China reassigns combative ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomat

time:2023-05-28 18:51:57 source:The Washington Post

A controversial Chinese diplomat who epitomised China's "Wolf Warrior" approach to diplomacy has been moved to a less prominent post.

Ex-foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian is now deputy head of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs.

He will help manage China's maritime and land boundaries. It is unclear when he took up his new role.

A high profile figure, Mr Zhao often hosted the ministry's media briefings.

The reason for his unexpected transfer is unclear. He was considered the leading light of "Wolf Warrior" diplomacy, defined by its confrontational, combative approach, a stark contrast to the previously restrained brand of Chinese diplomacy.

It is named after the highly popular, often jingoistic, movie franchise about the adventures of a Chinese special forces soldier.

In three years as foreign ministry spokesman Mr Zhao often courted controversy with his tweets.

In 2020, Mr Zhao suggested that the coronavirus which causes Covid was manufactured by the US military and brought to China.

That same year, he set off a diplomatic furore when he posted a doctored image of an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child.

The year before, former US national security adviser Susan Rice called the 50-year-old a "racist disgrace" after he fired off a series of provocative tweets about race relations in the US.

Mr Zhao's reassignment coincides with China's former ambassador to the US Qin Gang becoming China's new foreign minister.

However some observers have cautioned against seeing Mr Zhao's move as signifying that China was moving away from combative diplomacy.

Writing on his Sinocism blog, US journalist Bill Bishop said the approach appeared to be a "fundamental tenet" of leader Xi Jinping's style of diplomacy and while Mr Zhao was "one of the cruder mouthpieces" there was no evidence so far of any broader shift.

Some internet users have also speculated that the social media posts of Mr Zhao's wife Tang Tianru may have something to do with his apparent demotion.

Multiple photos of Ms Tang apparently attending public events in Beijing without a mask were posted on the account at a time when China was subject to the strictest Covid curbs in the world.

Pictures also purportedly showed Ms Tang travelling in Germany despite the travel restrictions then in force.

Last November, Mr Zhao was uncharacteristically caught at a loss for words when asked in a press conference whether China would continue its zero-Covid policies amid rare protests in the country. After a long pause, he asked for the question to be repeated before saying that the query did "not reflect what actually happened".

The role of foreign ministry spokesperson is considered to be a prominent role that has in the past led to further promotion.

China's newly-appointed foreign minister Mr Qin served as spokesperson before he was promoted inside the ministry and then given the prestigious US ambassadorship.

Meanwhile Mr Zhao's ex-colleague Hua Chunying, who has been a spokesperson since 2012, was promoted to assistant minister of foreign affairs in 2021.

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