China displays new army of tough-talking diplomats amid coronavirus

China displays new army of tough-talking diplomats amid coronavirus
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lijian Zhao suggested the US had brought coronavirus to China. Source: AFP
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Daily US Times: Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger once wrote in his seminal study Diplomacy that “Beijing’s diplomacy was so subtle and indirect that it largely went over our heads in Washington”. But Chinese diplomats across the world are showing new and aggressive gestures to defend their country.

Western governments had to employ sinologists to interpret the opaque signals emanating from China’s politburo.

Under Deng Xiaoping, the former leader, the country’s declared strategy was to “hide its ability and bide its time”. Well, not anymore.

China, the new emerging power, has dispatched an increasingly vocal cadre of diplomats out into the world of social media to take on all comers with, at times, an eye-blinking frankness. Their mission is to defend China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic all over the world and challenge those who question Beijing’s version of events.

Their aim is to defend China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and challenge those who question Beijing’s version of events. So they launch salvos of persistent tweets and posts from their embassies’ social media accounts around the world.

And they hold little back, deploying aggression and sarcasm in equal measure. Such is the novelty of their techniques that they have been dubbed “wolf warrior” diplomats after the eponymous action films.

Wolf Warrior and Wolf Warrior 2 are hugely popular movies which featured Chinese special forces take on American-led mercenaries and other ne’er-do-wells.

A sign in Belgrade paid for by a newspaper reads ‘thank you brother Xi’. Source: AFP

One critic dubbed them “Rambo with Chinese characteristics”. A promotional poster showed a picture of the central character raising his middle finger with the slogan: “Anyone who offends China, no matter how remote, must be exterminated.”

A new kind of language

Lijian Zhao, China’s young foreign affairs spokesman, perheps the quintessential “wolf warrior”. He is the official who made the unsubstantiated suggestion that the United States Army might have brought coronavirus to Wuhan when they visit to the city.

His twitter account has 600,000 followers and he exploits that audience almost by the hour, relentlessly tweeting, retweeting and liking anything that promotes and defends China.

Diplomat’s main job is to promote their national interest. So this is of course what diplomats anywhere in the world must do, but few diplomats use language that is, well, so undiplomatic.

For example, Chinese embassy in India described calls for China to pay compensation for spreading the virus as “ridiculous and eyeball-catching nonsense”. China’s ambassador in the Netherlands accused the US President Donald Trump of being “full of racism”.

the chief spokesman for the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing tweeted In response to Mr Trump’s much mocked speculation about the best ways of tackling the virus: “Mr President is right. Some people do need to be injected with #disinfectant, or at least gargle with it. That way they won’t spread the virus, lies and hatred when talking.”

Ma Hu is China’s “wolf warrior” in London. His Twitter username includes the words “warhors” and he is as prolific as he is robust.

He tweeted: “Some US leaders have stooped so low to lie, misinform, blame, stigmatise. That is very despicable, but we should not lower our standard, race to the bottom. They don’t care a lot about morality, integrity but we do. We can also fight back [against] their stupidity.”

Angry diplomats

Cheng Jingye, the Chinese ambassador in Australia has been engaged in a furious row with his hosts. When the Australian government backed an independent international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, Mr Cheng hinted China might boycott Australian goods.

While speaking with Australian Financial Review, he said: “Maybe also the ordinary people will say, ‘Why should we drink Australian wine or eat Australian beef?'”

Ministers accused him of threatening “economic coercion”. The ambassador was asked by officials at the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade to explain himself. He responded by publishing an account of the conversation on the embassy website, in which he urged Australia to stop playing “political games”.

This week, China imposed import bans on some Australian beef processors and threatened tariffs on Australian barley.

This may look like the familiar knockabout on social media. But for China, this is a new trend. Research by the German Marshall Fund think-tank suggests that over the last year, there has been a 300% increase in official Chinese state Twitter accounts, with a fourfold increase in posts.

Kristine Berzina, a senior fellow at the GMF, said this is very unusual from what we have come to expect from China.

Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister, wrote in an article for Foreign Affairs magazine, where argues that China is paying a price for its new strategy.

He said: “Whatever China’s new generation of ‘wolf-warrior’ diplomats may report back to Beijing, the reality is that China’s standing has taken a huge hit (the irony is that these wolf-warriors are adding to this damage, not ameliorating it).”