HONG KONG (Reuters Breakingviews) – The Chinese government has taken the microphone from hardline Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian and transferred it to another department. China has continued to soften its stance in recent days and tensions with its major trading partners, including Australia, Japan and the United States, are starting to melt away. However, it will take years to repair China’s diplomatic and economic gains that have been hurt by Mr. Zhao and others, dubbed the “Wolf Warrior” diplomats.
Professional diplomats will be delighted with Mr. Cho’s transfer. Over the past three years, Mr. Cho has spewed hostile remarks against the West at media briefings and contributed to conspiracy theories about the novel coronavirus. While this transfer doesn’t amount to a demotion on paper, it’s actually a personnel change that silences Mr. Cho. Earlier, China appointed Qin Gang, a former ambassador to the United States, as foreign minister. Hata has already called for improved relations with the United States.
However, the exact reason for Zhao’s firing has not yet been clarified. In late November last year, when China was in the throes of lockdown, his wife posted a blog that spoke passionately about life in Europe, causing a “little flame” on domestic social media.
Mr. Zhao was also ridiculed for appearing unprepared and unable to answer a Reuters reporter’s question about protests in major Chinese cities over the lockdown.
Chinese moderates have criticized the incompetence of “wolf warrior diplomats”. For example, hardliners have underestimated American dissatisfaction with President Xi Jinping, leading Chinese companies to fall victim to a barrage of tariffs, sanctions and embargoes. He assumed that the United States would collapse at any moment because of his extreme anti-Americanism. Based on this “wishful thinking”, many hardliners believed that Russia would also win painlessly and quickly in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The rise of hardliners like Zhao coincided with the decline in the quality of foreign direct investment (FDI) in China. Job creation projects have decreased and hedge funds masquerading as FDI have increased. The government has imposed severe sanctions on members of the European Parliament, making it impossible to conclude an investment treaty with the EU.
While the West showed the power of democracy without resorting to force in the war in Ukraine, China’s efforts to contain the coronavirus have failed and its economy is crumbling. No wonder the war wolves roar has come down
However, Chinese policy has repeatedly swung between extremes. Wolves that have been sent back to their nest will certainly reappear.
* Zhao Lijian, Deputy Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, has been transferred to the position of Deputy Director General of the Bureau of Border and Maritime Affairs, responsible for border affairs. Mr. Zhao was famous for being the most outspoken of the “Wolf Warrior” diplomats.
(The author is a columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. This column is based on the author’s personal opinion.)