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Chinese ‘wolf warrior’ diplomats yell at Xinjiang criticism

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Chinese “wolf warrior” diplomats are back after a brief lull, hurling insults on Twitter, smearing critics and suggesting plots.

The hyperactivity of the envoys follows new global pressure on Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang region.

Here are five things to know as the Wolf Warriors bared their teeth again:

When did it start?

The term “wolf warrior diplomacy” became common parlance in 2019, when China’s leading envoy spokesperson Zhao Lijian adopted a loud defense of the Communist-led country on social media platforms. such as Twitter, which is blocked in China.

The nickname derives from a movie about a Chinese special forces soldier resembling Rambo.

China insists it was forced to change its tone, which came amid fulminations from the White House of former President Donald Trump.

But officials like Zhao, who made headlines in 2019 following controversial tweets as envoy to Pakistan, assumed his new fighting role as Foreign Ministry spokesperson with aplomb. especially a year later.

He promoted conspiracy theories, including that the US military could have brought COVID-19 to China, then denounced Canberra in tweets alleging “the killing of Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian soldiers.”

This post contained an illustration of a soldier holding a bloody knife to a child’s throat. It was denounced by the Australian Prime Minister, but set the tone for the quarrels that still dominate relations.

Trump’s rhetoric of the “Chinese virus” saw Beijing envoys raise the bar as the pandemic rocked the world.

Experts say the switch to attack mode partly reflects President Xi Jinping’s assertive New China.

Why did the wolves come back?

As Joe Biden took over the US presidency in January, Chinese diplomats voiced hopes of a relationship reset.

But the ceasefire collapsed at a US-Chinese meeting in Alaska in mid-March, where top Chinese Communist Party diplomat Yang Jiechi threatened to take action for “US interference.” .

“Yang’s harsh speech in Anchorage seems to have encouraged senior Chinese diplomats to engage in inflammatory remarks,” said Mathieu Duchatel, director of the Asia program at the Parisian think tank Institut Montaigne.

Chinese Consul General in Rio de Janeiro Li Yang has since called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “boy” while calling Canada “the hound of the United States”

A live news broadcast showing Chinese President Xi Jinping at the National People's Congress airs from a bus depot in Beijing on March 5.  |  BLOOMBERG
A live news broadcast showing Chinese President Xi Jinping at the National People’s Congress airs from a bus depot in Beijing on March 5. | BLOOMBERG

And at the end of March, as the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States imposed sanctions on Xinjiang, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying went so far as to suggest that the CIA had helped prepare rhetoric on the northwest region to destabilize China.

Responding to backlash against brands like H&M and Nike that raised concerns about the textile supply chain in Xinjiang, Hua showed a photo she said showed black slaves in American cotton fields.

Referring to the transatlantic slave trade that same week, she argued that others were unable to criticize China.

How has the rhetoric evolved over time?

Chinese envoys say Beijing was forced to retaliate as rivals, especially in the West, rallied to curb its rise.

But the attitude of officials has changed significantly under Xi, compared to the late leader Deng Xiaoping’s philosophy of “hide your strength, bide your time.”

When France recently summoned the Chinese ambassador for “unacceptable” behavior, the embassy said it would not immediately obey and would instead come “to make representations” on the sanctions and Taiwan’s issues.

Observers suggest larger geopolitical calculations are at stake with the benefit of throwing mud at the once untouchable bigwigs of the global political order.

“The uncertainty of the international environment also gives Beijing a particular strategic development space to challenge the existing international order,” said Zhao Alexandre Huang, academic at Gustave Eiffel University in France.

And after?

The signaling force and looming costs of non-compliance can lead to friction with some states, but could falter others, said Chong Ja Ian of the National University of Singapore.

Nations dependent on Chinese trade “are more likely to submit,” he said, adding that those with experience in handling Chinese pressure might find it easier to overcome Beijing’s wrath.

But if it wants to point out the costs in opposing China, Beijing could move towards demonstrating “its ability and determination to escalate at every moment of confrontation,” Duchatel said.

While the Wolf Warriors have overturned many diplomatic assumptions, the rise of social media has not all benefited Beijing.

In September 2020, a Twitter account owned by Liu Xiaoming, longtime Chinese ambassador to Britain, “liked” a foot fetish porn video on Twitter. He played the incident like a hack.

Liu retired a few months later.

The Chinese Embassy in Ireland rejoiced last week when it cited a fable to reject the wolf warrior label: “Aesop described how the wolf accused the Lamb of committing crimes… BTW , China is not a lamb. ”

The tweet appears to have since been deleted.

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