On June 24 Zhang Heqing (张和清), cultural counselor at the embassy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to Pakistan, literally gave the middle finger to countries that he described as China’s “enemies”.
“The way we treat our friends, and the way we deal with enemies,” Zhang wrote in a tweet that displayed two juxtaposed images: one showed a thumbs up, the other the middle finger.
“Treat friends: trustworthy, loveable and respectable. Treat enemies: we are ‘wolf warriors'”, the Chinese text reads.
“Wolf Warriors” is a term popularized by Western media to describe the PRC’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy. As Peter Martin, political reporter for Bloomberg News, explained in his book China’s Civilian Army: The Making of Wolf Warrior Diplomacy:
The foreign media began to brand this new confrontational approach “wolf warrior diplomacy” after a series of Chinese action movies that depicted Rambo-like heroes battling China’s enemies at home and abroad. The second in the series, Wolf Warrior 2, told the story of a group of People’s Liberation Army soldiers sent to rescue stranded Chinese civilians in a war-torn African nation. The 2017 movie was a huge success for China’s film industry, making more than $854 million at the domestic box office. Its tagline read, “Even though a thousand miles away, anyone who affronts China will pay.” The moniker captured the intimidating and sometimes bewildering nature of Chinese diplomacy as seen by the outside world, and it stuck.
Zhang’s words echoed a speech given by PRC president Xi Jinping on May 31 in which he emphasized the need to “strive to create an image of China that is trustworthy, loveable and respectable”.
Some Western media misunderstood Xi’s words as a sign that Beijing would soften its rhetoric and stance on the international stage. In fact, Xi argued that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) needs to be more effective in promoting its own propaganda and party image to foreign audiences.
“Since the founding of the PRC, China has never provoked any war and never occupied an inch of other country’s territory,” Zhang Heqing added. “China initiated ideas like ‘five principles of peaceful coexistence’, which still acts as an important tenet for international relations today. Peace prevails.”
Zhang’s statement is false. In 1997 the PRC annexed Hong Kong after it had threatened to invade it if the United Kingdom did not agree to hand it over. Afterwards, Beijing destroyed Hong Kong’s freedoms and civil liberties in violation of an international treaty it had signed with the United Kingdom.
Beijing threatens to invade independent Taiwan and vows to use force to achieve its goal.
Moreover, the PRC has territorial claims in the South China Sea and engages in aggressive and provocative behaviour towards its neighbours.
In March, more than 200 Chinese boats were spotted at Whitsun Reef, around 320 kilometers west of the Philippines’ Palawan Island. This prompted Manila to demand the vessels’ withdrawal and the US government to issue a statement of support for the Philippines.
In June Japan reported unprecedented high activity by the PRC’s coastguard near the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, which Beijing claims as part of its territory.
Earlier this month, 16 Chinese military aircraft flew over disputed waters near Malaysia. The country’s foreign ministry described the manoeuvre as a “serious threat to national sovereignty”.
The PRC has also built a number of artificial islands on disputed waters.
In April, Twitter briefly suspended Zhang’s account.
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