China’s Wolf Warrior Diplomacy: Major Change Drivers of its Policy

“Even though a thousand miles away, anyone who affronts China will pay.” This new tone of China’s Wolf Warrior Diplomacy (WWD) unlike other diplomatic practices, heralds an offensive and more aggressive stance in order to promote its country’s official line and preserve its core interests. Chinese diplomats, the so-called wolf warriors, have resorted to a tougher language shooting verbal salvos, and are aimed at outreaching in the face of foreign nations’ attitude towards China. According to them it is “merely a justified defense carried out to protect China’s interests and its rights”, as West bends on overpowering its progress and growth.

“Hide your strength, and bide your time” mantra, underpinned by Deng Xiaoping, was aimed at a strategy which advices to “appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” The policy occurred to be subtle and focused more on calmly observing the international situation along with clandestine-based internal muscle strengthening. This policy has been reversed under Xi Jinping who seems more of a Mao Zedong by favoring revolutionary policies, but beyond national borders. He stresses upon “achieve[ing] something”, the latter half of mantra, through fighting back in face of the enemy.

Drivers for a policy shift:

Legacy of Century of Humiliation: Primary challenge that exists for China in putting together its diplomatic practices is similar to the challenge which existed back in 1949. History suggests that China’s Century of Humiliation (百年国耻) legacy influences and shapes its actions and perceptions in an extensive range till today. Certainly, the roots of Wolf Warrior Diplomacy are traced back to the era of Zhou Enlai, the first diplomat of China, who adopted such approach to redirect nationalism and safeguard against repetition of past humiliation. Xi Jinping is following the steps of Enlai to re-ensure the stability of his nation. His confrontational rhetoric has provided a clear testimony of changing dynamics of China, stating “world has not changed, however, China has changed; It is no longer what it used to be.”

America’s prompting articulation: United States is a dominant factor which influences the tone of Chinese diplomacy. The articulation and securitization of Chinese threat by the West triggers China’s pursuance of such offensive approach. In US Indo-Pacific Strategy Report presented by US Department of Defense, China is portrayed as “assertive and more confident” which “seeks regional hegemony” through modernizing its military and consulting predatory economics to compel other countries. In longer run, China aims at becoming a global hegemon. Wolf warrior diplomacy in this context is justified because public opinion war has begun. How could China not fight back? If it doesn’t, its image would be smudged as the West desires. This diplomacy in return has also not escaped criticism, which Lu Shaye responded to by saying we are not the aggressors, instead aggressors are they themselves who provoke and actively attack others. Challenging Pax Americana remains the utmost interest of China to be achieved through emergent Wolf Warrior Diplomacy.

Wuhan virus xenophobia: During Covid-19 pandemic, calling coronavirus as “China virus” or “Wuhan virus” trended in US, which reflected discriminatory and xenophobic stance. The information regarding virus production and replication in Chinese laboratory was disseminated as Trump, without any evident source, claimed his views concerning Wuhan Lab leak to be right and called upon imposing fine on China worth $10 trillion dollars. Eventually China rebuffed this criticism when Zhao Lijian, a wolf warrior diplomat, tweeted providing an “evidence that the Virus instead was generated in US” and brought to Wuhan via its military. Moreover, Australia also demanded an independent inquiry into this matter of virus origin which was strongly retaliated by Chinese envoys.

G7 summit: Under Xi Jinping, United States’ undisputed hegemony has egregiously been challenged on military as well as economic fronts, and China seems to have chipped away its superiority. China’s widening economic network provides tremendous opportunities for its countries all over the globe, which is a center of concern for US. In G7 summit 2021, US and its allies hit the bull’s eye in their speeches. US openly grumbled about China’s unilateral attempts in East and South China Sea which challenges the existing status quo, and intended to maintain ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ under the rule of law which China wouldn’t prefer much.

However, the prevalent motto of the summit “Build Back Better World (B3W)” plan, embodied a so-called “green” alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as G7 leaders would call it. Power Transition Theory which deals with the challenging and existing power in world politics posits that, rising power when dissatisfied with the existing status quo challenges hegemon, the existing power or hegemon tries to maintain it through forming alliances. This is what we see US is doing contemporarily. This whole scenario- China predicts would have been created to ‘deliberately slander China’ and demands “fighting spirit” from Chinese diplomats. Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France, when claimed to be one from the breed of Wolf Warrior immediately encountered by taking a combative approach calling them “mad dogs” who attack China and formulate strategies against it. Further he stated that he is honored to be entitled as a wolf warrior who stands in front to fight for his motherland.

Conclusion:

China no longer has room to assimilate criticism and is no more afraid to confess its built-up strength which now has become strenuous to be pushed around by its adversaries. Historic legacy, intolerable articulation by the West, censuring Chinese for the virus outspread and uniting against China in an alliance are some major change drivers in China’s foreign policy. Such anti-Chinese approach prompts fighting spirit in people of China due to which China now has shifted towards flexing its muscles and opted for a confrontational stance. The direct and indirect references related to China will be responded with direct referencing as something needs to be changed. From now on, its diplomacy will mold according to how world deals with it, be it a super-power or any other state. It seems to be a short term tactical recalibration but as far as China will be provoked and fundamentally threatened by US and its allies, we will see an assertive wolf warrior tactic in response.

Zainab Yasin
Zainab Yasin
Zainab Yasin is an undergraduate student of International Relations at National Defence University, Islamabad, Pakistan. She is incredibly passionate about learning. This inquisitiveness serves as a stepping stone to pivot her interest towards carrying out research on International affairs, diplomatic relations and politics.