Peking’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy in South China Sea – “what goes around comes around”

Pekings wolf warrior diplomacy in South China Sea what goes around comes aroundMr. Xi Jinping came to power in Zhongnanhai in 2012 at a time when Peking formally gave up its strategy of “biding its time” and openly pursued the hegemonic ambition and stepped up its assertiveness in an attempt to increase its interests and influence in the world. Peking has more and more fiercely embraced a “wolf warrior” diplomacy, a term that academic and experts circle used to describe the aggressiveness and brazenness of the way China is pursuing its ambition.

Along that line, Chinese diplomats, bypassing all long-existing diplomatic norms, have been demonstrating a superior and arrogant attitude with a view to imposing China’s policy or rules upon other countries regarding almost all matters. China’s “wolf warrior “diplomacy has had a clear manifestation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Right before the start of the Covid-19 crisis, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi instructed his Chinese diplomats to apply a more assertive approach in order to safeguard the interests and reputation of China in other countries.

Using the “wolf warrior” diplomacy, Chinese diplomats, whether inside or outside the country, have become more aggressive and not to hesitate to confront. Chinese diplomats in diplomatic missions in other countries have been employed as frontline warriors to carry out Peking’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy. They are willing to raise their voices with the host countries, not to be afraid of engaging in debates with diplomatic missions of other countries or the mass media. Chinese diplomats have skillfully utilized social media to launch attacks and make provocations against the opposite sides.

The situation in the South China Sea and China’s developments relating to the sea have clearly shown Peking’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy. In this respect, Peking has well combined its provocative and coercive activities with “wolf warrior” diplomatic activities.

Many researchers held the view that in order to realize the ambition of “China’s dream” put forth by Xi Jinping, Peking has been embracing a fierce diplomacy called “wolf warrior” diplomacy. With this strategy, a new generation of young Chinese diplomats have demonstrated an enthusiasm and loyalty by sending out nationalist messages, even at times threatening ones against states where these diplomats are assigned to work. Nevertheless, China’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy, on the one hand, has not only been effective but also “falling a prey to its own intrigues”. It is proven by the following:

(1) China’s taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to increase its coercive and bullying activities against the neighboring countries in the South China Sea region with a view to getting the upper hand, particularly in the military field in the South China Sea, has made these countries clearly recognize the Chinese threat against the freedom of marine navigation, peace and stability in the South China Sea. The ambition and assertiveness of the Peking authorities has made the United States be more alert and the latter is increasingly looking at Peking as a challenge to the position of the United States in the international order.

          For that reason, though the United States is doing its best to combat the pandemic, it has been compelled to show a tough stance by dispatching naval ships and reconnaissance aircraft to this strategic sea region. In the first five months of 2020, the US has increased by three times its air and sea military activities “next to China’s door”, as compared with the whole year of 2019. Therefore, China’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy has not met what Peking is expecting, that is to force the US out of the region so that China can engage itself more and more in the South China Sea.

The United States has been demonstrating a clearer stance and position regarding the South China Sea by a Note to the United Nations on 1 June 2020 and a Statement by Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo on 13 July 2020, rejecting almost all Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea, regarding the coercive and oppressive actions by China in the South China Sea as illegal and demanding that China implement the 12 July 2016 Award.

Importantly, the position recently expressed by Washington on the South China Sea is based on a firm legal foundation, 1982 UNCLOS and the content of the 12 July 2016 Award. Experts held the view that by doing so, the United States has created a legal framework for the deploying necessary actions to prevent China’s bellicose actions in disregard of international and at the same time, to commence a legal battle over the South China Sea.

In response to China’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy, of late the United States has mobilized the US diplomatic missions in the Southeast Asian countries to engage in the undertaking. The US Ambassadors to the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar wrote articles, made speeches, exposing Chinese attempt in the South China Sea as well as in the upper stream of the Mekong River, condemning Peking authorities’ coercive and bullying actions.

(2) Peking’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy during the Covid-19 time has further made Western countries to distance themselves away from China. The fact that Peking, through its Ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming, to exert pressures on the EU to modify a report on the Covid-19 in last April caused EU members to be dissatisfied with Peking and they supported an investigation into the source of the Covid-19 in the 73rd General Assembly of the World Health Organization in mid- May 2020.

It is most noteworthy that the Chinese Ambassador to Australia openly mocked at this country for initiating a proposal to formulate a code of conduct of the international community for tracing the source of the new type of corona virus. Then, Peking ordered to limit imports of beef and grains from Australia and declared restriction on Chinese students and tourists to Australia… However, Peking’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy could not subjugate the Australian Government and people and on the contrary, the Government has even shown a tougher and more resolute attitude.

The Note that Australia formally sent to the United Nations on 23 July 2020, rejecting all Chines marine claims in the South China Sea constitutes a high degree of dissatisfaction with Peking’s behavior through the latter’s use of “wolf warrior” diplomacy. Canberra’s Note has gone further than the position of Washington on the South China Sea, when it underlined that Australia did not accept Peking’s statement to the effect that its sovereignty claims over Paracel and Spartly Islands were “widely recognized by the international community”.

          Observers also maintained that the clear expression by Australia of its position based on international law, 1982 UNCLOS together with its shift in the approach to the South China Sea (increasingly joining military drills and enhancing defense cooperation with the US, Japan and India) was an inevitable consequence of the expansion by Peking of its “wolf warrior” diplomacy. Australia’s new move will exert far-reaching impact on the legal battle over the South China Sea.

By the end of last July, a heated debate took place between Mr. Barry O’Farrell, Australian Ambassador to India and Mr. Sun Weidong, Chinese Ambassador to India over the issue of the South China Sea. On 30 July, Mr. Barry O’Farrell expressed Canberra’s “grave concern” over Chinese actions in the South China Sea which have already been “creating instability and could escalate the situation” and at the same time, referring to the Note that Australia sent to the UN General Secretary, rejecting all unlawful claims of China in the South China Sea and stating that these claims were not in conformity with UNCLOS.

Mr. Sun Weidong argued with no logical foundation that Peking’s maritime rights were in line with international law and rejected the value of the 12 July 2016 Award. Responding to that, Mr. Barry O’Farrell wrote on Twitter on 31 July: “I hope that your side (China) will adhere to the 2016 Award which is final and binding according to international law as well as refrain from unilateral actions that change the status quo”.

Obviously, China’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy has not achieved its set objective, that is to defend, “polish” the image of Peking. On the contrary, it has made the image of China ever worse in the eyes of the international community. It is China’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy that put Peking in a position to confront the legal battle over the South China Sea with the participation of non-regional countries.

          (3) With regard to the Southeast Asian countries, China’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy has made the coastal countries to see more clearly the necessity to show their dissatisfaction with the Chinese extremist behavior, instead of keeping silence in order to save a fragile peace.

In fact, Peking started to apply the “wolf warrior” diplomacy first on the issue of South China Sea. Right from 2012, not long after Xi Jinping took office, Peking used “wolf warrior” diplomacy to pressure Cambodia, the then ASEAN host country so that it was for the first time ever, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) failed to issue a Joint Communique, due to lack of consensus on the issue of the South China Sea.

On this issue, Chinese diplomats, including Mr. Wang Yi, the head of the Chinese foreign service, are not reluctant to make threats, such as “don’t play with fire” or “will suffer serious consequences” against the neighboring countries in the South China Sea region. They have even demonstrated an arrogant attitude when banging the table in bilateral meetings with others.

Peking, on many occasions, has exerted pressure, in very crude manner, in COC negotiations with ASEAN in an attempt to get rid of non-regional countries from the South China Sea, but ASEAN countries did not agree. As such, Peking faced a strong opposition from non-regional countries, particularly the United States, Australia, Japan, the EU, India…They all voiced their demand that COC ensure the interests of all regional and non-regional countries.

At a time of the pandemic, Peking has even tried harder to use “wolf warrior” diplomacy. The propaganda machinery of Chinese diplomatic missions abroad have been mobilized to combine promoting the image of China with communicating Chinese groundless claims in the South China Sea. For instance, the image of China’s “cow-tongue shape line” was put on the website of the Chinese Embassy in Italy or the article by Hu Xijin, Editor-in-chief of the Global Times was placed on the website of the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, showing Peking’s animosity with the 25-year development of the relations between Vietnam and the United States. These actions by Peking’s diplomatic service have faced with strong opposition from the social media community.

Observers were of the view that Peking’s approach of “wolf warrior” diplomacy has proved to be counter-productive. This is clearly seen by the consensus reached by the ASEAN countries when they expressed “profound concern” at the “land reclamations”, “ recent developments and activities” and “serious incidents” in the region and emphasized that UNCLOS was a basis for settling disputes in the South China Sea as stated in the Statement of the Chairman of the 36th ASEAN Summit, on 26 June 2020.

Assessing China’s “wolf warrior “diplomacy, academic circle gave a warning that the Chinese “wolf warrior” generation was acting against the common spirit of the diplomatic profession and hence they had to pay an expensive price for that and they should know that it’s nobody else but “they themselves who were undermining the international image of their own country (China)”.