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Zhao Lijian: China demotes ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomat

Zhao Lijian named deputy director of China’s Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Tuesday 10 January 2023 11:37 GMT
Related video: Covid test factory workers clash with police during protest in China

Zhao Lijian, a senior Chinese diplomat associated with the country’s foreign ministry, has been demoted to a department that manages the country’s land and sea borders.

Mr Zhao, 50, gained prominence as one of China’s most vocal “Wolf Warrior” diplomats in tune with the Communist regime’s shift in governance in recent years. The nickname comes from the highly-popular nationalist film about a Chinese special forces soldier.

He was named deputy director of the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs, although it remains unclear when the high-profile diplomat will take charge of his new role.

The foreign ministry currently has three spokespersons, Hua Chunying, Wang Wenbin and Mao Ning, according to the government website.

Mr Zhao’s transfer comes after China’s ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, was named foreign minister last month in an apparent indication of Beijing’s softening approach towards the Western power after years of deadlock.

Mr Qin, a trusted aide of president Xi Jinping, is known to walk a fine line between defending China’s interests and projecting a moderate face to Washington.

Since becoming the foreign ministry’s spokesperson in 2020 following stints in China’s embassy in Pakistan, Mr Zhao has built a large following on social media while frequently courting controversies through his posts targeting the US.

The diplomat, with 1.9 million Twitter followers, suggested in a post in March 2020 that the US military might have brought Covid to the Chinese city of Wuhan.

In the same year, he posted a doctored image of an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child leading to a diplomatic nightmare for China. The tweet prompted Australian prime minister Scott Morrison to demand an apology from Beijing.

Susan Rice, the former national security adviser for the US president, called Mr Zhao a “racist disgrace” in 2019 over now-deleted tweets about American race relations. “And shockingly ignorant too. In normal times, you would be PNGed (persona non grata) for this,” she wrote.

Apart from being critical of the US administration, he has often accused journalists of smearing China over reports of Beijing’s human rights abuse in the Xinjiang region and violent crackdowns on Hong Kong.

It has been speculated that his wife’s maskless photographs at public events in Beijing at the height of a severe Covid wave could have been one of the reasons behind the demotion.

His wife Tang Tianru was also earlier photographed travelling in Germany despite the travel restrictions.

Mr Zhao, who used to address the daily press briefing, was last seen at the conference on 2 December.

Earlier in November last year, the diplomat’s response to a question on protests against Covid restrictions was a rare display of awkward silence.

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