Late last month, the EU, acting in concert with the US, UK and Canada, imposed sanctions on four obscure Chinese officials for alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Muslims have been systematically detained in recent years.
China immediately retaliated, imposing counter-sanctions on 10 European citizens, including five MEPs from five different political parties.
In doing so, President Xi Jinping’s administration threatened a controversial trade deal reached on an interim basis last year between the EU and China, despite US opposition. Sanctioned parliamentary parties are now reluctant to start reviewing the deal unless Xi’s counter-sanctions are lifted.
Before Beijing imposed sanctions on MEPs, it was expected that the European Parliament would someday ratify Xi’s geopolitical coup, which enjoyed strong support from Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.
But when Merkel and Xi spoke on Wednesday, the official record of China’s appeal did not mention the trade deal or Xinjiang.
“We have had seven years of negotiations for this agreement,” said Joerg Wuttke, head of the European Chamber of Commerce in China. “Now it looks like it will take another seven years.”
The Xinjiang sanctions exchange is just the latest diplomatic dispute in which the pugnacious “wolf warrior” officials of Xi’s Foreign Ministry are embroiled in. Chinese diplomats are arguing with countries and organizations with which Beijing had relatively good relations during Donald Trump’s one-term presidency. But they express no regrets.
Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, set the tone for the Beijing clashes with a lengthy lecture to his US counterpart on March 18 in Alaska, where he told Antony Blinken that no country will “ever talk to China again.” in a strong position ”.
Victor Gao, a former Chinese diplomat who worked for Yang, said his former boss’s rant was “revolutionary.” “Chinese leaders believe they have momentum and time is on their side,” he added. “Nothing can stop their ascent.”
Chinese state media contrasted Yang’s comments with paintings by foreign colonial powers towering over him of late Qing Dynasty officials, who were repeatedly humiliated in a series of conflicts with enemies. European, Japanese and American.
The country’s “century of humiliation”, according to the Chinese Communist Party, did not end until after its revolutionary victory in 1949.
“China today is not the China of 1840,” Xu Guixiang, a senior party official in Xinjiang, said last week. “The days of Chinese intimidated by the West are over. We are no longer an easy target. . . We will fight tooth for tooth until the end.
Many Chinese officials viewed Trump’s years in power as an unprecedented “strategic opportunity” to build bridges with frustrated Washington allies. But analysts said, like Trump, these officials also believed the Chinese Communist Party could benefit nationally from diplomatic clashes.
“Flaming nationalism is good for strengthening the legitimacy and authority of the central government and [Xi]Said Yun Sun, a Chinese foreign policy expert at the Stimson Center in Washington.
“It all comes down to [Xi’s] mentality and the path it has mapped out, ”she added, especially as the CCP is preparing to celebrate the centenary of its founding in July. “The party must demonstrate its strength and its achievements. A soft approach will not work. “
Beijing last week challenged the words of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization who had previously been criticized for his reluctance to face Beijing. Tedros said Chinese officials withheld information from WHO experts investigating the origins of the coronavirus.
“After coming under pressure from Europeans, Canadians and Americans, Tedros did not want to give China a pass because it would have caused a crisis with the West,” said a diplomat involved in the deliberations of WHO.
“Meanwhile, the Chinese had to stick to their rhetoric that ‘[Covid] is a bigger problem, we had it and we dealt with it, but now we have to look elsewhere [for its origin]. They also have bats in Myanmar and Laos, ”added the diplomat.
“It also has to be seen in the context of what had just happened in Alaska, where they said not to lecture us and talk to us.”
Chinese diplomats recently clashed with Manila, too, over an alleged incursion by Chinese fishing vessels into Philippine territorial waters, as well as from Tokyo over Japan’s concerns over the Xi administration’s policies in Xinjiang. and Hong Kong.
Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister, on Monday warned his Japanese counterpart not to join US efforts targeting China.
“The will of a certain superpower does not represent the international community,” Wang said. “As a neighbor, Japan must show at least a minimum of respect for China’s internal affairs.”
Steve Tsang, director of the Soas China Institute in London, sees no end to such disputes. “Xi has repeatedly stated that Chinese officials and diplomats must draw their swords to defend China’s dignity,” he said. “The Wolf Warriors are only acting on Xi’s call to arms.”
Additional reporting by Xinning Liu in Beijing