Return of the wolf warrior. China’s foreign ministry bares its teeth

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Chinese social media have been buzzing with information about the recently “demoted” former spokesperson Zhao Lijian, who was arguably the most recognizable “wolf warrior diplomat” of the pack. 

Serving as the 31st spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry between 2019-2023, Zhao was known for his aggressive and provocative comments, as well as his blunt manner.

He often caused controversy with his tweets defending China’s assertive diplomacy and slamming foreign countries especially the U.S. 

Since January, Zhao has been a deputy director of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs Department. 

The main responsibilities of the position include, among others, developing policies concerning land and maritime boundaries, managing land boundary delimitation and demarcation and joint inspections with neighboring countries, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website.

Internet users have been sharing photos of Zhao visiting border posts and inspecting border markers.

In one of the photos circulated on Weibo, Zhao, wearing casual clothes, was seen painting a border marker in Guangxi, next to Vietnam.

Netizens’ comments include: “Zhao Lijian is patrolling the border. He has moved from being a loudspeaker to a gatekeeper!” and “Demoted a thousand miles away? Where the motherland needs me, I will absolutely go there!”

‘Wolf warrior diplomats’

The term ‘wolf warrior’ is derived from a series of Chinese action movies in which the main character is depicted as patriotic, righteous and just. The so-called “wolf warrior diplomacy” reflects the combative, confrontational and sometimes coercive style of China’s foreign policy in recent years.

In December, U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell said at a security forum that Beijing had finally realized “wolf warrior diplomacy” was not working.

“I think they recognize that that has, in many respects, backfired,” said Campbell.

But when the new Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang held his first briefing with the international press corps in Beijing last week, he made sure to let them know that China’s “wolf warrior diplomacy” is here to stay. 

“I recall when I just arrived as Chinese ambassador to the United States, American media exclaimed, ‘Here comes a Chinese wolf warrior’,” said Qin Gang at the press conference on the sidelines of the annual parliamentary meeting, dubbed the ‘Two Sessions.’

Qin served as the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman for two terms between 2006 and 2014 and as China’s Ambassador to the United States from July 2021.

“Now I am back as the foreign minister, the media have stopped calling me that way,” the new foreign minister said, adding that wolf warrior diplomacy is a narrative trap.

“Those, who invented the term and set the trap, either know little about China and its diplomacy, or have a hidden agenda in disregard of facts.”

His country’s diplomacy shall remain consistent, Qin said.

“In China’s diplomacy, there is no shortage of goodwill and kindness. But if faced with jackals or wolves, Chinese diplomats would have no choice but to confront them head-on and protect our motherland,” said the minister, who on Sunday was also appointed a state councilor, a rank immediately below vice prime minister.

Qin Gang’s comments came a day after China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping told the legislative meeting that “Western countries, led by the United States, have implemented all-round containment and suppression of China.”

It is impossible to ask that “China should not respond in words or action when slandered or attacked,” Qin said.

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