The ongoing wave of tit for tat spats on Twitter have become the new normal for Chinese foreign officials recently.
Twitter, which is banned in Mainland China is the platform of choice for many of its overseas diplomats and foreign officials, used as a forum to play out public attacks against foreign governments, particularly the US, Australia and the UK, in a style described by many as “Wolf Warrior diplomacy.”
The inception of this concept seems to have arisen from a typically patriotic Chinese action film in 2015 called “Wolf Warriors”, and the style has been heavily promoted overseas by Zhao Lijian, the deputy director of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Department from 2019 onwards.
The rise in such extrovert bullying tactics using an application forbidden from crossing The Great Firewall of China is a departure from the traditionally reserved Chinese persona and appears to be directed at arousing emotions in Western politicians on their home turf, with their responses used as propaganda back at home by the Chinese Communist Party state media mechanisms.
This raises a number of questions as to why China’s government has changed its face,
and considers how the rise in aggressive tactics is linked to the conclusion in 2013 of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Transitional Review Mechanisms (TRM) on China, which ended various formal commitments by China and the monitoring of these commitments by WTO member countries.
In November 2001, years after applying to join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1986, which interrupted by the world’s reaction to the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4th 1989, China under former Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin was finally able to join the WTO.
The size of China and its need to transition to more western style trade agreements, coupled with the need for existing WTO members to protect their home economies from an influx of Chinese products meant that the trade agreements were subject to scrutiny by a working party chaired by Ambassador Pierre-Louis Girard of Switzerland.
The working party remit included addressing all member concerns regarding their economic rights by agreeing tariffs and that foreign companies operating in China were able to import goods, raw materials and technology for their own use. According to the United States report GAO-05-209R U.S.-China Trade: Summary of 2003 World Trade Organisation Transitional Review Mechanism for China, it is noted that not all of the listed themes existed in China at the time of the working party.
One such example is the written concerns raised by European Countries (EC) that Securities Funds Managers were not able to manage institutional assets. The Chinese verbal response was summarised by the report writers as, “this service for institutional investors was a new service in China, and was therefore not covered by China’s commitments.
The WTO publicised how China had agreed that, “price controls will not be used for purposes of affording protection to domestic industries or services providers.”
However, in China, Trade and Power: Why the West’s Economic Engagement Has Failed, Stewart Paterson describes how the lack of appropriate economic enforcement ensured that China’s population became the new cheap workforce that undermined the higher labour costs of other countries such as “America, Japan and Europe.”
The softening or opening up of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dictatorship that was anticipated as part of the inclusion to the WTO did not materialise according to expectations. Current president Xi Jinping is currently enjoying the political effects within China that were set in motion by former president Jiang Zemin on China’s entry to the WTO, which marked China’s recognised status as a world power. The CCP has inflated its power not given it up.
China’s real interest was to gain access to the global financial markets. According to Patterson, “China entered the global trading system without prior commitments such as a floating exchange rate and capital account convertibility.”
These checks and balances would have reduced the asset inflation and social destruction of western society values that subsequently followed as China increased its control of businesses, the internet and pushed to become the main exporting nation. One only has to look at the hold that China had over the supply of PPE to the UK and other countries as it exploited its role in the Novel Coronavirus outbreak in 2020 to see how this has taken shape.
Testing the waters during the 2007/2008 world financial crisis, the CCP heavily criticised the US and Europe for its role in the fall out on the Chinese economy. The wolf howling at the West had begun to take shape. Jude Blanchett of the US based Centre for Strategic and International Studies believes this change in diplomatic strategy is because China started to see itself as having the upper hand over the West.
In 2019 Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) likened the new opening up of the Chinese securities market by Xi Jinping to a “Race in the new era” despite the visible, ongoing, unfair trading practices in direct contravention of the WTO statement that, “China will provide non-discriminatory treatment to all WTO Members. All foreign individuals and enterprises, including those not invested or registered in China, will be accorded treatment no less favourable than that accorded to enterprises in China with respect to the right to trade.”
PWC’s strategies to gain entry into the new Chinese securities market included creating bigger investments by increasing the value of shares from the Joint Venture partner or converting an existing private fund management company to a mutual fund manager to access the RMB 30 trillion (USD 4.3 trillion) wealth market products.
With the lure of returns on such large numbers and the increase of foreign shareholdings in these businesses from 49% to 51% and then uncapped from 2020 – ahead of schedule – it is little wonder that the race for overseas fund managers to set up shop in China has gathered momentum, and that Xi Jinping as leader of the pack is pushing his “Made in China 2025” plan to increase Chinese products and technology in their own right using Chinese made components rather than components from other countries such as the US, Germany and Korea in manufactured products such as Apple’s iPhone.
It seems that China has become confident enough in its power grab to change its diplomatic approach to the “Wolf Warrior” style and proclaim its perceived superiority by attacking on Twitter.
One of the current batch of “Wolf Warriors”, the Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming was spotted at the end of December 2020 on Twitter promoting more news of China’s economic growth. By capitalising on the global pandemic originating in the city of Wuhan, China is looking like a winner in the race to overtake the US as the biggest global economy, up from the 7th in 2000. Fortunately for the UK, Liu Xiaoming, highly critical of the UK’s decision to remove Huawei from its 5G offering and the British stance on Hong Kong, has been recalled to China.