Throughout 2023, Beijing’s diplomats have been irking U.S. allies across Asia
SEOUL, South Korea — China’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy has come back to bite Beijing again.
The South Korean government has given China’s ambassador to Seoul a dressing-down after remarks he made during a meeting with the leader of the opposition party.
In recent years, remarks by Chinese envoys have raised eyebrows in Australia, the Philippines and Japan. The brazen style of communication offering sharp defenses of national interest has earned Chinese diplomats the nickname “wolf warriors.”
During his meeting with Mr. Lee, Mr. Xing suggested that South Korea and China should join hands to confront Japan over its handling of the Fukushima nuclear plant, devastated by a tsunami a decade ago. Japan’s plan to release coolant water from its shuttered plant into the Pacific has sparked regional unease and demands for transparency.
Japan and the International Atomic Energy Agency say the water, which is treated before it is released, is safe, but major concerns have been raised, particularly in neighboring South Korea.
Mr. Lee and his party are outspoken on the Fukushima issue and are fiercely critical of Mr. Yoon’s signature foreign policy initiative to improve long-strained relations with Japan. The policy has received strong support from the United States, which seeks to upgrade trilateral defense cooperation with its two key regional allies against China and North Korea.
Wading into the South Korean domestic dispute, Mr. Xing warned South Korea not to lean too heavily toward the United States.
“China-Korea relations have been facing external challenges,” he told Mr. Lee. “While the U.S. is increasing pressure on China, some bet the U.S. wins and China loses. But this is a wrong judgment.”
During Mr. Yoon’s Washington summit with President Biden in April, Seoul was granted a voice in U.S. nuclear weapons deployments and potential use on the long-divided Korean Peninsula in return for a commitment not to seek its own nuclear weapons arsenal. Polls show that many South Koreans support the policy.
South Korea and the U.S. are celebrating the 70th year of their alliance, sealed after the 1953 close of the Korean War, when both countries fought Chinese forces.
China was not backing down after the South Korean protests. At a regular Foreign Ministry briefing Friday, spokesman Wang Wenbin said any stresses in South Korean-Chinese relations were not Beijing’s fault and that the ambassador was only doing his job in meeting with the opposition leader and government officials.
On Sunday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry revealed that it had called in South Korean Ambassador Chung Jae-ho over the weekend to lodge an official complaint over Seoul’s criticism of the Xing meeting, The Associated Press reported.
Enter the ‘Wolf Warriors’
Amid tense relations with the U.S., Chinese diplomacy under President Xi Jinping has been characterized by an unvarnished, unapologetic defense of Chinese nationalism and rights, even when the blunt talk has proved counterproductive.
“Chinese officials have more openly expressed controversial thoughts, often with negative ramifications for bilateral relations with other countries,” said a 2021 essay by the National Bureau of Asian Research, analyzing what it called a “shift” in Chinese diplomatic practice. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, this behavior has become known as ‘wolf warrior diplomacy.’”
The term “wolf warriors” was borrowed from a Rambo-esque Chinese action-movie franchise. The Xi government signaled earlier this year that it was considering withdrawing from the more aggressive approach after a string of Foreign Ministry personnel moves. Most notably, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, one of the most outspoken and caustic of the wolf warriors, was shifted in January to a far less visible post in the department that manages the country’s land and sea borders.
The dust-up in Seoul last week was just the latest in a string of regional brouhahas sparked by Chinese diplomats in recent months.
In April, China’s ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian, discussing Manila’s plan to grant U.S. troops more basing sites, appeared to make a veiled threat about the safety of some 150,000 Philippine workers in Taiwan.
“How dare he threaten us,” said Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who characterized Mr. Huang’s statements as “disgraceful.” “He has no business being a diplomat if he is unable to engage with us in a respectful and dignified manner.”
Beijing’s top envoy in Australia sparked controversy while criticizing warming ties with Japan. In January, Ambassador Xiao Qian informed surprised Australians that Japan had “invaded” Australia and warned that “history might repeat itself.”
Last month, the ambassador held a press conference in which he said the new AUKUS defense partnership of Australia, Britain and the U.S. is “not a good idea itself — and the nuclear submarine is an even worse one.”
Japan, the most critical U.S. ally in the region, has been the target of some undiplomatic broadsides from China’s top envoy.
“Should some people from the Japanese side choose the beggar-thy-neighbor approach rather than a friendly partnership and take part in a new Cold War to contain China, bilateral relations will only suffer new wounds when the old ones are yet to be healed,” Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, formerly his country’s ambassador to the United States, told a press conference in Beijing on May 7.
The “old wounds” were Japanese atrocities committed during World War II.
Source: Washington Post