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Call it diplomacy with Chinese characteristics.
As Beijing increasingly views itself as locked in an ideological and political contest with the West, the foreign ministry no longer plays nice as often as it used to. Wolf warrior diplomacy — named after two nationalistic action movies depicting a Chinese army hero fighting villains in Asia and Africa — has become a trend, and not just in Washington or on the ministry podium back in Beijing. The pack is also proliferating in Europe.
POLITICO takes a look at who howls the loudest.
China’s ambassador to France is the dominant alpha of wolf warrior diplomats. His most recent performance revealed Beijing’s plan to “re-educate” Taiwan’s public after China brings the self-ruling democratic island back under its control.
His remarks to BFM TV came at the height of military tension last week over Taiwan following the visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“After the reunification, we’ll do re-education,” he said. “I am sure that at that time, the people of Taiwan will be in favor of reunification again. They will become patriotic again.”
He then defended his use of the controversial term “re-education” — widely associated with Beijing’s incarceration of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang — blaming Taipei for “indoctrinating” people to be anti-Chinese.
It’s not the first time the 57-year-old’s attacks raised eyebrows in Paris. During the coronavirus pandemic, the embassy under his watch started publishing disinformation about how France was handling the virus, saying at one point that nursing home staff were abandoning those in their care to die. The French foreign ministry summoned him — but more insults from the Chinese embassy were to follow.
Last year, the embassy launched an online attack against Antoine Bondaz, a China scholar at Foundation for Strategic Research, calling him “petite frappe,” (delinquent nobody), “hyène folle” (mad hyena) and “troll idéologique” (ideological troll) over his comments about Taiwan. Lu was, again, summoned.
For Lu himself, the “wolf warrior” tag is a badge of honor.
China’s top envoy to London is another ambassador at the vanguard of fending off Taiwan sympathizers — especially as British prime ministerial hopeful Liz Truss vows to help Taiwan defend itself.
“We call on the U.K. not to underestimate the high level of sensitivity of the Taiwan question, and abide by the promises they’ve made,” he told a rare press conference at the embassy. “Don’t follow the U.S. to play with fire, for those who play with fire shall burn themselves!”
On Wednesday, Zheng was summoned to Britain’s foreign office on instruction from Foreign Secretary Truss.
Zheng was quick to settle into a political storm when he started his job last year. He was barred from entering parliament, after a decision made by Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the House of Commons, based on the Chinese government’s sanctions against MPs who had been critical of the Communist government.
Still, British lawmakers say Zheng’s rhetoric is a step down from his immediate predecessor, Liu Xiaoming. “The reason why there’s a warrior fighting wolf is because there are wolves in this world,” Liu said in 2020. “I myself will and I also encourage my diplomats at the embassy to speak out, to set the record straight.”
As the foreign ministry’s special envoy for European affairs, Wu’s job is to meet Europe’s diplomats in China and occasionally tour around the Continent — only to show how little he cares about their political system, and its democratic divisions.
Top EU diplomats find, for example, that they are being stalked by the wolf pack for utterances from the European Parliament, which takes a far harder line on human rights abuses than the EU’s non-confrontational European External Action Service.
“You are telling us that you have nothing to do with the European Parliament. That’s not OK for China,” Wu reportedly told the EU’s Ambassador to China Nicolas Chapuis, according to South China Morning Post. “Whatever the separation of powers in the EU, we recognize only one.”
Wu, 70, is a seasoned diplomat and a former under-secretary-general at the U.N. Previously he served as the assistant foreign minister in charge of Europe.
According to a diplomat who knew him back then, “Wu’s very assertive and much more so than his contemporaries, considering that Wolf Warrior wasn’t a trend yet at that time.”
The Chinese ambassador to Germany knows exactly where to bite, when he needs to.
When the Berlin establishment was floating the idea of tightening its grip over Chinese telecoms giant Huawei three years ago, because of security concerns, he went straight for the jugular and made a thinly veiled non-threat-that-was-actually-a-threat to punish Germany’s hallowed car industry, which is deeply strategically vulnerable because of its China operations.
“Can we also say that German cars are not safe because we’re in a position to manufacture our own cars?” Wu said, before adding: “No, that would be pure protectionism.”
He also attacked then Foreign Minister Heiko Maas personally when he met with Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong in 2019. “It is a shame that Germany allowed a Hong Kong separatist to visit and meet with political leaders, including the foreign minister himself,” Wu said.
Observers noted that he’s since toned things down a bit, but they expect the embassy in Berlin to get assertive again when Germany unveils a new China strategy later this year.
Gui may have left his post as ambassador to Sweden almost a year ago, but Swedish diplomats still have vivid memories of this unforgettable pack leader. He was envoy during a period of intense Stockholm-Beijing tensions that originally centered on China’s detention of Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai and spiraled into restrictions on Huawei and ZTE in providing 5G infrastructure.
Gui was one of the fiercest Wolf Warrior diplomats not only in Europe, but within China’s entire diplomatic system. Sweden’s opposition lawmakers repeatedly demanded he be listed as persona non grata.
Perhaps his most famous offensive was going after journalists who wrote critically about his country, letting them know they were the pipsqueaks.
Comparing Swedish media to a “lightweight boxer,” he said: “It’s like a 48kg lightweight boxer who is trying to provoke a boxing match with an 86kg heavyweight, and the 86kg boxer wants to be nice and protect the 48kg boxer, so he tells him to go away and watch out for himself.
“But the lightweight boxer doesn’t listen, and instead continues to provoke the heavyweight, and even forces his way into his home. So what choice does the heavyweight boxer have?” he said, according to Swedish media.