On May 31, Chinese leader Xi Jinping ordered an adjustment to his foreign propaganda at a Political Bureau study session. On the same day, Foreign Minister Wang Yi publicly admitted difficulties in China-Europe relations and said he would “calmly reflect on the current difficulties.” There are many signs that the regime is adjusting its diplomacy and propaganda toward Europe. But this adjustment is once again rooted in Xi’s misjudgment of the situation, without any fundamental change in his dictatorship.
In a press conference in Guiyang, joined by Peter Szijjarto, the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Wang Yi, the czar of the wolf warriors (Chinese diplomats using confrontational diplomacy) said, “We all agree that we should pay attention to and calmly reflect on the current difficulties in China-Europe relations.”
This statement was said in a rarely heard softer tone than what usually comes from the regime, but it failed to reveal what was being reflected upon.
Characteristics of Xi’s Centralized Power System
The regime’s central “top-level design” has become increasingly obvious after Xi took power.
This is manifested in the fact that all Chinese Communist Party (CCP) entities including individuals will follow and implement what Xi instructs. It is also true in diplomacy. Xi established various groups to ensure his instructions would work in coordination throughout multiple sectors. In recent years, the wolf warrior diplomacy, large-scale foreign propaganda, and even the views of Chinese scholars have all been implemented in line with Xi’s demands at all levels.
In other words, when the official statements from a certain entity or official show an obvious shift from previous ones, it is likely that the demands from the higher-ups have changed. Following this logic, Wang Yi’s change of tone suggests that Xi’s requirements for CCP diplomacy, or at least diplomacy with Europe, have changed.
There is circumstantial evidence for this.
Xi Tries to Fine-Tune Foreign Propaganda
On May 31, the Politburo’s 30th collective study focused on the theme, “improving international communication capability.” Xi specifically gave his instructions at the study, “tell the Chinese story well, improve the amiable image of China, construct China’s discourse and narrative, and create a reliable, admirable, and respectable image of China.”
Xi’s words actually negated the usual conduct of the wolf warriors. For example, in November last year, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, warned that “‘Five Eyes’ could be poked blind,” referring to the intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In March of this year, China’s ambassador to France called the French scholar Antoine Bondaz a “little thug.”
Although Xi requested the adjustments, it does not mean that the CCP’s diplomacy and propaganda will change at its core. From the perspective of Xi and the CCP, it is a change of tactics, but not necessarily the strategy. The CCP will not change its ideology of “Imperialism will never quit overthrowing China” or dismiss Europe and the United States as its imaginary enemies.
This can be seen in one detail.
The person in charge of planning the training for the collective study at the Politburo is Zhang Weiwei, dean of the China Institute, Fudan University—well-known for his anti-American views.
Although the content of his training was not made available, his colleague, Zheng Ruolin, a special researcher at the China Institute, admitted in an interview on May 10 that the CCP holds zero tolerance for any comments that even minimally deviate from the official discourse. In this context, journalists and scholars were reluctant to speak out in Western media for the sake of their safety. Over time, people would only hear comments from the Chinese diplomats.
Xi Has No Intentions to Change Diplomatic Strategy
We can assume that in the future, the CCP will make appropriate adjustments in its diplomacy, at least its diplomacy with Europe. The diplomats will continue to be tough, but not as verbally abusive as before. It is expected that on the whole, the propaganda will be coordinated and synchronized. This change can be seen from the fact that Xi demanded that leading comrades at all levels take an active role in “personally grasping the task” of international communication.
In other words, the CCP’s diplomacy is not the issue. Rather, it is the methods that need to be improved, such as softening their words, which could have gone overboard.
This is Xi’s misjudgment due to the CCP’s negative view of the West. His idea of adjustment makes it impossible to fundamentally change. Wang Yi’s speech is an example.
On May 21, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis publicly announced the country is out of China’s “17+1” bloc in Eastern Europe. He publicly stated that the “17+1” mechanism is a “dividing” factor for the EU. He believed that it is high time for the EU to move “to a more uniting and therefore much more efficient 27+1.” Landsbergis said, “The EU is strongest when all 27 member states act together along with EU institutions.”
Wang Yi responded indirectly on May 29 at a press conference in Guiyang, stating that the China-CEEC (Central and Eastern European Countries) Cooperation mechanism “promotes the accelerated development of CEEC,” and “is conducive to the balanced development of Europe on the whole, and faster European integration.”
But Wang neglected to mention that the CCP manipulated the “17+1” mechanism to woo and use Hungary and Serbia. In fact, Hungary alone twice blocked the EU from speaking out against China over Hong Kong.
If we look at Wang’s statement from another angle, imagine if the entire EU as a nation consisted of 27 countries. The CCP actually promotes its rejection of the EU’s foreign policy as a whole through one country—Hungary. If the EU does the same to China, and engages in some infrastructure agreements with Xinjiang, by influencing Xinjiang’s governing officials to veto votes within the Central Committee of the CCP, the CCP would have cut its diplomatic relations with the EU.
What if the EU also issues a statement arguing that this is to promote the accelerated development of Xinjiang and balanced development of various regions in China? I believe the CCP would consider this statement as “foreign interference” of China’s internal affairs, sovereignty, and security.
In other words, for many years, the EU has suffered from the CCP’s influence on many issues through this political operation of dissenting certain countries. The CCP is unwilling to reverse the long-term inequality in Sino-EU bilateral relations as a vested interest. Therefore, a subtle change in the tone is tolerable to the CCP.
A similar scenario has happened more than once in Sino-European exchanges.
On May 26, the Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao called on France “to play an active role in boosting the signing and entry-into-effect of the pact (the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment) as soon as possible,” in a video conference with the French Trade Minister Franck Riester, but was rejected. French officials believe that the CCP’s sanctions on European parliamentarians are unacceptable. In fact, the EU parliament voted on May 22 to freeze the investment deal for as long as Chinese sanctions on EU individuals and institutions remain in place.
This is a rare scene in international diplomacy. The CCP was seeking help from France under the banner of a “win-win agreement,” but received a stern rejection instead. Trying to persuade France to overturn the decision just made by the EU Parliament showed the CCP’s disrespect for the EU. It is a manifestation of its consistent strategy of “interfering in European internal affairs,” which is a common CCP sentiment.
Xi Again Misjudges the Situation
Xi believes that as long as he makes small changes in diplomacy and foreign propaganda, and the tactics of struggle, he can gradually improve Beijing’s international status, but Xi ignores the deteriorating relationship between the CCP and Western countries.
In reality, the EU’s demand has risen again during this period. Freezing the China-EU Investment Agreement has strengthened the EU’s determination to join hands with the United States to open up China’s market to foreign countries, something the CCP restricts.
Linyi Li is senior editor and commentator at the Chinese Epoch Times focused on China and international affairs. Prior to this he was a journalist in Ottawa, Canada, focused on Parliament Hill news.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.