In China's 'New Era', diplomats go on the offensive

November 01, 2018 09:30
China’s embassies, especially some in Europe, have in recent months been issuing statements and taking actions that appear distinctly undiplomatic, observers say. Photo: Reuters

Chinese diplomats around the world seem to have become increasingly assertive in the aftermath of President Xi Jinping’s declaration last year that a new era had arrived that would see China moving closer to center stage.

In recent weeks, China’s embassies, especially some in Europe, have been making statements and taking actions that appear distinctly undiplomatic.

In Sweden, a dispute between a hotel and a family of three from China who arrived a day earlier than their booking and refused to leave the hotel lobby ended with the police being called by the Generator Stockholm hostel. The three had to be carried from the hostel by Swedish police, with one of the three screaming at police officers.

The Chinese embassy charged that the police "brutally abused" and "severely endangered the life" of the Chinese tourists and asked for an apology.

In the United Kingdom, an event on Hong Kong held on the sidelines of the Conservative Party’s annual conference was disrupted when a Chinese woman interrupted closing remarks by Benedict Rogers, a British human-rights activist, who according to The New York Times said: “I am pro-China, not anti-China. I want China and its people to succeed.”

The woman, identified later as a Chinese reporter, did not ask a question but shouted: "You are a liar. You are anti-China. You want to separate China. And you are not even Chinese." Then, referring to the participants from Hong Kong, she said, “The rest are all traitors!"

A video of the event showed that when asked to leave, she slapped a volunteer.

It turned out that she was the representative of CGTN, China’s state-run international broadcaster.
It didn’t take the Chinese embassy long to intervene. It denounced the organizers of the talk and said Ms. Kong Linlin was assaulted for merely asking questions.

"In a country that boasts freedom of speech, it is puzzling that the Chinese journalist should encounter obstruction in such a way and even assault at the fringe event when she simply raised a question and expressed her opinions,” the statement continued. “This is completely unacceptable.”

Last week, Kong was charged with assault. She will appear in court on a date to be set.

This past Sunday [Oct. 28], the Chinese embassy in Berlin denounced Sueddeutsche Zeitung, one of the largest German newspapers, for publishing an interview with Joseph Wu, foreign minister of Taiwan, an island that China claims as part of its territory. An embassy spokesman said the newspaper provided "Taiwan independence” secessionists with media access.

The interview was conducted by Kai Strittmatter, a highly experienced journalist and author who is the paper’s China correspondent. Strittmatter said in his article that Taiwan is a big potential trouble spot and is now in the spotlight in Washington and Beijing. An interview with its foreign minister is certainly justifiable from a news standpoint.

However, the Chinese embassy spokesman did not view the article from its news value but from sheer politics. The embassy spokesman asked the German government to prevent the German press from publishing such articles in the future, hinting that otherwise bilateral relations would be disrupted.

The official Xinhua news agency reported: “The spokesman said China always supports the national unity of Germany, thereby it hopes Germany to take the same attitude to China. Germany needs to realize that the ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist activities on its soil would disrupt and harm China-Germany bilateral relations and regional stability.”

China has repeatedly voiced its opposition to what it calls “long arm jurisdiction” by other countries against Chinese entities or individuals.

Now, it appears, China is flexing its muscles and putting pressure on foreign governments regarding events occurring on foreign soil.

China is trying to deepen the international isolation of Taiwan wherever possible. But increasingly it is not only telling governments but also private businesses and the media what to do and what not to do.

Since the 1950s, China has promised never to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. But now, it is even telling them to ditch their core values, such as respect for a free press, if they value their relationship with Beijing.

China's diplomats should remember that what President Xi said at the 19th Party Congress last year was not just that the new era would see China moving closer to center stage, but that it would do so and make “greater contributions to mankind.”

As Xi certainly knows, there is a huge difference between making contributions to mankind and expanding China’s national interests by browbeating other countries and interfering in their internal affairs.

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Frank Ching opened The Wall Street Journal’s Bureau in China in 1979. He is now a Hong Kong-based writer on Chinese affairs.