Tracking cookies

To make our website even easier and more personal, we use cookies (and similar techniques). With these cookies we and third parties can collect information about you and monitor your internet behavior within (and possibly also outside) our website. If you agree with this, we will place these tracking cookies.

Yes, I give permissionNo thanks
{aantal_resultaten} Resultaten

"Warrior-wolves. Anastasiia Tyukhtina, a Sinologist, explains how to understand the new language of Chinese diplomacy.


China's President Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow today, the 20th of March, for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin - almost immediately after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him in the deeply disturbing case of the forced deportation (or abduction) of children from the occupied Ukrainian territories.

And although so far the warrant has a rather symbolic nature, communication with any person with such a reputation can badly damage the image of any politician - but the Chinese leader is not afraid of consequences.

Moreover, Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, stated that the ICC should "take an objective and impartial position" and "avoid politicisation and double standards". At the same time, he stressed that the conflict in Ukraine could only be resolved through "dialogue and negotiations".

In this way, the Chinese politician almost openly indicated China's disagreement with the Western view of the conflict in Ukraine and indicated the Chinese leadership's intention to continue maintaining diplomatic relations with Moscow.

Recently, China's role in the system of international relations has only grown, and the language of Chinese diplomacy now gravitates towards "hard power" rather than "soft power".

How to understand the verbal and non-verbal messages of Chinese politicians and why they have recently started to allow themselves aggressive statements, tells the Chinese scholar and Media Loft author Anastasiia Tyukhtina.

"Fix the roof before it rains"

Over the past twenty years, when assessing the international situation, Chinese leaders have consistently said that the country was in a period of strategic opportunity. This effectively meant that no major conflicts were expected in the near future and that economic growth could be dealt with.

It was expected that China's global rise was unlikely to encounter serious resistance, that the world environment would be in China's favour and that the external environment would present more opportunities than risks. But not this time.

In late October 2022, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) re-elected Xi Jinping for a third term. The event is, to put it bluntly, an extraordinary one. The Chinese leader masterfully eliminated all his rivals, abandoning the principle of rotation of power established in the 1980s. Mao Zedong was China's previous president, who remained in power for more than a decade.

Photo: Lintao Zhang / Getty Images

Xi Jinping's speech at the CPC Congress showed how the rhetoric of the state has changed. He paid increased attention to the difficulties the country may face in the near future. It was not without imagery - the secretary-general compared global instability to a "violent storm" and "wind". He also stressed the importance of "fixing the roof before it rains". His speech also included "black swans" and "grey rhinos", which represent contemporary risks.

The Chinese leader's logic is simple: the country has become very large and visible, China is closely involved in world affairs and resistance to Chinese growth is growing. It follows that any potential dangers should be treated with caution, even if they seem unobvious.

"Smiling diplomacy"

Since the 1980s, Beijing has exhibited mostly "smiling diplomacy." The country has long lived by the concept of "hiding opportunities and keeping a low profile".

For example, the country's leadership has repeatedly stated that China is a responsible power, not unlike the US, and therefore has no intention of becoming a hegemon.

A striking example is the One Belt and One Road initiative, which Western countries have repeatedly criticised for withholding information on the project's financing. According to Xi Jinping, although China is the founder of the initiative, it does not seek leadership - all participating countries are equal.

That fact the latter point is not really true is another matter.

Now, the modest image no longer suits the increased ambition and image of China, which positions itself as one of the world leaders.

"Wolf-warrior diplomacy"

Above all, China is interested in preserving its strategic autonomy. In its own words, Beijing may support Russia's actions and even claim that its friendship with China is "borderless". However, when it comes to issues such as the status of Crimea or the annexation of Donbass, Chinese diplomats are very reticent and certainly not in support of Russia.

This shows that China is not even taking a neutral position, but one that is in its interests.

As China has moved closer to the centre of the 'world stage', its rhetoric has become more strident. For example, when the US began accusing China of spreading a coronavirus, Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan Zhang Xiao replied to US authorities:

"What were you doing in the early days of the outbreak? Geopolitical games, domestic political agendas and smearing China."

Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan Zhang Xiao
Photo: Embassy of the PRC in Kazakhstan

In July 2022, Xi Jinping himself made it clear to US President Joe Biden that China's opinion would have to be reckoned with. Against the backdrop of the escalating Taiwan crisis, Xi Jinping told Biden that "playing with fire" was bound to burn itself.

Incidentally, China's change in rhetoric has not gone unnoticed: the West has dubbed the new methods "wolf-warrior diplomacy". The term was borrowed from the name of the Chinese militant film "Wolf Warrior" and emerged as a counterweight to previous "soft" diplomatic methods and conflict avoidance.

The sensational scandal of November 2022 also comes to mind. During the G20 summit in Indonesia, Xi Jinping did not fail to reprimand Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for allowing confidentiality to be breached and allowing details of the two leaders' dialogue to leak to the media. However, given the PRC's increasing confidence, even such bold moves no longer seem surprising.

Hidden messages?

Although the rhetoric of the Chinese authorities is changing, they still resort to hidden message tactics. Sometimes even the friendliest and most innocent-looking comments can conceal hidden meanings.

When Qin Gang, China's new foreign minister, was leaving his previous post as China's ambassador to the US, The Washington Post published a farewell article written by him. A good portion of the piece is steeped in a veneer of nostalgia for his wonderful years of diplomatic service in America. For example, the official recalled travelling across 22 states, the hospitality of the owners of the corn farm he visited in Missouri, and teaching Chinese to children in Minneapolis.

PRC Foreign Minister Qin Gang
Photo: Liu Jie / XinHua / Global Look Press

But the article's title, "The Future of the Planet Depends on a Stable China-US Relationship," points to his geopolitical ambitions from the start. After some sentimentality, Qin Gang moves on to speculate about the difficulties in China-US relations at the time of his assumption of office. For example, he bluntly states that "Chinese companies have been subjected to unfair US sanctions." This is obviously a hint of restrictions against Huawei, which the US government has repeatedly accused of espionage.

But the most interesting part begins when it comes to the interaction between countries in the future. The official sort of signals that the confrontation between leaders will continue and China's interests will have to be taken into account:

"My time here [in the US] reminds me that Chinese-US relations should not be a zero-sum game in which one side trumps the other or one nation thrives at the expense of the other. The world is big enough for both China and the US to develop and prosper."

What exactly Qin Gang had in mind is not entirely clear, but there are more than enough variations: U.S.-China military rivalry, territorial disputes in the South China Sea or the fate of Taiwan? One thing is clear: China has emerged stronger, it is no longer shy about speaking up and it is not going to give up.

By: Anastasiia Tyukhtina
Cover photo:
picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Selim Chtayti

Zero COVID policy triggers social unrest and destroys China's economy
Source - AP

Zero COVID policy triggers social unrest and destroys China's economy

The yuan is the new dollar or how China is benefiting from the war in Ukraine
Source - Reuters

The yuan is the new dollar or how China is benefiting from the war in Ukraine