Wolf warrior diplomacy
Wolf warrior diplomacy describes an aggressive style of diplomacy purported to be adopted by Chinese diplomats in the 21st century. The term was coined from a Rambo-style Chinese action movie, Wolf Warrior. In contrast to prior Chinese diplomatic practice, which had emphasized the avoidance of controversy and the use of cooperative rhetoric, wolf warrior diplomacy is more combative, with its proponents loudly denouncing criticisms of China on social media and in interviews.
Although the phrase "wolf warrior diplomacy" was only popularized as a description for this diplomatic philosophy during the COVID-19 pandemic, the appearance of wolf warrior-style diplomats began a few years prior. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary Xi Jinping's foreign policy writ large, increased hostility from the United States, and shifts within the Chinese diplomatic bureaucracy have been cited as factors leading to its emergence.
Wolf warrior diplomacy is characterized by Chinese diplomats' use of confrontational rhetoric, as well as diplomats' increased willingness to rebuff criticism of China and court controversy in interviews and on social media. It is a departure from former Chinese foreign policy, which focused on working behind the scenes, avoiding controversy and favoring a rhetoric of international cooperation, exemplified by the maxim that China "must hide its strength" in international diplomacy. This change reflects a larger change in how the Chinese government and the CCP relate and interact with the larger world. Efforts aimed at incorporating the Chinese diaspora into China’s foreign policy have also intensified with an emphasis placed on ethnic loyalty over national loyalty.
Wolf warrior diplomacy began to emerge in 2017, although components of it had already been incorporated into Chinese diplomacy before then. An assertive diplomatic push resembling wolf warrior diplomacy was also noted following the 2008 financial crisis. The emergence of wolf warrior diplomacy has been tied to Xi Jinping's political ambitions, as well as increased hostility from the US despite China's conciliatory diplomatic rhetoric. Aside from Xi, Zhao Lijian, Hua Chunying and Liu Xiaoming have also been described as prominent proponents of wolf warrior diplomacy.
"Wolf warrior" began to see use as a buzzword during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Europe, leaders have expressed surprise at the Chinese using a diplomatic tone with them that they previously would only have used with small or weak countries, with the messaging shifting from a tone of collaboration to one of opposition.
One factor which may have helped bring about wolf warrior diplomacy was the addition of a public relations section to internal employee performance reports. This incentivized Chinese diplomats to be active on social media and give controversial interviews. Additionally, a younger cadre of diplomats that worked its way up the ranks of the Chinese diplomatic service and this generational shift is also seen as accounting for part of the change. Activity on social media was greatly increased and the tone of social media engagement became more direct and confrontational. Wolf warrior diplomacy has also been framed as a "necessary" response to Western diplomats' social media presences.
The phrase is derived from the patriotic Rambo-style Chinese movies Wolf Warrior and its sequels Wolf Warrior 2 and Wolf Warrior 3. Wolf Warrior 2’s tagline was "Even though far away, anyone who affronts China will pay." (Chinese: 犯我中华者,虽远必诛) At the end of the film the cover of the Chinese passport is displayed along with text reading "Citizens of the PRC: When you encounter danger in a foreign land, do not give up! Please remember, at your back stands a strong motherland."
Wolf warrior diplomacy has often garnered a strong response and in some cases has provoked a backlash against China and specific diplomats.
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