “credible, lovable and respectable China” to the world.