China and Wolf Warrior Diplomacy


The term Wolf Warrior comes the Chinese movie of the same name. The second movie in the franchise, Wolf Warrior 2 is the highest grossing movie in China ever. A third movie, Wolf Warrior III is currently in development. The first two movies are standard action movies, the only difference between the movies we’ve seen and these is that the heroes in these are Chinese.

Over the past decade China’s diplomacy has changed, from the 1970’s China had made efforts to fit more into the established international order. Now China wants the international order to fit in with what it wants. This change in emphasis has come to be called Wolf Warrior Diplomacy.  A more aggressive and uncompromising attitude to diplomacy and I think a more traditionally Chinese approach to how it sees its place in the world.

The word China means ‘the middle kingdom’ and traditionally that meant that China was at the centre of the world and everything revolved around it. China was quite literally in the middle. All other countries and people were on the outside. China may not have set out to conquer the world, but at the same time it did consider itself superior to everyone else. Which meant that it expected that other countries, all other countries, pay tribute. By tribute I mean pay money or give other goods to China for free, in exchange for a friendly relationship.

I think that China has returned to that way of thinking, to the idea that China is the centre of the world and that the rest of the world should revolve around them. In theory the current international order is built upon the idea that all countries are equal. But at the same time that the great powers are greater and can do things that lesser powers cannot do. China now regards itself as a great power, as do most other countries. But for China that does not mean joining the international order as a great power, instead it means that as a great power it can transform the international order.

China can return to being the middle kingdom.

One of the interesting things about modern China is that while most acknowledge its power and wealth, that does not seem to translate into respect. The only friend it has in the world is North Korea. Certainly it has good relations with other countries, but when the chips are down and China needs sincere friendship who else could it rely on?

The truth is that Chinese diplomacy is linked to its economic success and that success has often been ruthless. It promises friendship and traps countries into debt. It threatens its neighbours on a regular basis. Which I believe comes down to a series of questions that China and the world ask but to which there are no easy answers, such as:

  • Is China a rich country or a poor country?
  • Is China a strong country or a weak country?
  • Is China stable or unstable?

The thing is that all of these points are true at the same time, China is both rich and poor, stable and unstable, strong and weak. Because it has not developed the same all over the country at the same time. It is unequal and in some ways bizarrely unequal. Just to give one example, there is very little of a social safety net because they just cannot afford it. I roll my eyes whenever I see a story about China developing a new reserve currency for the world, a rival to the US dollar. Because the reason the US dollar is the worlds reserve currency is not simply America’s wealth and military might. It is because property rights are respected in the United States. Certainly there have been times in recent decades when property rights have been usurped, But those have not affected the vast majority of people and nearly everyone can still trust that their property is protected. In China that is not true in the slightest.

I remember having a boss who had married a Chinese women, she had been successful in China and she had given it all up to move to Australia. Her husband who liked money, found it hard to believe that she would give it all up. But as she explained, in China you own things because you’re allowed to and once they take away their permission then everything that you thought you owned is taken from you. Nothing is secure.

That is also how China views things on the international stage. That it is China’s right to give and to take away. If China continues on its current course then it seems that some kind of confrontation will occur. The West’s view that every country is sovereign and equal and China’s view that it is the centre of the world will be hard to reconcile.

China is still very poor – 20 minutes long.

Originally published at Upon Hope. You can find Mark’s Subscribestar here.