“Xi Jinping wants to ‘make friends’ with the world. But Beijing can’t kick its wolf warrior habits,” says CNN, criticizing what it perceives as an aggressive, vocal, and assertive foreign policy attitude from China and its diplomats. This term ‘wolf warrior’ gets bandied about a lot these days; derived from a famous 2015 Chinese film of the same name, it’s become a regular trope used to describe the behaviour of Chinese officials in dealing with the West. It might be objectively defined as an “increasingly strident tone against the United States, Australia, and other countries,” but it is nonetheless caricatured as something aggressive, unhinged, nationalistic, and excessive to the point of China alienating itself as depicted in the CNN piece. In essence, it is frequently used as an anti-China buzzword.
Little space, of course, has been offered to explain exactly what this phenomenon is or where it came from. Is it really explainable as one-sided, unhinged aggression? Or an authoritarian tendency? The problem, ultimately, is that the emotional connotations of the word and the way it is politicized in the media make it near impossible for people to get an objective understanding of it. In reality, the term is little more than a set of assumptions and ideas which evolve into a ‘talking point’ that carries their weight, as opposed to an objective set of facts. So-called ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’ does not in fact exist, it’s merely a one-sided narrative which takes the responses of China’s diplomats out of context.
A year or so ago, Zhao Lijian frequently speculated that the Covid-19 virus may have emerged from a leak in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Whilst of course there is no serious evidence for this whatsoever, the term ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’ otherwise became associated with him. It was something perceived as overly provocative, seemingly below par, and undiplomatic. But if we take that out of context, it in fact tells us nothing. Zhao was responding to the emerging vilification of China which was emanating from the United States at that time, and in particular from Senator Tom Cotton, who established the conspiracy theory that the virus was the product of a Wuhan laboratory leak, a theory which has persisted up until the present day and is now being revived in the mainstream discourse.
In this case, is it wolf warrior diplomacy? China’s politicians and diplomats are not being the provocateurs, they are in fact reacting to a world which increasingly blames, smears, vilifies, and insinuates against China. Yet, the assumption the term ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’ carries is that Beijing itself is doing something wrong. Consider, for example, has the rhetoric of individuals such as Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump, among others, been objectively any better than what China has come out with? They attacked and scolded China on an almost daily basis, placed all of America’s problems on it, insinuated hopes for regime change, and branded it a threat to the entire world. Yet nobody made up a term specifically for their behaviour such as ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’, did they? Is it any wonder China has responded the way it has?
The discourse of ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’ projects ‘otherness’ onto China in a phenomenon known as ‘Orientalism’, which intentionally exaggerates the difference between East and West and subsequently frames the East as something aggressive, violent, backwards, and dangerous.’Wolf warrior diplomacy’ as a term plays upon those differences and in turn reveals a fundamental inequality in the global conversation. The West is perceived to have the right to insult and scourge China at its will, but an inevitable response from China is depicted as threatening, overbearing, and assertive, and reflects the broader ‘yellow peril’ or anxiety surrounding China’s rise as a whole, thus the temptation to make China appear threatening and menacing.
The point should thus be made clear: There is no such thing as wolf warrior diplomacy. China’s diplomats are in fact behaving reactively and conjunctively towards a new international context which has become hostile, uncompromising, and zero-sum towards Beijing. The mainstream media take China’s responses and attitudes out of context to what they are facing, and subsequently create a one-sided dictum where only China’s behaviour is problematic and aggressive. But the reality is very simple: China is just defending itself and probably would be restrained if others were too.
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