Wolf warrior diplomacy

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Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian. The foreign ministry is one of many Chinese government organs increasingly employing aggressive diplomacy tactics, including misinformation and propaganda.

Wolf warrior diplomacy (Chinese: 战狼外交; pinyin: zhànláng wàijiāo) describes an aggressive style of diplomacy adopted by Chinese diplomats in the 21st century under Chinese leader Xi Jinping's administration. The term was coined from a Rambo-style Chinese action film, Wolf Warrior 2. This style contrasts to prior Chinese diplomatic practices that were maximized as taoguang yanghui (韬光养晦; literally 'Keep a low profile') by Deng Xiaoping, which had emphasized the avoidance of controversy and the use of cooperative rhetoric. This chengyu ("idiom") is an abbreviation of Deng's strategy "observe calmly, secure our position, cope with affairs calmly, hide our capacities and bide our time, be good at maintaining a low profile, and never claim leadership."[1][2] Wolf warrior diplomacy is confrontational and combative, with its proponents loudly denouncing any criticism of China on social media and in interviews.[3]

Although the phrase "wolf warrior diplomacy" was only popularized as a description of this diplomatic approach during the COVID-19 pandemic, the appearance of wolf warrior-style diplomats had begun a few years prior. Chinese leader and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping's foreign policy writ large, perceived anti-China hostility from the West among Chinese government officials, 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,[4][5] as well as diplomats' increased willingness to rebuff criticism of China and court controversy in interviews and on social media.[3] 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,[6] exemplified by the maxim that China "must hide its strength" in international diplomacy.[7] This change reflects a larger change in how the Chinese government and the CCP relate and interact with the larger world.[8] 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.[9]

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 perceived anti-China hostility from the West amongst Chinese government officials.[7]

In November 2019, Ambassador Gui Congyou threatened Sweden during an interview with broadcaster Swedish PEN saying that “We treat our friends with fine wine, but for our enemies we got shotguns.” over the decision to award Gui Minhai with the Tucholsky Prize. All eight major Swedish political parties have condemned the Ambassador's threats. On December 4 after the prize had been awarded, Ambassador Gui said that one could not both harm China's interests and benefit economically from China. When asked to clarify his remarks he said that China would impose trade restrictions on Sweden, these remarks were backed up by the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing.[10][11][12] The embassy has systematically worked to influence the reporting on China by Swedish journalists.[13] In April 2021 it was revealed that the Chinese embassy threatened a journalist working for the newspaper Expressen. Several political parties publicly expressed that they believe the ambassador should be declared persona non grata and deported. The reason given was that the Chinese embassy, during his time as ambassador, consistently ignores the Swedish constitution by threatening and attempting to influence journalists to not be critical of China. [14]

"Wolf warrior" began to see use as a buzzword during the COVID-19 pandemic.[15] 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.[7]

The Ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, was summoned by twice by the French foreign ministry, first in April 2020 over posts and tweets by the embassy defending Beijing’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and criticising the West’s handling of it, then in March 2021 over "insults and threats" over new Western sanctions placed on China for its crackdown against the Uighur minority.[1] Previously as Ambassador to Canada, Shaye accused Canadian media of “Western egotism and white supremacy” and disparaged their work on the ground that they are in a lesser position to judge China’s development compared to the Chinese people. He also regularly complained of the "biased" and "slanderous" character of their articles denouncing the persecution of Uyghurs.[2]

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.[16] Activity on social media was greatly increased and the tone of social media engagement became more direct and confrontational.[17] China says wolf warrior diplomacy is a "necessary" response to Western diplomats' social media presences.[3] More specifically, foreign vice-minister Le Yucheng says he believes that foreign countries "are coming to our doorstep, interfering in our family affairs, constantly nagging at us, insulting and discrediting us, [so] we have no choice but to firmly defend our national interests and dignity."[18]

Chinese diplomats engaged in wolf warrior diplomacy during the 2020 Olympics with issue being taken with the way Chinese athletes were being depicted by the media and by the Taiwanese team being introduced as “Taiwan" instead of Chinese Taipei. The Chinese consulate in New York City complained that NBC had used an inaccurate map of China in their coverage because it didn't include Taiwan and the South China Sea.[19]


Wu Jing on the set of Wolf Warrior 2

The phrase is derived from the title of the patriotic Rambo-style Chinese film Wolf Warrior 2.[17] The tagline of the film was "Whoever attacks China will be killed no matter how far the target is." (Chinese: 犯我中华者,虽远必诛)[20] 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."[6]

Wolf warrior diplomacy proponents and practitioners[edit]

The digitally-created image Peace Force (和平之师)

Aside from Xi Jinping, Zhao Lijian, Hua Chunying, Wang Wenbin, Hu Xijin, and Liu Xiaoming are also described as prominent proponents of wolf warrior diplomacy.[3]

Zhao Lijian and the manipulated image[edit]

In late 2020, Zhao used his account to circulate a digitally-manipulated image of a child having their throat cut by an Australian soldier in response to the release of the Brereton Report.[21] Global commentators called the tweet "a sharp escalation" in the dispute between China and Australia. Within hours, the image was found to have been created by Wuheqilin, a self-styled Chinese wolf warrior artist.[22]

Reuters reported Prime Minister Scott Morrison describing Zhao's tweet as "truly repugnant" and stating that "the Chinese government should be utterly ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world's eyes."[23] The next day, the Chinese foreign ministry rejected Australian demands for an apology.[24] The incident was damaging to Australia–China relations.[25] The effect of Zhao's tweet has been to unify Australian politicians across party lines in condemning the incident and China more generally.[26] On the other hand, Zhao's tweet also garnered a strong wave of Chinese nationalism support in the country, with Wuheqilin's Sina Weibo account doubling in followers to 1.24 million.[27] Security analyst Anthony Galloway later described the event as "a grey zone attack if ever there was one."[28]


Wolf warrior diplomacy has often garnered a strong response and in some cases has provoked a backlash against China and specific diplomats.[29] By 2020, The Wall Street Journal was reporting that the rise of wolf warrior diplomacy had left many politicians and businesspeople feeling targeted.[30] An October 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 78% of people in Western nations have "not too much or no confidence" in China's leadership to do the right thing regarding world affairs.[31] In December 2020, Nicolas Chapuis, an ambassador of the European Union to China, warned: "What happened during the last year [...] is a massive disruption or reduction in support in Europe, and elsewhere in the world, about China. And I'm telling that to all my Chinese friends, you need to seriously look at it."[30]

Cat warrior diplomacy[edit]

The Taiwanese representative to the United States Hsiao Bi-khim has been described as a "cat warrior"[32] and has started using the term herself.[33][34] Other Taiwanese diplomats have also been characterized as cat warriors for their flexibility and agility. Cat warrior diplomacy is seen as focusing on the soft power aspects of Taiwan's advanced economy, democracy, and respect for human rights as well as using Chinese aggression to highlight the differences between their two political systems.[35] Cat warrior diplomacy aims to use humor and understanding building where Wolf warrior diplomacy uses threats and ultimatums.[36]

See also[edit]


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