China’s bully-boy tactics are destined to backfire

 Xi Jinping
The Chinese Communist Party’s strategy for responding to the pandemic consists, in essence, of lying about the true extent of Beijing’s responsibility for causing the initial outbreak, and then launching a propaganda offensive against those who dare to question the Chinese narrative

China’s communist rulers may believe that deploying their “wolf warrior” diplomats is the best way of winning the coronavirus propaganda war, but Beijing’s crude bully-boy tactics risk making the country’s predicament far worse. The Chinese Communist Party’s strategy for responding to the pandemic consists, in essence, of lying about the true extent of Beijing’s responsibility for causing the initial outbreak, and then launching a propaganda offensive against those who dare to question the Chinese narrative.

The success of this approach, at least to Chinese eyes, has led to members of Beijing’s diplomatic community being lionised in the state media, to the extent that officials like Zhao Lijian, the foreign ministry spokesman, are being compared with the heroes of the cult Wolf Warrior films, where elite fighters with the People’s Liberation Army vanquish their American foes.

Mr Zhao has been the driving force behind the distasteful conspiracy theory that the virus was brought to China2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app by a visiting delegation of US soldiers, while Chinese diplomats from London to Washington have enthusiastically embraced the rallying cry of Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, to adopt a “fighting spirit.”

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appChina’s aggressive posture extends beyond the world of diplomacy, with its military stoking tensions in the South China Sea following a series of recent incidents, including the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat by a Chinese patrol vessel and complaints about Chinese misconduct coming from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The problem for China is that, while this more combative approach might appeal to a domestic audience, it is proving to be counterproductive elsewhere, not least in the US, where the Trump administration is determined to hold Beijing to account.

US warships have been ordered to sail through the South China Sea to assert the principle of freedom of navigation, and Donald Trump has demanded the intelligence establishment conduct an exhaustive investigation into the Chinese outbreak. American officials are focusing on whether there is evidence that it originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app, a research establishment, and not a wet wildlife market as Chinese authorities claimed.

Australia, which has become increasingly alarmed at Beijing’s more assertive policy towards south-east Asia, is another country that is determined to hold Beijing to account. An intelligence report leaked to the Australian media this week accused China of committing “an assault on transparency” by suppressing information about the early days of the coronavirus outbreak leading to the “endangerment of other countries”.

The US and Australia, together with Britain, Canada and New Zealand, are all members of the elite Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network, although British officials have sought to distance themselves from some of the conclusions reached by the Australian report, which they say was not sanctioned by Five Eyes. Even so, with global pressure mounting on China, Britain must add its voice to those countries calling on Beijing to provide more transparency.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appInternational disquiet about Beijing’s conduct has certainly not been lost on the country’s communist rulers. A report presented by the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a think tank with close links to China’s intelligence establishment, has concluded that global anti-China sentiment is at its highest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Mounting anger over China’s behaviour is likely to have a negative impact on the Chinese economy, not least because the pandemic has highlighted the over-dependence of global supply chains on Chinese manufacturers.

It will also reignite the debate over the wisdom of continuing to do business with companies like Huawei, the telecoms giant that has close ties with the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC). As the Telegraph reported yesterday, the UK Government’s decision to allow Huawei access to the new 5G telecoms network has prompted the White House to launch a major review of whether spy planes, intelligence officials and other US assets need to be withdrawn. The investigation has been initiated by concerns that Huawei’s access to the network could compromise operations undertaken by American spy agencies based in Britain.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appBoris Johnson has consistently defended his decision to allow Huawei continued access to the 5G network, arguing that there are sufficient safeguards in place to ensure it does not compromise the country’s critical national security infrastructure. But Mr Johnson’s confidence in being able to ban Huawei from “core” parts of the network is not shared by many Tory MPs who, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, succeeded in mounting the biggest Commons rebellion of his premiership on the issue.

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appDowning Street can no longer afford to ignore these perfectly valid concerns, for the hostile response of Beijing’s communist rulers to the pandemic has demonstrated beyond any doubt that China is simply not a country the rest of the world can trust.