Mixed messaging and Beijing’s cult of nationalism

‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy looks here to stay despite President Xi calling for a more measured approach to foreign policy

In the words of Albert Einstein, “nationalism is an infantile disease … the measles of mankind.” If that is true, China has a rather nasty rash.

“Wolf Warrior” diplomacy has stoked a chest-thumping reaction at home while alienating President Xi Jinping’s government abroad in the capitals of Washington, Brussels, London and Tokyo.

Even Comrade Xi’s talk this week of making the world’s second-largest economy more “loveable” has failed to disguise Beijing’s bullying tactics on the global stage and China’s rapid militarization.

Last month, Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin told his readership at the state-run Global Times that “US hostility toward China is burning.” As a founding member of the “Wolf Warrior” pack, his comments should not be dismissed.

“We must be prepared for an intense showdown between China and the US,”  Hu wrote in a commentary.

So much for Xi’s “trustworthy, lovable and respectable image” that Beijing has been ordered to portray to the rest of the planet.

Smoke and mirrors:

  • China’s “image” has been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims, and the pro-democracy crackdown in Hong Kong.
  • Deteriorating relations with major global democracies in Asia, Europe, and the United States have increased Beijing’s sense of isolation.
  • Military bullying of Taiwan and rising tension in the South China Sea have even increased the risk of armed conflict. 
  • At the same time, state-run newspapers and online media spout Party propaganda laced with nationalism.
  • In the Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 World Press Freedom Index, China was ranked 177 out of 180 countries and territories.

What was said: Earlier this week, Xi stressed that Beijing needed to get “a grip on tone” when communicating with the world. The Party should also “be open and confident, but also modest and humble.” More doublespeak.

Tarnished image: Last year, a Pew Research report found that of the 14 nations surveyed in Europe, North America and East Asia, a negative view of China prevailed.

Virus fears: “The major finding is that unfavorable views of China are rising precipitately and this is tied to the fact that China has not done a good job handling the coronavirus,” Laura Silver, a co-author of the Pew survey, said as reported by the CNN network.

Diplomatic disaster: “What changed in 2020 was that nationalism for its own sake became the predominant motif of Chinese conduct,” Sulmaan Wasif Khan, of Tufts University in the US and author of Haunted by Chaos: China’s Grand Strategy From Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping, said.

Hardline rhetoric: “‘Over the years, rhetoric about how Taiwanese needed to be made grateful, about the protests in Hong Kong being a product of Western influence, about Western aggression, about the righteousness of the Party and the infallibility of the Chinese government and the hurt feelings of the Chinese people – all this seeped in and took hold,” Khan wrote in a commentary for Foreign Policy, a US conservative magazine in May.

China Factor comment: Rabid nationalism should have no place in the 21st century after millions of people were slaughtered on its altar in the 20th century.