BEIJING PURSUES “WOLF-WARRIOR” DIPLOMACY WITH LIES AND INTIMIDATION
Beijing has resorted to twisted means to abruptly end the democracy and freedom it originally promised Hong Kong until 2047 when the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. The standing committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), which ordinarily meets every two months, met twice in 15 days last month to pass a contentious Hong Kong national security law in the late hours of June 30. It took effect an hour later—at midnight on July 1.
Behind this rush was a breakdown of talks held in Honolulu June 16-17 between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi. Pompeo severely condemned Beijing over matters pertaining to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the mass incarceration of ethnic Uighur Muslims and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Province.
Immediately after the failed talks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry held a news conference ahead of its US counterpart, expressing the stock views of the Chinese government. In an editorial dispatched on-line on the heels of the news conference, The Global Times, an English organ of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), took a gloomy view of what lay ahead for bilateral relations.
“They are not likely to break from each other,” the paper said in an editorial, “but are also confused on how to maintain their ties. A consensus may be difficult to achieve…the US side is more interested in fanning the flame of…‛a new cold war’ and ‘decoupling.’” One senses little expectation on the part of China for Washington to ease its tough posture toward Beijing.
The US State Department responded with a much harsher criticism, with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell describing the Chinese side as “not really forthcoming,” “very one-sided,” and “shrill and not realistic.”
In his press briefing in Washington on June 18, Stilwell accused China, the original
source of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, of resorting to “wolf warrior” diplomacy, forging ahead with a scheme to expand its sphere of influence while the world continues to battle the virus.
I could not but take note of Stilwell’s reference to China’s diplomatic move in 2014, when Xi Jinping made his first visit to India. In concert with his visit, the PLA invaded the contested area on the India-China border “deeper and longer, with more people, than ever before.”
“Whether that was a negotiating tactic or just a punch in the nose to demonstrate their superiority, I don’t know,” Stilwell said. Behind China’s bold action at the time lay a readiness to fabricate history as it saw fit. In that vein, one is reminded of the visit Premier Wen Jiabao made to India in December 2010, when China landed a hard punch on India.
Chinese Invasion of India
Arunachal Pradesh, a northeastern India state with an area of 32,000 square miles, is India’s richest source of water, with high-quality water from the Himalayas pouring in endlessly in abundance. China has claimed the state as part of its territory, incorporating it into the autonomous region of Tibet across the border.
The PLA’s Engineering Brigade built a tunnel underneath the Himalayas in the newly incorporated state . It was spacious and sturdy enough to allow PLA tanks to rush to Arunachal Pradesh at maximum speed in a contingency. The completion of this strategically important tunnel, designed to enable the PLA to invade India at any time, was timed specifically to coincide with Wen’s visit.
Hu Jintao had made a similar visit to India four years before Wen, in 2006. Explains prominent Indian geostrategist Brahma Chellaney:‟As part of its hardening stance toward India, China has since 2006 publicly raked up the long dormant Arunachal issue.”
The China-India border extends over 2,000 miles east and west, touching Nepal and Bhutan along the way. Virtually the entire region along the border rests on an alpine zone making up the Himalayas. Both countries have clashed over the border—as recently as 1959-1962, when their armies fiercely battled against each other. The Chinese proved overwhelming superior in the battles, wresting the Aksai Chin region in Jammu and Kashmir State, which China continues to effectively administer today.
India has always been taken in diplomatically and outmaneuvered military by China. In 1954, when the premiers of both nations—Zhou Enlai and Jawaharlal Nehru—conferred to agree on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, Nehru presented Zhou with a map of the Himalayas, which separate their two countries, as a sign of friendship. But the map was a state secret, depicting in great detail land features, major buildings, and their locations—exactly what every nation must know in planning an attack on its adversary. Zhou gladly received the map, pledging to pursue lasting friendship with India. When China invaded India in 1959, however, the PLA took full advantage of Nehru’s map.
Chellaney points out:
“Beijing…has fashioned its claim to Arunachal originally as a bargaining chip to compel India to recognize Chinese control over Aksai Chin. The basis of its territorial claim, however, is laughable. Because the 6th Dalai Lama was born in the 17th century in Arunachal’s Tawang district, Beijing claims that the state belongs to Tibet and thus is part of China.”
If such reasoning applies, Mongolia belongs to China because the 4th Dalai Lama was born there in 1589—an inordinate logic that can hardly be acceptable anywhere else in the world. In point of fact, the 14th and current Dalai Lama has publicly said that Arunachal is not part of Tibet, according to Chellaney.
Chinese Memory Mired in History of “National Humiliation”
Looking back over the diplomacy pursued by successive Chinese leaders, including
Xin, Wen, and Hu, one realizes that China has always resorted to shrewd tactics mixing intimidation with deception. Obsessed with such malevolent behavior, China is now openly challenging the US in what Stilwell refers to as “wolf warrior” diplomacy.
The definition of “wolf warrior” diplomacy has yet to be established. But I believe it was shortly before the outbreak of the Wuhan virus that Foreign Minister Wang Yi instructed China’s diplomatic corps to adopt a more assertive approach to defending Beijing’s interests and reputation in the international community.
Chinese officials have since been going on the offensive. For example, Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesman, tweeted on March 14:“It might be the US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.”Meanwhile, a Chinese diplomat posted to Paris, who is committed to vaunting China’s success in largely stemming the coronavirus and to criticizing the handling of the crisis by Western countries, accused French nursing home workers of “abandoning their posts overnight…and leaving their residents to die of hunger and disease.” His remarks were posted to the website of the Chinese Embassy in Paris on April 12.
What is behind these hardline Chinese amid the lingering Wuhan virus crisis across the globe? One factor Professor Minxin Pei of Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles cites is “China’s current combination of historical insecurity,” which he says is “rooted in its so-called century of humiliation, and heady arrogance, fueled by its immense economic clout and geopolitical influence. So keen are China’s leaders to gain the respect they feel their country deserves that they have become highly sensitive to criticism and quick to threaten economic coercion when countries dare to defy them.” (Please see my column dated June 25.) He cites “the current regime’s emphasis on political loyalty” as another factor, explaining: “Under President Xi Jinping’s highly centralized leadership, Chinese diplomats are evaluated not only on how well they perform their professional duties, but on how faithfully and vocally they toe the party line.”
All criticism is rejected by such nationalism, which has been engendered by a history of national humiliation and an intense belief in the Chinese being a superior race destined to reign over the world. And rejecting and countering criticism propels the Chinese to pursue “wolf warrior” diplomacy. When dealing with the Chinese, I wish to warn Japanese from all walks of life, particularly politicians and business people, to take a sensible but stringent posture. We must refrain from letting down our guard even momentarily, faking a friendly smile, or being forced to form ingratiating friendships.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 910 in the July 23, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)