How not to win friends and influence people, Xi Jinping

Wolf warriors and a lovable China.

Xi Jinping wants to be your friend but do you trust him enough to offer your friendship?  

By Lee Kok Leong, Executive Editor, Maritime Fairtrade

On June 1, the General Secretary of China Communist Party (CCP) said at a study session for top leadership that the party’s propaganda machine has to tell the Chinese narrative in a positive way and present the image of a “credible, lovable, and respectable China”.  Xi will have you believe that he wants “nothing but the Chinese people’s well-being”.  However, precedents show that Xi’s words and actions do not match and there is a tendency for him to say the opposite of what he will do.  In fact, many Asian countries and businesses wish to have a good relationship with China but Xi is making it hard to do so.

Xi’s remarks came amid increasing calls to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 virus and a record high negative perception of China in many parts of the world.  He may be feeling isolated, frustrated and embarrassed that despite his best effort at changing the narrative, the lab leak theory that the virus emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology gained traction and credibility.  

Indeed, if Xi is adamant about China’s innocence, he should be open and transparent and doing all he can to dispel suspicion.  Instead, he is obfuscating the investigation.  When Australia first raised the call for an independent inquiry into China’s handling of the coronavirus when the pandemic became an international issue back in April 2020, China was quick to respond with boycotts and tariffs of Australian produce.  Then, in February 2021, China refused to provide a WHO team with raw data on early COVID-19 cases.  

These are just two examples among many others where Xi, whether he realizes it or not, is effectively casting back suspicion on the CCP.  Rational observers will have expected Xi to welcome all the help that he can get and use the independent panel to exonerate China.  But with the CCP’s extreme sensitivity to any mention, let alone investigation, it is suspected that there may be a kernel of truth in the lab leak theory.

A universal right to know

It is interesting and informative that the US has moved the investigation from public health scientists to intelligence officials.  On May 26, President Biden said he had asked intelligence officials to get to the bottom of the origins of the coronavirus within 90 days.  British intelligence has also joined in the investigation.  The intelligence community certainly has much better and stronger resources and methods at their disposal but equally important is that by announcing this publicly, the US is in fact sending a message to dissidents, anti-Xi factions, conscientious party insiders and any other potential whistleblowers. 

With the huge number of death and financial damage caused by COVID-19, the world has the right to know and understand how and where the virus originated to prevent the pandemic from happening again.  The world has the responsibility to once and for all, confirm or eliminate the lab leak theory and it is also to the advantage of China to do the same.  Xi’s words are meaningless given that large number of lives are at stake.  

Also, it should not be forgotten that in early January 2020, even as the CCP officially confirmed the emergence of the virus which is capable of human-to-human transmission and put Wuhan in a lockdown on January 23, the authority has by then already let some five million residents flew into 382 cities around the world.  Critics have long maintained that the party in fact knew about the virus as early as November 2019.  

On May 23 2021, it was revealed that a classified US intelligence report independently discovered that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019, months before China disclosed the Covid-19 pandemic.  So, is it possible that the CCP already know in November 2019 of the human-to-human-transmission virus and yet allow Chinese citizens to travel overseas which resulted in a worldwide catastrophe?  The world needs an answer to this question too.

Xi’s unrelentless wolf warriors

The phenomenon of the wolf warriors started with Xi when he took power in 2012 and it is an impediment to the image of a “credible, lovable, and respectable China”.  It is speculated that despite what Xi said, this phenomenon will not go away anytime soon.  He is ambitious and wanted to craft a personality of cult in the mold of Mao Zedong to consolidate his control and extend his rule indefinitely and the wolf warriors serve his agenda by projecting his power overseas with a view of messaging to the local audience.  

Over the past years, wolf warriors have taken to social media and press briefings to insult and attack countries that are perceived to be not supportive enough of China’s position and others that do not toe the party lines.  Wolf warriors are highly nationalistic and combative and they do tend to damage diplomatic relationships with other countries and alienate what few friends and allies that China has.

Wolf warriors are driven by fear as well as ambition in what they say as they go about executing Xi’s wish to assert China’s interest forcefully on the global stage and by doing so, they can advance their careers.  Under Xi’s push of Maoism, wolf warriors are forced not to identify with universal values and the rules of law and oftentimes, they give off the impression that what they say is devoid of fact.

The latest illustrative incident on May 31 involved Malaysia scrambling jets to intercept 16 Chinese military aircraft flying into the country’s maritime zone within 60 nautical miles off Sarawak state of Malaysian Borneo in the hotly contested South China Sea.  Malaysia, a country seen as being China-friendly, complained that this is an “intrusion” but a wolf warrior insisted that the “warplanes had been conducting routine training in accordance with international law.” 

Moral vs profit

The prospect of China becoming the biggest economy with the best military in the world under a totalitarian regime is a nightmare.  Xi’s ultimate goal, after consolidating power at home, is to create a Sinocentric new world order and democracy gets in the way.  Are Asia and other free countries prepare to defend the universal values they hold dear?  Of course, there is nothing wrong if a country or business has to align with China to receive economic and financial benefits.  Nevertheless, democracy should not be negotiable.  Democracy is essential to the free society’s way of life and once it is lost, it will be next to impossible to get it back.

On May 25, Hollywood actor John Cena apologized profusely to China after he called Taiwan a country but the Chinese fans are not so forgiving, rejecting his apology as insincere with many calling for the boycott of his movies.  This incident has yet again highlighted the danger of Xi using trade as a political tool.  Cena is one of many celebrities and companies that have to kowtow for stepping on political minefields and crossing so-called red lines.  

Xi is convinced that the West is now in decline and that China’s time has come to take on a bigger role in global affairs, especially in Asia where he sees it as naturally falling under his sphere of influence.  He is using Maoism to coalesce his domestic support and project power overseas through his wolf warriors.  

However, Xi is living under the illusion that he is so powerful that he can threaten and control everything and everyone with money.  The truth is, as the ideological chasm is so wide between the CCP and free, democratic countries, sooner or later, people will stand up for their principles, values, and beliefs regardless of money and profits.  They may find more meaningful reward in life.  

Image credit: Drop of Light / Shutterstock.com

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Lee Kok Leong

Lee Kok Leong

Kok Leong, executive editor, has overall editorial responsibility for the direction and focus of Maritime Fairtrade. He has two decades of working experiences, including holding senior regional roles in business-to-business (B2B) print and online publications. He enjoys his work as a journalist, and regards it as a calling.

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