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Qin Gang, the wolf warrior of Chinese diplomacy

The new foreign minister, a former ambassador to the United States and a member of President Xi Jinping’s inner circle, is skilled at handling the news media

Qin Gang China
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang during a press conference in Beijing on March 7.Qilai Shen (Bloomberg)

Qin Gang, China’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs, is a veteran and sometimes sharp-tongued diplomat who exudes self-confidence. The 56-year-old career civil servant has worked in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for over 30 years and is well-known in diplomatic and media circles for his directness and tough talk. Qin became close to President Xi Jinping during state visits worldwide after being appointed Director General of the Foreign Ministry Protocol Department. Now it’s up to him to represent Chinese diplomacy in a period of global turmoil, with the Ukrainian war raging and relations with the United States at a critical juncture.

The sore spots between China and the US are extensive – semiconductor export controls, Taiwan, spy balloons and more. In his first press conference as foreign minister, Qin made his presence known and warned that US policies toward China risk putting the two countries on a path to “conflict and confrontation.”

Qin took office in December 2022 after a short stint in Washington, DC as ambassador. He is often included in the “wolf warriors” group representing Beijing’s increasingly aggressive diplomatic stance. Wolf Warrior is a movie (and sequel) about a Chinese special forces soldier, a Rambo-style action hero who wreaks havoc on the country’s enemies and exalts national values.

“Tough and direct”

Foreign diplomats who have crossed paths with Qin Gang remember their encounters well. One senior European official recalls a high-level video conference with Qin during the pandemic when Qin was China’s deputy foreign minister. “I was surprised that he was so tough and direct.”

Such meetings are usually reserved and polite and only become more candid during private sidebar conversations. But Qin spoke bluntly after the meeting touched on Tibet, Hong Kong and other topics China doesn’t care to air in public. He was asked if Beijing would allow a visit to Xinjiang by then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. Xinjiang is where China has been accused of brutally repressing its Uighur minority group. An incensed Qin lashed out about those who lectured China on human rights when his country lifted millions of people out of poverty while demonstrations in Europe were violently suppressed. The European diplomat said he acted like a “big bad wolf… Now that he’s the foreign minister let’s see if he bites because his function is to open doors.”

Bachelet eventually made that visit and, in the UN report published last summer, said that China may have committed crimes against humanity against the Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities through policies that involve arbitrary mass detentions and other serious abuses.

When he was China’s Ambassador to the United States from 2021-2023, Qin was credited with lowering tensions with the US but wasn’t given much time in the role to dig deeper. His dovish Washington Post op-ed last December upon leaving the ambassador’s post said the planet’s future depends on a stable US-China relationship. Acknowledging that he landed in the US capital at a “complicated and difficult” time when almost all dialogue and exchange mechanisms had been suspended during the Trump administration, things did not improve much during his tenure. Qin complained about Chinese companies being “unfairly sanctioned” and people-to-people exchanges “severely impacted by the pandemic.” Mostly he lamented the US view that China was its “most serious competitor.” In 2023, perceptions of China in the US reached a new low – according to Gallup, only 15% of Americans view China favorably.

The Xi loyalist

International diplomatic circles don’t believe Qin will act independently and instead view him as a Xi loyalist who will diligently carry out the president’s policies. Xi Jinping has surrounded himself with a powerful, handpicked elite that banished all dissonant voices after last October’s National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Xi consolidated his power by clinching his third term as China’s president at the National People’s Congress plenary session on March 10. “In my opinion, [Qin] is a wolf warrior at heart,” says a Beijing-based European diplomat. “But as foreign minister, he will have to toe the line.”

Most agree that Xi calls the shots while Qin relays the message by shouting into the megaphone. When the president accused Western countries on March 6 of a US-led campaign of “encirclement and suppression” of China, Qin accused Washington the following day of trying to block China’s development, decrying “hysterical neo-McCarthyism.” He demanded that the US stop meddling in its “internal affairs” (Taiwan), gesturing theatrically as he spoke. Qin held up a copy of China’s constitution and read aloud, “Taiwan is part of the sacred territory of the People’s Republic of China.”

Born in the coastal province of Tianjin (northeastern China), Qin studied at the University of International Relations in Beijing, where many internationally oriented cadres are trained. According to The New York Times, he worked briefly for the United Press International news agency, a prominent element of the foreign news media in China. He joined the Foreign Ministry in 1992 and climbed through the ranks to become head of the information department in 2011, director general of protocol in 2014, and deputy foreign minister in 2018. Qin has also served in the Chinese diplomatic mission to the United Kingdom. In October 2022, he joined the Central

Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, one of the highest echelons of power in the communist hierarchy. He is married with a son and speaks English.

His wolf-warrior notoriety is such that he was even asked questions about it at the March 7 press conference. Since questions must be approved in advance, Beijing was clearly interested in promoting this reputation. Qin’s wry response caused a ripple of laughter. “I remember when I first arrived as ambassador to the United States, and the American media said, ‘Here comes a Chinese wolf warrior.’” But no one calls him that now he’s back in Beijing, “as if I have lost something,” he joked.

Qin said this “wolf warrior diplomacy” is the West’s “discourse trap.” He quoted Confucius, “Kindness should be repaid by kindness, and enmity should be repaid by justice.” Qin said there is no lack of goodwill and kindness in China’s foreign policy, “but when wolves get in our way and attack, Chinese diplomats must ‘dance with the wolves’ to protect their country.”

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