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Chinese Diplomats Behaving Badly

At a time when China’s reputation is suffering and its relationship with the United States is in freefall, the country’s diplomats should be focused on differentiating China’s foreign policy from that of US President Donald Trump. Yet they are doing just the opposite.

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – Chinese diplomats have long had a reputation as well-trained, colorless, and cautious professionals who pursue their missions doggedly without attracting much unfavorable attention. But a new crop of younger diplomats are ditching established diplomatic norms in favor of aggressively promoting China’s self-serving COVID-19 narrative. It is called “wolf warrior” diplomacy – and it is backfiring.

Shortly before the COVID-19 crisis erupted, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi instructed the country’s diplomatic corps to adopt a more assertive approach to defending China’s interests and reputation abroad. The pandemic – the scale of which may have been far smaller were it not for local Wuhan authorities’ early mistakes – presented a perfect opportunity to translate this directive into action.

And that is precisely what Chinese diplomats have been doing. For example, in mid-March, the foreign ministry’s newly appointed deputy spokesman, Zhao Lijian, promoted a conspiracy theory alleging that the US military brought the novel coronavirus to Wuhan, the pandemic’s first epicenter.