Once upon a time, China’s statecraft was discrete and difficult to interpret but that is changing and changing very fast with the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Many scholars of Chinese diplomacy find this a total departure from the subtle and evasive approach to international relations and diplomatic practice for about 30 years.
Led by its former leader, Deng Xiaoping, the country’s known strategy according to the Chinese Communist Party newspaper, Global Times, was to “hide its ability and bide its time”. That appears to have been revised and a new robust, tough-talking and a more confrontational approach being rolled out as a strategy.
Under its previous enigmatic approach to diplomacy, many western governments had to employ sinologists to interpret unclear signals coming from the Chinese communist party.
That is no longer the case, as the coronavirus pandemic seems to have forced China to completely jettison a very successful diplomatic strategy practiced for years all due to the Chinese government’s poor handling and lack of transparency at the very onset of the outbreak of COVID-19.
In order to put up a strong fight and divert attention from its failures and weaknesses in its public health systems in the wake of COVID-19, the Chinese communist party has unleashed what is clearly a team of vociferous cadre of diplomats to respond to social media comments and posts in a timely but confrontational manner and in most cases without mincing words. Their aim is to defend China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and challenge those who question Beijing’s account of events.
On 16 April 2020, the editorial of the Chinese Communist Party newspaper, Global Times, was headlined, “West feels challenged by China’s new ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy” and declared that the Chinese government, ultimately working in the interest of the Chinese people is “no longer satisfied with a flaccid diplomatic tone”.
This is a clear sign of desperation, frustration and a frantic effort to douse the flame of global fire being heaped on the head of President Xi and his Chinese communist party to come clean on how the coronavirus disease broke out and why the world got to know about it belatedly.
Why would the Chinese communist party abandon a diplomatic culture practiced successfully for about three decades to take on the “Wolf Warrior” style?
The “Wolf warrior” approach to diplomacy is modelled after a Chinese movie titled “Wolf Warrior” in which elite Chinese Special Forces take on American-led mercenaries. It is a movie with extreme nationalistic tone.
In employing the “Wolf Warrior” principle in diplomatic communication, Chinese diplomats launch salvos on social media from the comfort of their embassies, with virtually no holds barred, exhibiting aggression and sarcasm at the least critical social media post questioning China’s credibility in the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
For instance, the Chinese embassy in India described calls for China to pay compensation for spreading the virus as “ridiculous and eyeball-catching nonsense”.
The chief spokesman for the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing tweeted in response to Donald Trump, “Mr. President is right. Some people do need to be injected with #disinfectant, or at least gargle with it. That way, they won’t spread the virus, lies and hatred when talking”.
With a twitter username having elements of ‘Warhorse’ in it, China’s “wolf warrior” in the UK is Ma Hui. He is the third in command and he tweeted that, “Some US leaders have stooped so low to lie, misinform, blame, stigmatize. That is very despicable, but we should not lower our standard, race to the bottom. They don’t care a lot about morality, integrity but we do. We can also fight back their stupidity.”
Every student of diplomacy and international relations knows very well that diplomats do not speak in this tone and can only be a sign of an exposed insensitive and irresponsible government that has disappointed its own people and the world.
Much was expected from the Chinese government in relation to the reporting, information management and the clinical management of COVID-19 cases to avoid a spill over after touting its high-tech prowess and creating the impression of a very developed nation with robust systems. Well, maybe it is the reason they will go all lengths to protect that erroneous impression and engage in social media blame games.
But will talking tough, attacking critics and the west change the fact that, the virus emanated from Wuhan? How many faces can a “wolf warrior” style save in the Chinese communist party from international shame when the evidence of censorship, arrest and intimidation of well-meaning members of the Chinese society and responsible citizens of the world who warned and blew the whistle on the outbreak are there for all to see and bare witnesses to?
It is most disappointing that, instead of conceding to initial flaws in communicating the outbreak to global health agencies and not sharing important information regarding the outbreak to warn other nations on time, the Chinese government is preoccupied and consumed in confronting critics and talking tough because the peoples of the world are demanding to know the truth behind this global pandemic and the Chinese government will not have any of that simply because, it is averse to transparency and openness at the expense of the health and safety of its own citizens and that of the world- and this is very selfish.
The world today, is virtually on its knees thanks to an outbreak that was concealed until it got out of hand.
There must be a global call to action to demand a full scale investigation and disclosure from the Chinese government on the circumstances surrounding the outbreak, when it first got know about it, who were the first victims of the virus and how they were diagnosed. How long did it take China to allow the WHO access to vital information on COVID-19? How did China manage its cases clinically to now claim a near zero infection rate when its Wuhan city is the source?
In times like this, when majority of African countries have tied their economic apron strings to china by taking loans in different forms, more African leaders expectedly will adopt a sit and look approach but this, assuredly will not help the interest of Africa. In spite of the fact that, Africa has recorded low cases and deaths as against what we have seen in Europe Asia and America, Africa’s economies will be the hardest hit.
Africa must not sit on the fence and just look on, Africa must add their voice to the call for justice and full disclosure from China. The world must not allow China to run from its responsibility of sharing all it knows and gathered on this virus with the rest of the world.
A full disclosure and a full scale investigation into the origin of the outbreak will lead to massive changes and improvement in public health protocols, reporting and communication as well as improve laboratory management protocols around the world.
China must not take the world for granted by hiding behind talking tough and adopting a combative approach to responding to legitimate questions and criticism.
Author: Bismark Brown
Journalist and social advocate