They became general thanks to the health crisis due to Covid-19: a young guard of Chinese diplomats with far more aggressive ways than their elders. Called the “wolf soldiers” in Beijing’s foreign policy, they actually constitute a profound development of Chinese diplomacy.
For five years, China has had its own Rambo. And his name is Leng Feng. Through two testosterone boosted films, “Wolf Warrior” (“Wolf soldier”, 2015) and “Wolf Warrior 2” (2017), he fights against poor Americans, freeing Chinese hostages and rescues other countrymen imprisoned in Africa … This success at the Chinese box office has gone completely unnoticed by western audience. Incorrect … Not because of the man’s dubious quality, but because it previewed a shift in Chinese politics on the international stage, which became impossible to ignore at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic and political crisis in Hong Kong.
This development is perfectly summed up by the final image of “Wolf Warrior 2”: a Chinese passport accompanied by the message “Chinese citizen, if you are in danger in a foreign country, do not give up! Remember that you can count on a powerful motherland. “This is essentially what the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday, May 31 in front of a crowd of journalists and said that his country” will [dorénavant] respond to every insult and defend his honor and dignity everywhere. “
Young wolves with long teeth
The minister responded to a question about the importance that would be given to the new “wolf war diplomacy” as the film gnawed at reality in the form of a package of young diplomats who were quickly nicknamed by observers Western “wolf soldiers” from Beijing for their aggressive way of getting diplomatic messages over .
There is Zhao Lijan, a former diplomatic member of Pakistan, who has become a star speaker for the foreign ministry, which has nothing to envy on US President Donald Trump for his tendency to tweet faster than his shadow. He is one of the main proponents of the conspiracy theory that the United States is responsible for the coronavirus epidemic. On Thursday, June 3, he put Britain in his place and told him not to do so had nothing to say in the Hong Kong file.
The Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye also does not have his tongue in his pocket. In April, at the height of the health crisis, he left was taken violently by the staff from Ehpad, accuses them of leaving their service. His colleague in the post in Sweden Gui Congyo came under fire from critics in April after attacking media that was considered too critical of Beijing. The Chinese diplomat allowed himself to compare Swedish journalists with boxers “lightweights” trying to ride in the ring against “a heavyweight”.
It would be easy to regard these young wolves as snipers who decided on their own to rid themselves of “traditional Chinese diplomacy”, such as Bilahari Kausikan, a Singapore diplomat who shared a long essay on “wolf soldiers” Chinese in the Canadian diplomatic journal Global Brief. The traditional Chinese diplomatic stance, theorized by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, was to promote “without revealing its true strength”.
Xi Jinping, Alpha Wolf
But these long-time diplomats “do not act without the approval of the party,” says Mareike Ohlberg, China’s specialist at the German Marshall Fund in the United States, contacted by France 24. As confirmed by Lu Shaye’s career, which ended after practicing “wolf warrior” diplomacy in Canada in Paris, which is considered a promotion.
In reality, this package’s alpha wolf is none other than President Xi Jinping. He does not publicly show his teeth, but “since the start of his second term in 2017, Xi Jinping has radicalized Chinese foreign policy,” said Jean-Philippe Béja, a sinologist at the Center for International Research (CERI) of Sciences-Po Paris, contacted of France 24.
The Beijing champion believes that “the time has come for China to show its strength to regain its rightful place on the international stage and to do so, it has decided to lay aside the regulations to Deng Xiaoping,” said the French political scientist.
In this perspective, the small group of “wolf warriors” ambassadors is just the foam of the Chinese diplomatic wave. “These are some young executives who want to be seen by the chef,” says Jean-Philippe Béja.
The ambition of this change in the international scene is much broader and at the same time more personal. After establishing its power under its first mandate, “Xi Jinping intends to consolidate his position as a leader by realizing one of the great dreams of the Chinese, namely to pose as a great international power”, concludes the CERI sinologist. It is therefore a “new” diplomatic attitude directed internally.
Covid-19 accelerated the process
This development is initially unnoticed, as the new aggressiveness on the international stage was mainly expressed through diplomatic surgical strikes. For Mareike Ohlberg, of the German Marshall Fund, Beijing chose “these goals to set examples, while retaining a generally traditional diplomatic attitude”. But the Covid-19 pandemic “accelerated the process and forced China to adopt a crisis message,” the German political scientist said.
Suddenly, Beijing faced criticism, especially from a Donald Trump who is more anti-Chinese than ever. The regime then no longer had the luxury of choosing its fights and decided to distribute its new diplomatic doctrine on a large scale.
This method was another advantage for the party, according to Mareike Ohlberg. It makes it possible to appoint enemies abroad to gather the population around ordinary opponents to fight “in this period of uncertainty,” she notes.
This diplomacy of the “soldier wolf” can be developed in two directions, according to her. One of the hypotheses is that it is driving China to adopt an increasingly relaxed attitude to international opinion. This scenario is all the more credible to Mareike Ohlberg as “the evolution of the crisis in Hong Kong illustrates this attitude”.
But it may also happen that when the health crisis has passed, the regime whistles for the end of the recreation and “reduces the number of countries against which it is aggressive, to adopt a more accommodating general diplomatic attitude so as not to get too crowded,” notes Mareike Ohlberg. China is indeed undergoing a “beginning of counter-reaction, with multiplication of summons by ambassadors in several countries”, states Jean-Philippe Béja. The outstanding decision by several African ambassadors in China to write a joint letter on April 11 to complain about the treatment of their compatriots in China shows that this diplomatic radicalization “may have gone too fast and too far”, estimates the French sinologist. Xi Jinping may not want to sacrifice good Sino-African understanding and the economic benefits that follow to satisfy the appetite of some “wolf soldiers”.