01/10/2023, 13.59
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Beijing removes Zhao Lijian, the 'wolf warrior' spokesman

by Li Qiang

He is the best known and fiercest face of Chinese diplomacy. Moved to another post. He had accused the US of creating and spreading Covid in China. Xi Jinping probably wants diplomacy that is aggressive in substance and less so in form. The timid attempts to mend fences with Washington and its allies.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Foreign Ministry will no longer have as its face Zhao Lijian, the undisputed leader of the "walf warriors", the most aggressive fringe of Chinese diplomacy. The 50-year-old former spokesman has become one of the three deputy directors of the department dealing with border management.

According to many observers, this is a removal disguised as a promotion. Western diplomats have always seen Zhao as a thorn in their side. In his press conferences he has often attacked the US and its allies, going so far as to describe Covid-19 as a virus created by Washington and spread by its athletes at the 2019 Wuhan Military Games.

His 'departure', coupled with the appointment of Qin Gang (ambassador to the US) as the new foreign minister, seems to be intended to curb the belligerent 'wolves' of Chinese diplomacy. Beijing's aggressive rhetoric and geopolitical activism have not intimidated the West, which, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine shows, is capable of pulling itself together in the face of strategic threats.

Analysts observe that Xi Jinping does not so much want to change the substance of national foreign policy as its form. Scenes such as the Hong Kong demonstrator being roughed up by Chinese consulate staff in Manchester, including Consul General Zheng Xiyuan, have not helped the image of Beijing diplomacy.

Qin Gang is in all likelihood called upon to mend fences with the US, albeit with a view to strategic competition: the number one objective is to put an end to the trade war with Washington, which has continued even with Trump's exit from the scene. The same applies to the deteriorated relations with Australia, Japan and the EU as to the border disputes with India.

In all this, the more nationalist diplomats will not disappear from the scene, various experts explain: they will be kept on the sidelines, ready to come in handy. In October, on the sidelines of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China, Vice Foreign Minister Ma Xhaoxu remarked that "Chinese diplomacy will continue to show a fighting spirit, to improve its fighting ability, always ready in the front line to defend national interest and dignity".

Zhao aside, the other star of the wolf warriors remains on the scene for the time being: the Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye. In August, he declared that the inhabitants of Taiwan will have to be 're-educated' when the 'rebellious' province is reunited with mainland China. Instead, in February 2021, he sent a letter instructing French Senator Alain Richard not to visit Taipei the following summer. The move had led to a harsh response from the Foreign Ministry in Paris.

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