China’s wolf warrior diplomacy
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - June 7, 2020 - 12:00am

“The growing global backlash against China’s involvement in both the COVID-19 pandemic and Hong Kong political crisis is fueling a new brand of ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy in Beijing aptly named after a nationalistic Chinese action movie. This more aggressive stance abroad exposes a sense of vulnerability in Beijing and poses two potential risks for the regime – the first is that the tactic backfires overseas, and the second, and perhaps more problematic, is that Beijing loses control of the nationalistic narrative.” This statement is part of an analysis by geopolitical analyst Rodger Baker.

For example, when Australia joined the call for an international investigation into Beijing’s involvement in the coronavirus pandemic, China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, threatened trade action in response to Australia’s actions. China also extended the same threats to other countries like Canada and Germany.

At a recent press conference in Beijing Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China would now push back against deliberate insults:  “We never pick a fight or bully others. But we have principles and guts. We will push back against any deliberate insult, resolutely defend our national honor and dignity, and we will refute all groundless slander with facts.”

What does the “wolf warrior” diplomacy mean and where did the name originate? This is actually the title of a hugely successful series of patriotic action movies in China. The series is based around a squad of Chinese soldiers sent into an African country to rescue Chinese civilians. The film’s publicity line was: “Even though a thousand miles away, anyone who affronts China will pay.”

Chinese officials are also now using Twitter and other social media platforms to hit back directly at any criticism of China or the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

This diplomatic tactic is very different from past Chinese practices when complaints were conveyed in long verbose statements and when Chinese media was utilized to answer criticisms.

In the Wolf Warrior movie, a Chinese general says: “Those who challenge China will have no place to hide.” This may be effective for raising nationalistic fervor,  it may backfire against China overseas. One potential problem is that the setting for the rescue is Africa and the villains are all Africans. This comes after serious racist incidents against black Africans in some Chinese cities where blacks were forcibly evicted by Chinese landlords who claimed they were COVID-19 carriers. There is also a washing machine commercial on Chinese television which shows a black man being forced into a washing machine and his black skin is turned into white afterwards.

Beijing has also become more aggressive in exploiting the overseas Chinese of more than 46 million to help advance its international interests. It is appealing to ethnic loyalty in place of national loyalty. Overseas Chinese have instigated pro China rallies in some of the capital cities of Europe. This risky tact could also result in a backlash against local Chinese in these countries. Local Chinese will be perceived to have split loyalties.

All these recent moves by the Chinese Communist government are part of its strategy to use nationalism to distract its people from the coming economic downturns. This is a typical move for almost all governments since people can be convinced to sacrifice for the good of their nation.

Even though there has been an economic disaster, Putin stays in power because the people believe that he is responsible for making Russia respected as a world power. Trump is an obvious example with his slogan of “Make America Great Again.” His constant theme is that every country in the world has exploited the USA and he is the person who will end this unfair treatment of America. Brexit’s surprising win was due to the fact that the anti-Brexit forces used economic arguments while the pro-Brexit groups argued on the basis of patriotism and national sovereignty. In the first three quarters of the 20th century, nationalism was the dominant ideology among Third World countries who were striving for independence from imperial powers. Leaders who espoused nationalism were much admired and intellectuals were supportive. In the Philippines, nationalism was especially propagated by people like Claro M. Recto, Lorenzo Tañada, and Jose W. Diokno.

Nationalism is both an ideology and a movement that promotes the interests of a nation with the objective of maintaining the primacy of the interests of a group of people over its homeland.  There were times, in the past two decades, when nationalism was on the decline because of the rise of globalization. In fact, nationalism was often considered an obstacle to globalization which advocated open borders and open trade. Protectionism which advocated protecting local industries against foreign competition was considered detrimental to global economic growth.

Globalization, however, resulted in loss of jobs for most countries while only a few countries, like China, benefited. Income inequality has become worst because of globalization. The renaissance of nationalism has now begun.

Nationalism has unfortunately been used by populist leaders to rally supporters when its economic policies fail. The primary objective of the Chinese Communist Party is to stay in power at all costs. Its support from the people has stemmed from its economic successes in increasing economic prosperity. This is now endangered because the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the global economy to fall.

The Wolf Warrior diplomacy is an integral part of the CCP’s nationalist strategy to rally the people to its support in spite of a possible economic recession.

Nationalism, like any ideology, is a two edged sword. It can be used for the people to have pride in themselves as a people or it can be exploited by populists to rally people to continue supporting populism.

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