On Monday, Li Yang, Consul General of China in Rio de Janeiro, took to twitter to poke fun at the rescue efforts after the Surfside, Florida building collapse. “American rescue: very profane to save people, but too expert in blasting !!! Li wrote, including side-by-side photos of the partially collapsed condominium and its explosive demolition.
In other recent tweets, Li called Adrian Zenz, a researcher who has written extensively on internment camps in Xinjiang, a liar. Li also called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “Boy” and called him the “hound of the United States” Such explosions have helped Li rack up nearly 27,000 followers on Twitter, even though the platform is blocked in China.
Li is one of dozens of Chinese diplomats who have found a home on Twitter in recent years, taking to the site with Trumpian bravado to improve their profile here and abroad. Spurred on by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2013, this noisy cohort – dubbed the “Wolf Warriors” after the nationalist film franchise of the same name – has spread across the world, disparaging enemies and bristling with the lightest criticisms.
Xi brought a renewed interest in ideology to China, as well as the return of Mao-era tools that include re-education camps and group study sessions. When Chinese diplomats see such national moves, “they are very good at calibrating their response to it in a way that protects their own individual interests,” says Peter Martin, whose new book, Chinese Civil Army: The Making of Wolf Warrior Diplomacy, traces the history of the Chinese diplomatic corps.
For today’s diplomats, safeguarding their interests often requires vigorously defending China’s interests and image, both online and offline. Chinese authorities started a brawl last year during a diplomatic event in Fiji, when they showed up uninvited to a Taiwan National Day celebration.
The aggressive and nationalist style may seem very undiplomatic, even counterproductive, but it suits the patriotic public back home and can be a route to promotion. Combative Western social media posts and theatrical explosions often end up coming back to Chinese social media, according to Maria Repnikova, professor at Georgia State University whose research focuses on journalism and public messages in undemocratic regimes. The message also ends up being reflected in state media and amplified by coordinated influence campaigns that have been traced in China.
As a diplomat stationed in Pakistan in 2015, Zhao Lijian filled his thread with both tweets attacking the United States and messages extolling Sino-Pakistani economic collaboration. In 2019, shortly after sparking a Twitter feud with former US national security adviser Susan Rice, Zhao returned to Beijing and was promoted to spokesperson for the Foreign Office. From this perch he tweeted on March 12, 2020, which the US military could have brought Covid-19 in China.
In 2016, when a Canadian journalist asked Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi about a Canadian citizen accused of espionage and detained in China, Wang replied, “Your question is full of arrogance and prejudices against China… This is totally unacceptable. His remarks went viral, and an online fan club for Wang – who had previously been called a “silver fox” by the Chinese press – has gathered more than 130,000 members. This is in stark contrast to the mid-2000s, when nationalist citizens sent calcium pills to the Foreign Ministry to suggest officials need to step up in the face of international criticism of China’s human rights record. the man.
While the support is new, the approach is not, although the volume can be increased or decreased depending on the needs of the day. As Martin writes, in November 1950, General-turned-diplomat Wu Xiuquan gave a fiery 105-minute speech at the United Nations in which he called the United States, and then facing China in the Korean War, ” the aggressor cunning in their dealings with China “and called for sanctions against the United States.
“Sometimes Chinese diplomats are very charming, impressive, and they use the discipline that has been cultivated in the Foreign Ministry to gain international opinion and gain friends for China,” Martin said. At other times, however, such as during the Cultural Revolution and even more recently, “there has been this very combative and even aggressive side of Chinese diplomacy.”