Covid gives teeth to China’s Wolf Warrior Diplomats

By Joseph Cummins

COVID-19 has given teeth to China’s ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy, said a leading Chinese foreign policy expert.

Speaking at an online discussion on February 25, 2021, director of SOAS China Institute Professor Steve Tsang said the coronavirus pandemic has given Chinese citizens enormous confidence in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under president Xi Jinping.

China has succeeded in containing the virus while democracies, particularly the United Kingdom and United States are still fumbling, emboldening China’s politicians to roll out strong foreign policies.

Professor Tsang said: “In 2020 we were talking about Covid-19 being the Communist Party’s Chernobyl moment but a year on the picture has changed dramatically.

“The Communist Party’s ability to act decisively, responsively and effectively shows [the Chinese people] that their system is superior.

“This is the wolf warrior diplomacy of China – the government’s aggressive approach to diplomacy and asserting the government’s narrative and position.”

The term ‘Wolf Warrior’ comes from a 2015 film, akin to a Chinese Rambo, where patriotic soldiers hunt down threats to Chinese interests.

The 2017 sequel wore the tagline “Even though a thousand miles away, anyone who affronts China will pay.” Although Xi Jinping has never used the term ‘Wolf Warrior,’ he revels in the comparison.

After an initial shortage, China’s ability to mobilise its industrial capacity meant that it could use personal protective equipment (PPE) as what Professor Tsang calls a ‘language for diplomacy’ – projecting success, winning friends and tying up nations that could not access PPE anywhere else.

Professor Tsang believes that the Communist Party is prioritising providing vaccines to African and Asian nations overlooked by western democracies and instead relying on tightly controlled borders and strict local lockdowns to suppress the virus at home.

China’s quick actions overseas have helped secure its global influence, and traditional methods of internal control have protected the health of its citizens. But Professor Tsang argues should the situation start to shift, it will move with similar speed

“If there is a need to redirect Chinese vaccines to Chinese citizens to protect the legitimacy of the Communist Party,” says Professor Tsang, “they will do it immediately. It doesn’t matter if it is Oxford AstraZeneca, Moderna or Pfizer, they will buy up every single vaccine available.”

Professor Tsang argues that Chinese diplomats are happy to forgo relationships with the US and UK to fulfil Xi Jinping’s wish that Chinese officials, ‘unsheathe the sword, show the sword’ and contest any negative view of China.

Under Deng Xiaoping, in the 1980s, China’s approach was one of quiet development and building relationships with the west. But Professor Tsang believes that Xi Jinping has decided that the moment is right to demand respect from the rest of the world.

The pandemic has rumbled into its second year and while vaccinations roll out with shaky optimism, China has strengthened the groundwork for its aggressive foreign policy.

Empowered by wolfish diplomats and with countries entwining their economic and medical futures to the Communist Party, Xi Jinping’s China is set not just to recover, but thrive in a post-pandemic world.

Featured Image: Janne Wittoeck @Flickr

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