Risks & Trends

3 | Enter the ‘Wolf Warriors’

Foreign Policy

Sulmaan Wasif Khan | The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomcy, Tufts University and the author of Haunted by Chaos: China’s Grand Strategy from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping
3 | Enter the ‘Wolf Warriors’
3 | Enter the ‘Wolf Warriors’
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China's Grand Strategy

3

June 3, 2021
BIG IDEA | ‘What changed in 2020 was that nationalism for its own sake became the predominant motif of Chinese conduct.’

‘But “wolf warrior” diplomacy marks a significant change.’

  • ‘The term, viral among those seeking to explain Chinese conduct, is often misused to encompass all forms of Chinese nationalism.’
  • ‘But distinctions are important because different types of nationalism are symptoms of different issues in China’s conduct.’

‘Two things set wolf warrior diplomacy apart.’

‘First, there is no obvious point to it.’

  • ‘The Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi’s strident performance in Alaska was arguably tin-eared and undeniably excruciating, but there was a purpose.’
  • ‘He was trying to save Chinese face after being denounced (however justly); the idea, not exclusive to China, is that one has to demonstrate that one cannot be bullied before getting down to the hard business of resolving—or failing to resolve—differences.’
  • ‘Yang was not engaged in wolf warrior diplomacy.’

‘By contrast, it was completely pointless for Foreign Ministry spokespeople Zhao Lijian and Hua Chunying to tweet conspiracy theories about COVID-19 or for China to launch a trade war with Australia simply because the Australians had the gall to call for an investigation of China’s handling of the pandemic.’

  • ‘These are knee-jerk reactions, bereft of the cool maneuvering that defines grand strategy.’

‘Second, there is no attempt to rein these fits of temper in.’

  • ‘When Jiang encouraged protests against the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia, there were careful directives about nationalism not being allowed to run too far.’
  • ‘There is no evidence to suggest that such directives have been issued here.
  • ‘Worse, it seems likely that even if they were issued, they would be difficult to enforce, with purposeless nationalism now run amok.’

‘To be sure, China has always had a nationalistic streak, and it (as in the case of many other countries) has sometimes been counterproductive.’

  • ‘Some of China’s diplomatic moves have been clumsy: cutting tourism to South Korea when that country insisted on hosting the U.S.-made THAAD missile defense system or telling Indian diplomats that those from Arunachal Pradesh didn’t need a visa to visit China because Arunachal Pradesh was Chinese territory.’
  • ‘But seen as a whole, Beijing’s conduct still appeared, for the most part, that of a calculating, purposeful actor.’

‘What changed in 2020 was that nationalism for its own sake became the predominant motif of Chinese conduct.’

  • ‘From that year on, what stands about China’s diplomacy is spreading wild rumors about COVID-19, getting in a shouting match with Australia, and threatening dire consequences for anyone who opts to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.’

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