In NY, Chinese official downplays ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy

Liu Jianchao is the most senior Chinese official to visit the US since the Xi-Biden summit in San Francisco.
By Alex Willemyns for RFA
2024.01.09
In NY, Chinese official downplays ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy Liu Jianchao, the director of the international department of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024.
Screenshot from Council on Foreign Relations video

Beijing has no plans to return to the aggressive “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy that was seemingly rolled back last year, a senior Chinese official said in a speech in New York on Tuesday, stressing the need for the country to pursue “warm and cooperative” global ties.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Liu Jianchao, the director of the international department of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, was asked about an apparent shift in tone from President Xi Jinping at a meeting in Beijing last month.

After months of calling for global cooperation in the wake of his November summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in San Francisco, Xi used a meeting of foreign policy officials to appeal for a “diplomatic iron army” that keeps “a posture of readiness and a firm will to defy strong powers.” 

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Despite a recent call by China’s President Xi Jinping [shown] for a “diplomatic iron army,” Liu Jianchao says it does not augur a return to “Wolf warrior” diplomacy. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP)

But Liu downplayed the meaning of the words, saying it did not augur a return to aggressive type of foreign policy that borrows its name from a popular 2015 Chinese war film, “Wolf Warrior,” and its 2017 sequel.

“I don't really believe that there has always been a kind of ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy, and there's no talk about coming back to that diplomacy,” Liu said, explaining that Xi was instead calling on China’s diplomatic service to uphold a sense of professional discipline. 

“The fundamental goal of China's diplomats would be to contribute their efforts in making sure that China's relations with other countries are warm and cooperative,” Liu said, with the goal of creating “a favorable international environment or China's modernization drive.”

New world order

Liu was previously in charge of China’s “Operation Fox Hunt,” a program Beijing says is aimed at repatriating corrupt officials who have escaped abroad but that FBI director Christopher Wray has said targets Chinese political dissidents who Xi sees as threats. 

But in his current role, the official is charged with engaging foreign leaders. He said he hoped to use his current trip to discuss “how to implement the San Francisco vision” agreed upon by Biden and Xi.

China has since Xi’s November trip tried to present a softer global image, stressing the need for cooperation with the United States and other countries amid increasing economic troubles.

But the move away from “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy started months before, with the movement’s most recognizable face, onetime Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhou Lijian, demoted in March. Former Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who was also closely identified with the aggressive diplomatic style, was likewise suddenly ousted in July.

Officials have since sought to shift any focus away from China’s plans as it rises in power to instead downplay any suggestions of change. 

“China does not seek to change the current international order, still less reinvent the wheel by creating a new international order,” Liu said. “We are one of the builders of the current world order and have benefited from it and will continue to uphold the international system.”

Russia and Ukraine

Liu also defended China’s close relations with Russia since 2022.

“We do need each other, [but] we also work together to ensure the international balance of power,” Liu said, adding that close ties were necessary to keep “peace and stability on the Eurasian continent.”

Asked about how China’s support for Moscow amid its invasion of Ukraine played into that Eurasian peace, as well as Beijing’s normally loud defenses of territorial sovereignty when it comes to international relations, Liu said there were other concerns at play in Ukraine.

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Ukrainian rescuers and local residents clear debris following Russian strikes, in Zmiiv, Kharkiv region, on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Liu Jianchao says “the Ukraine crisis is more complex than it appears to be.” (Sergey Bobok/AFP)

“The security concerns of a country – in particular in this context, Russia – must also be very well addressed,” the official said. “The Ukraine crisis is more complex than it appears to be.”

But Liu would not be pushed to comment on the status of Taiwan and its upcoming presidential election this weekend, refusing to answer questions about the self-governing island’s post-election future.

“At this juncture, China’s position on the Taiwan issue remains clear, strong and unchanged,” he said in response to multiple questions on the topic. “That’s what I’m going to tell you at this moment.”

Edited by Malcolm Foster

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