In recent weeks, China launched a personnel reshuffle on the foreign policy front. Beijing appointed Qin Gang, former Chinese ambassador to the US, as the new foreign minister while former foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian was transferred to the department of boundary and ocean affairs.
Some political analysts view these changes as possible signs that China may be pivoting from the hardline “wolf-warrior diplomacy” that has characterized China’s foreign policy over the last few years. However, some experts say the personnel reshuffling doesn’t necessarily change the trajectory of China’s diplomatic approach. “China’s approach is still very much wolf-warrior diplomacy,” said Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. “I don’t see any substantial change, except Qin Gang will play the role of the soft-spoken one while Wang Yi will take a tough stance.”
Qin, who has long been viewed as a trusted aide to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, wrote in a piece published by The Washington Post on January 4 that the development of China-US relations will remain an important mission in his new position.
“I leave the United States more convinced that the door to China-US relations will remain open and cannot be closed,” he wrote, adding that relations shouldn’t be a zero-sum game and that the world is “wide enough for China and the United States to both develop and prosper.”
Despite the optimism expressed by Qin, tensions between China and the US remain high. Since former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August, China has increased its military activities around the island. The US, meanwhile, is also seeking to strengthen security and military ties with countries like Japan and the Philippines.
According to Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist at the Australian National University (ANU), Qin Gang is seen in some foreign policy circles as someone who is a wolf warrior but a much more tactful one. “He speaks the language that will be endearing to the western audience, but at the same time, he is not afraid of showing teeth as we’ve seen in some of his past speeches. [His appointment] is Beijing trying to rebalance the earlier era of wolf warrior diplomacy,” he told DW.
For Sari Arho Havren, a visiting researcher at the University of Helsinki specializing in China’s foreign relations, “It is a tactical move to buy time.” “…China needs to strengthen its economy and break out from the relative isolation the zero-COVID policies have put it in,” Havrén told DW.
Over the last three years, China has largely isolated itself from the rest of the world, as its top officials, including Xi, were consistently absent from major international events. However, since last September, Beijing has re-emerged on the international stage, with Xi going on several important trips to Central Asia and the Middle East and conducting one-on-one meetings with several world leaders during the G20 Summit last November.
Havren, from the University of Helsinki, told DW even though European countries have begun to understand the importance of diversifying their dependencies, especially on China, she is not confident that these countries understand what China is trying to achieve through its charm offensive. “Beijing is buying time to stabilize the situation at home while strengthening itself for the ongoing rivalry with the United States and its allies,” she said. “For them, it would be ideal if major European countries would keep or even deepen their dependencies on China and thus make them less likely to stand by the US in the time of potential conflict,” she added.