China’s ‘Wolf Warriors’ are back on the prowl and scent blood

Beijing counter attacks Washington’s move to pursue a rule-based agenda from human rights to trade.

You can watch clips of Zhao Lijian on YouTube. Barbed wire sound bites are his specialty as an official spokesman of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But his brief goes far beyond the typical bland statements that usually pass for state policy.

Now in his late 40s, Zhao is part of the “Wolf Warrior” diplomatic pack. The term is rather apt as it is taken from the title of a jingoistic action movie about a Chinese special forces team that tracks down American mercenaries.

No guessing who the bad guys are as Zhao makes that perfectly clear in his role as deputy director of the Foreign Affairs Information Department.

Backed by the Communist Party leadership, he thrives on controversy, aggressively promoting China’s “core interests” on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. All three are banned in the country, blocked by the Great Firewall.

In the past 24 hours, he has been particularly busy. “Do these countries forget their shameful past of killing indigenous people and severe racial discrimination? They’d better save the label of ‘genocide’ for themselves,” he tweeted, referring to the rising tide of international outrage about the persecution of ethnic Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province.

Zhao also pounced on remarks made by Katherine Tai, President Joe Biden’s nominee for US Trade Representative, at her senate confirmation hearing on Thursday. “We firmly oppose groundless accusations against and even stigmatization of China’s trade and economic behaviors,” he said at a daily media briefing hours later.

The facts:

  • Beijing has realized that a Biden White House will rally like-minded democracies to pursue a rule-based agenda from human rights to trade.
  • Tai repeated that mantra when she said there needed to be checks and balances to control China’s excesses.
  • This would counter Beijing’s strategy, ambitions and unfair trading practices.
  • A revamp of global rules would eliminate what she called “gray areas.” 
  • These were being exploited by China’s ruling Communist Party, leading to a “race to the bottom,” Tai added. 
  • In turn, this will damage workers’ rights and the environment, she pointed out.

What was said: “We must recommit to working relentlessly with others to promote and defend our shared values of freedom, democracy, truth and opportunity in a just society. There are a lot of gray areas, where the rules are not clear, or where we don’t have rules yet,” Tai, the daughter of US immigrants from Taiwan, told the senate hearing.

Reaction to the news: “Altering economic laws with political forces is an unrealistic approach that can neither solve domestic problems nor do anything good global,” Zhao said, referring to Tai’s reference for more “resilient” US supply chains.

Delve deeper: Trade is just one of a myriad of issues that have strained Sino-American relations. But at the heart of the matter is the belief by President Xi Jinping and the Party’s inner circle that this is China’s century. A view backed up by academia. “The most profound change in the global power structure is that the western world is experiencing a prolonged downturn … ‘East rises and the West falls,’” Yuan Peng, of the influential China Institute of Modern International Relations, said in an interview with The Beijing News last month.

China Factor comment: A wave of nationalistic propaganda has percolated through state-run media such as Global Times, the People’s Daily and the Xinhua News Agency to herald the new dawn. “Patriotic” fever will continue to grow as the Communist Party of China prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary later this year. “Wolf Warriors” like Zhao will lead the chorus.