Fact or fiction? China’s hardline ‘Wolf Warrior’ view of the world

Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Le Yucheng goes through the gambit of international relations

Has China’s diplomatic corp turned into a pack of “Wolf Warriors,” pushing an ultra-nationalistic policy? Or have major global democracies misread the tea leaves?

Last week, another glimpse into the way Beijing conducts its international relations was revealed by Le Yucheng, the deputy foreign affairs minister.

Speaking at a think tank forum at Renmin University, he covered a vast range of issues from Sino-American tension to “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, named after the 2015 patriotic action movie.

Below is an excerpt from his address along with a China Factor Comment on each item.

‘Wolf Warriors’ and China’s foreign policy.
Le on “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy:   

“There [has been] talk about ‘Wolf Warrior diplomacy.’ This is a mischaracterization of China’s diplomacy [as the] nation [is a model] of moderation, and always values peace and harmony. 

“The fact is that some countries are flexing their muscles at our doorstep, meddling in our internal affairs, and making groundless accusations [that] slander us. We have no choice but to stand up [for] our national dignity and interests. 

“It is therefore obvious that [the] ‘Wolf Warrior diplomacy’ labeling is just another version of [the] ‘China threat’ … a new ‘narrative trap.’ Its purpose is to tie our hands, mute our voices, and [stop] us [from] fighting back. I suspect that these people are still indulging in their old dreams of 100 years ago [when the country was divided].”

China Factor Comment: These remarks were aimed squarely at the United States and its allies such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and member nations of the European Union. Meddling in “internal affairs” covers the backlash against Beijing for systematic human rights abuses in Xinjiang province and Hong Kong. 

Up to one million Muslim Uighurs have been sent to “re-education” camps, while leading pro-democracy protesters have been imprisoned in Hong Kong, ending the “One Country, Two Systems” model. The democratic island of Taiwan has also been targeted. 

For Beijing, this is “peace and harmony.” 

The Economists’ take on Sino-American relations.
Le on the Cold War with the United States: 

“Some claim that China is undermining international rules and challenging the existing [global] order. The international community must be well aware [of] who exactly is breaching treaties and rules … who is pursuing unilateralism, and who is seeking hegemony. 

“It is not China that has violated multilateral trade rules, used tariffs as a weapon, and crippled the World Trade Organization. It is not China that [has] hampered international cooperation against Covid-19, and withdrawn from the World Health Organization, cutting off funding. And it is not China that [has] pulled out of the Paris Agreement.

“China is a responsible major country [and] a defender of the international order.”

China Factor Comment: This was a verbal attack on the outgoing Washington administration of President Donald Trump. He withdrew from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, put in motion plans to leave the WHO and launched a tariffs barrage on Chinese imports. Factually, Le was 90% correct. 

But then, Beijing has a history of flouting “rules,” such as intellectual property rights, as well as the slow pace of opening up key sectors of its economy. Washington has also accused China of “hypocrisy” and pointed to its “non-market” policies.

Inside the massive Belt and Road project.
Le on China’s global standing in the world: 

“[There are] claims that China is making enemies around the world. That is not true. China is committed to building friendships and good relations. But a certain major country, in order to suppress and contain China, has been forcing other countries to take sides, advocating ‘you are either my friend or my foe.’ 

“In spite of this, our friends are not leaving us. On the contrary, more and more are joining us. Many developing countries and people who are friendly toward China have resisted calls to curtail cooperation.

“They have spoken up for China. Up to now, nearly 170 countries and international organizations have participated in the Belt and Road Initiative. The number of member countries in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has increased to 103.

“At this year’s gathering of the United Nations General Assembly, more than 70 countries supported China individually or through joint statements. Their support was instrumental in thwarting the attempt of certain countries to move against China on Hong Kong and Xinjiang.”

China Factor Comment: “Friendship” can come at a heavy price when participating in the US$1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative. A lack of transparency in China’s major foreign policy program has triggered spiraling costs for host nations, forcing Beijing to react to calls for debt relief.

“Friendship” is also a bitter pill to swallow when dealing with an increasingly “autocratic regime” spoiling for a fight. “There was a time when Beijing knew how to make concessions in its own interest,” the Financial Times said in an editorial at the end of last year.

“But the art of conceding to reap benefits now seems lost. In its place an unbending, autocratic regime led by [President] Xi Jinping, the strongman leader of the Communist Party, has grown up … If it persists in trying to get its way through browbeating others, it may end up achieving the very opposite of its aims,” it added.

Human Right Watch’s World Report 2020.
Le on Covid-19 and “authoritarianism”:

“Some accuse China of being an ‘authoritarian’ country, and use this as a false basis to smear [the country’s] Covid-19 control measures, including lockdowns, quarantine and contact tracing, calling them ‘autocratic’ and ‘constraints on personal freedoms.’ 

“This is not about democracy or freedom. In the face of a deadly pandemic, there is no real freedom unless we respect science … Because of the lockdown, people in China are now able to enjoy their freedom and human rights. They can move freely to visit friends and family, go to school, and travel as tourists wherever they want. 

“To call such freedom ‘authoritarianism’ would be the biggest irony for those making such accusations and their so-called democracy and freedom.”

China Factor Comment: Including “personal freedoms” in the same sentence as the Communist Party is a complete contradiction. The collection of personal digital data has reached epidemic proportions, as has public surveillance. State-run media is merely an arm of the Central Propaganda Department and “freedom of speech” against the CCP is not tolerated even before the coronavirus outbreak.

Beijing’s initial handling of the epidemic in Wuhan more than a year ago was mired in secrecy, resulting in a cover-up that probably reached the highest levels of government. It also increased the levels of transmission of the disease outside the city and the country. 

Subjective reporting from the state-controlled press was non-existent. As for citizen journalism, former lawyer Zhang Zhan was arrested last month for spreading “false information” after covering the Wuhan lockdown.

“[Her reports included] the detention of other independent reporters and harassment of families of victims seeking accountability from the epicenter [Wuhan] via her WeChat, Twitter and YouTube accounts,” China Human Rights Defenders, a non-governmental organization, said as reported by The Guardian.