File picture by Zhao Lijian. AFP
combative. Spreading propaganda and disinformation. Make controversial remarks that can sever ties between two nations.
These are not attributes you associate with a diplomat. But in China, these are the very qualities that can help an official rise through the ranks.
Zhao Lijian, who was spokesman for China’s foreign ministry until this month, has become synonymous with this type of diplomacy, popularly known as “wolf warrior” diplomacy.
Named after a Chinese action film of the same name, the Wolf Warriors’ diplomacy has become a hallmark of President Xi Jinping’s government.
It is characterized by a combative and rhetorical approach to foreign policy.
Zhou transferred to the dark frontier department
However, things appear to have turned after Zhao was transferred from the Foreign Ministry to the Borders Department, where he will oversee matters related to China’s land and sea borders.
Now many experts have interpreted this transfer as a “demotion”. The border department is not insignificant, but Zhao will be in the spotlight in contrast to his previous role, in which he regularly held press conferences.
According to reports, Zhao is one of three deputies in his new department.
His transfer coincides with Qin Gang’s assumption of office as China’s new foreign minister. It is widely speculated that the Wolf Warriors’ diplomacy did not coincide with Qin’s less belligerent approach to the West.
How “Wolf Warrior” sparked diplomatic clashes with Aus, USA
Speaking of belligerence, during his tenure as Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao’s antics sparked a massive diplomatic spat between China and Australia.
In 2020, Zhao shared an altered illustration of an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child. This comes after the Australian Defense Force conducted an investigation and found that its forces had killed 39 civilians in Afghanistan.
Then-Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded an apology from Beijing, but Beijing refused.
But Zhao’s theatrics precede his appointment as Foreign Ministry spokesman.
In 2019, former US President Barack Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice called Zhao a “racial disgrace” for his tweet about America’s race relations. Zhao’s tweet is not available right now.
Zhao became a foreign ministry spokesman a year later.
During his stay in Pakistan, the diplomat gained notoriety for his hawkish comments on Twitter, a site banned in China.
Some experts have warned against reading between the lines too much.
The wife’s contributions during COVID put Zhou in a difficult position
Zhao’s wife Tang Tianru reportedly traveled to Germany when China was under strict COVID restrictions. Pictures of the trip sparked massive outrage on social media.
According to US journalist Bill Bishop, she made Zhao’s situation worse when she posted on Chinese social media in December 2022 that the COVID-positive Zhao could not get medication.
It must be noted that China has constantly tried to downplay the coronavirus crisis at home by not disclosing the actual number of cases and deaths.
Then comes Zhao’s own anger. In November 2022, he was caught off guard during a press conference when asked about the protests in China over coronavirus restrictions.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian censors himself before the CCP can
with incredibly awkward silence when asked about the zero covid policy of xi+ protests in china pic.twitter.com/VrGOe3MfDi
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) November 29, 2022
Zhao went blank for a few seconds before answering. The clip was shared widely on social media.
If reports are to be believed, China is likely to appoint Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Feng as its ambassador to the US.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, the election of “US expert” Xie signals Beijing is trying to mend strained relations with Washington.
Whatever the case, one thing is clear, the era of China’s best-known “wolf warrior” diplomat, Zhao Lijian, is over.
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