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Monday, June 14, 2021

How China is attempting to become more ‘loveable’

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China is looking to create a less assertive image (file photo) - Naohiko Hatta/Pool Photo via AP, File

China is looking to create a less assertive image (file photo) – Naohiko Hatta/Pool Photo via AP, File

China needs to create an image of a “trustworthy, lovable and respectable” China by improving its communication style, Chinese president Xi Jinping has said.

Beijing has caused consternation in various countries in recent years for its strong brand of “wolf warrior” diplomacy, whereby Chinese diplomats are confrontational in defending China’s interests abroad.

Signalling a possible shift away from this strategy, Mr Xi said that China needs to improve the way it communicates to a global audience.

“We must find the right tone, be openly confident but also humble and modest, and strive to create a trustworthy, lovable and respectable image of China,” he said in remarks carried by the official Xinhua News Agency.

While China’s international voice and influence had improved, there was still work to be done to be able to “guide international public opinion,” he told a study session of the political bureau of the Communist Party’s Central Committee on Monday.

He added that China must improve the way it tells its stories to help foreigners understand the Communist Party and the way it “strives for the happiness of the Chinese people”.

Under President Xi, Beijing’s diplomats have abandoned their low profiles to become more boisterous on the world stage.

In one of the most notable examples of wolf warrior diplomacy, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted a fake image of a smiling Australian soldier about to slaughter an Afghan child. The tweet in November last year came amid high tensions between China and Australia.

The term’s origins are firmly patriotic. It comes from a 2015 Chinese action film, “Wolf Warrior”, in which a Chinese soldier ventures into a warzone in Africa and saves hundreds of people from Western mercenaries.

The 2017 sequel, “Wolf Warrior 2”, had the tagline: “Though far away, anyone who affronts China will pay”. Alexander Pevzner, who researches China’s political and media communication at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said it was too early to tell whether Mr Xi’s comments would lead to a less assertive tone in China’s diplomacy.

“But I do believe the comments are an indication that Beijing is worried that the assertive tone is not buying any new friends for China and is counterproductive,” he said.

There has been a lot of criticism of wolf warrior diplomacy among Chinese scholars, and Mr Xi’s comments are “perhaps a sign the criticism has (got) through”, Mr Pevzner said.

“China sees a backlash from the West,” for example in the European Parliament’s recent freezing of discussions on an EU-China investment agreement, he said.

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