According to a China analyst, the belligerence shown by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in recent years has been dubbed “wolf warrior” diplomacy, but a more apt description may be “internet troll” diplomacy
BANGKOK: With just a few months left in US President Joe Biden’s tenure, his predecessor appears to be fading from view in the American public’s mind. Donald Trump – and the media circus that followed him – seem to be moving on, at least for the time being, after being banned from most major social media sites and disappearing from the news.
The current administration seems to be intentionally contrasting Trump’s provocative bluster, both at home and abroad, with something a little more in line with Theodore Roosevelt’s famous motto to “speak softly but carry a big stick” – the understated “Sleepy Joe” has consistently chosen his words so as not to inflame domestic and international tensions, while at the same time maintaining a firm grip on power.
In the past, Trump and his followers appeared much more interested in fanning the flames of America’s most divisive cultural tensions than in actively advancing policy or governance.
Indeed, one of Trumpism’s central tenets seems to have been to deliberately seek to intensify existing tensions and problems for no other purpose than to please their most ardent supporters.
Trump’s political ideology, according to current online discourse, was about “owning the libs” rather than “governing efficiently” – in other words, infuriating Democrats and the left to the point of self-defeat and despair.
Trump’s communication strategy, as some have put it, was simply that of an internet troll. Although it appears to be waning in the United States, China’s state media and Ministry of Foreign Affairs seem to have doubled down on Trump-style public communication.
This phenomenon is most visible on Twitter, as one would expect. For those who miss seeing the 45th president of the United States tweeting unhinged, all-caps talking points and threatening international heads of state, a similar energy can still be found on Chinese officials’ and media personalities’ pages.
Take, for example, tweets sent out on March 28th, shortly after many Western democracies issued statements or took steps condemning China’s actions in Xinjiang.
Rather than responding with the eloquence and diplomacy that one might expect from someone in such a role, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying tweeted that The Donald may want to consider filing a lawsuit for impersonation: “Take care of yourself! XINJIANG, GET OFF MY LANE!!!
Not to be outdone, China’s consular general in Rio de Janeiro decided to target Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, addressing him as “kid” and accusing him of being a “running dog of the US,” with the odd taunt “Spendthrift!!!!” thrown in for good measure.
The eruption of Chinese officials on Twitter, if not a direct response to Trump’s Twitter-enabled rise to power, will certainly fit the timeline, as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2016 call to “tell China’s story well” has been accompanied by years of increasingly combative behavior by Chinese state-affiliated institutions and individuals on the US-based website.
It’s also worth noting how the Chinese state has reacted to common political events during Xi’s presidency. Given that Trumpism’s rise has proven to be a powerful force in both China and the United States, it’s not shocking that China’s top officials have tried to apply Trumpism’s blueprint for success to their own country.
After all, former Pakistan Deputy Chief of Mission Zhao Lijian was elevated to foreign ministry spokesperson after a well-publicized pattern of provocative tweeting, which he has continued in his current role.
The belligerence exhibited by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in recent years has been dubbed “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, a reference to the 2017 Rambo-like Wolf Warrior II film, which is still the highest-grossing film in Chinese box office history.
China’s own “Trumpist” diplomacy, or even “internet troll” diplomacy, may be a more apt description. It’s a strategy aimed at inflaming existing tensions, confirming the worst impulses within one’s own political base, and putting one’s nation and the planet at risk in the name of appeasing those instincts.
Beijing should also remember the track record of short-term success and long-term disappointment that has appeared to follow such a strategy in the past.
Following a narrow victory in 2016, Trump’s Republican Party endured successive electoral defeats in the 2018 congressional midterm elections and, finally, the White House in 2020, fraying many of America’s longstanding diplomatic relations.
Although China’s internal structure makes an accurate evaluation of public approval difficult, it is clear that its approach of internet troll diplomacy has been disastrous for the country’s global status, with favorability ratings among major countries nearing historic lows.
One has to wonder what China’s long game is in interacting with its global peers in such a way that so many of them are disgusted.
Trump is no longer in office, and his actions, like those of many trolls, have been considered inappropriate for the world’s main internet platforms. This may be a hint that China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to find a new communication channel.