‘Wolf Warrior-2’ is an action-packed movie that was released three years ago in China. It stirred nationalist passion amongst the Chinese, to the extent that after a show, reportedly, the audience sang the national anthem in their cinema seats! Leng Feng, the film’s hero, the ‘Wolf Warrior’, is a retired Chinese commando, who fights African mercenaries armed with tanks, using a home-made crossbow! The China of the film is self-confident; a crowd-pleasing scene shows warships of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) steaming towards a war-torn, pandemic-stricken country of Africa to evacuate Chinese citizens, crossing American warships fleeing in the opposite direction. The China of the film is strikingly respectful of international law, is not merely feared, but also admired, showing doctors at a Chinese-funded hospital in Africa, working towards developing a vaccine for the deadly virus, unmindful of the danger to their own lives!
The real-world China of 2020 is quite the contrary. In a time of crises, from a global pandemic to an intense competition with America, and a declining economy, Chinese envoys and state media have gone on the offensive. Ambassadors and official spokespersons have threatened and insulted governments and elected politicians on every continent, with some even promoting conspiracy theories of the US army spreading the Covid-19. In China, this trend is being dubbed “Wolf Warrior diplomacy” by fans and critics alike!
China’s confrontational diplomat is displaying an unprecedented belligerence to show to the world that China has grown strong, and is tired of waiting for the world to show respect and reverence to it. To the hawks of the diplomatic and national-security community in Beijing, if some countries have to feel the pain in order to understand China’s rise, and that resistance is fruitless, with no help coming from an America consumed with its own problems, then so be it. Talking to the media at the annual meeting of China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, the foreign minister, Wang Yi, was asked about the “Wolf Warrior diplomacy”. While not endorsing the term he, reportedly approved its fibre. “China’s diplomats never pick a fight or bully others, but we have principles and guts”, he said. “We will push back against any deliberate insult to resolutely defend our national honour and dignity.”(The Economist, May 28, 2020).
Unlike the reel-world China of the movie, actuality is quite different. While in the movie, the hero rescues locals from a country in Africa, it is not so in reality. In April, hundreds of African traders and students living in the southern city of Guangzhou were tested for Covid-19 and forced into quarantine, regardless of their travel histories and test results! Some Africans, evicted by landlords, were left to fend for themselves on the streets, while others were harassed by the police to delete social-media posts complaining about the ill-treatment. Rather than apologise, Chinese diplomats and state media made distasteful remarks, declaring that the reported prejudice against Africans never happened, while blaming anti-China forces for spreading fake news!
The Covid-19 pandemic is unlike the earlier viral infections of SARS and MERS. It has created an environment of fear in every country on the earth. China is no exception. Chinese citizens, mainly students, are stranded in USA and elsewhere, with flights to China being severely restricted, as officials worry about the import of the virus. The netizens on Chinese social media are divided in their opinion; while some would like their fellow citizens to repatriated, others are scornful, calling the students as spoiled, unpatriotic kids.
China and, its rival in vying for global supremacy, USA, are displaying obnoxious egotistical traits in these difficult times. While there is an oft-repeated nationalistic trend in President Trump’s utterances, Chinese envoys talk of their country being a responsible, globally-minded major power. The same Chinese voices then stoke nationalistic fervour at home. Their appalling bullying behaviour with foreign governments, heavily dependent on China’s ‘magnanimity’, is on display when they are told to thank and praise China before they are allowed to buy Chinese medical kits! Of course, the ‘official’ China denies any connection with such assertive manners.
China is playing a perilous ‘Wolf Warrior’ game in real-life diplomacy, as against the reel-life depiction – a risky proposition indeed
Author: Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja (Retd.)
The Author retired as the AOC-in-C of Training Command, IAF. He is a postgraduate in ‘National Security Strategy’ from National War College, USA.