Chinese Diplomacy Takes the Cake

28 October 2020 Lindsay Hughes, Senior Research Analyst, Indo-Pacific Research Programme

Background

On 8 October, Taiwanese diplomats in Fiji hosted a party at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, to which around one hundred guests had been invited, to celebrate Taiwan’s National Day of 10 October. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs later alleged that two Chinese diplomats gate-crashed the party and began taking photographs of the guests. When a Taiwanese diplomat objected to their presence and actions, he was physically assaulted by the two Chinese officials and required hospitalisation. The incident led Taiwan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Joseph Wu, to tweet:

We strongly condemn the violence against our diplomat in #Fiji by #China’s uncivilized “wolf warriors.” As a sovereign state, we’ll continue celebrating #TaiwanNationalDay everywhere, every year. #Taiwan is a force for good in the world & we won’t be intimidated.

China’s embassy in Fiji had its own version of the incident, however. It claimed that Taiwan’s account was “inconsistent with the facts”, that one of its staff was injured, thereby drawing equivalence with the injuries suffered by the Taiwanese official, and stated that:

On that very evening, the staff of the Taipei Trade Office in Fiji acted provocatively against the Chinese Embassy staff who were carrying out their official duties in the public area outside the function venue, causing injuries and damage to one Chinese diplomat.

The embassy did not clarify what the “official duties” its diplomats were carrying out in a public area of a foreign country were. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Zhao Lijian, offered an explanation of sorts for the actions of the Chinese diplomats, saying:

Taipei’s Trade office in Fiji on October 8 flagrantly held a “so-called” national celebration event. The fake flag was publicly displayed on the scene, and the cake was also marked with a fake flag pattern [that] severely violates the one-China principle.

Apparently, a cake that was emblazoned with the colours of Taiwan’s flag caused the Chinese diplomats to cast diplomacy aside. According to Mr Zhao, ‘A false national flag was openly displayed at the scene, the cake was also marked with a false national flag.’ That explanation, according to Beijing, suffices to excuse the actions of the Chinese diplomats, actions that are the very antithesis of the term “diplomacy”.

Comment

The incident in Fiji is only one of many of the same kind involving Chinese diplomats. As a previous FDI paper noted, that behaviour permeates China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has been exhibited from at least 2010, when then Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, launched into a contemptuous tirade against his Vietnamese hosts of the ASEAN Regional Forum and the regional countries. Mr Yang implicitly threatened the violence that the Chinese diplomats would enact later in Fiji when he said, ‘China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.’

More recently, China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, urged Ottawa to stop granting asylum to democracy activists from Hong Kong, who he described as violent criminals, and warned that accepting those people could jeopardise the “health and safety” of the 300,000 Canadians who live there. When he was asked if that was a threat, Mr Cong replied, ‘That is your interpretation.’ He also rejected the accusation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week that his country practises “coercive diplomacy” despite the fact that Beijing has incarcerated two Canadians, one an ex-diplomat, on charges of spying after the Chief Financial Officer of Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei, was arrested in Canada at the behest of the United States.

China has warned the United States, in similar vein, to refrain from prosecuting Chinese researchers who entered the United States under false pretences or security officials in China would arrest and detain American citizens there.

It is intriguing that Beijing continues down the path of coercive diplomacy despite, as another FDI paper observed, that approach is failing China at all levels. One instance of that failure obtained in India recently. Ahead of Taiwan’s National Day, the same day that Taiwanese officials celebrated in Fiji, the Chinese embassy in New Delhi despatched a statement to Indian media outlets, reminding them that Taiwan is an ‘inalienable part of China’s territory’, that they should not violate New Delhi’s official One-China policy and that the use of certain terms would be frowned upon. The letter stated that the media should:

… stick to Indian government’s position on [the] Taiwan question. In particular, Taiwan shall not be referred to as a “country (nation)” or “Republic of China” or the leader of China’s Taiwan region as “President”, so as not to send the wrong signals to the general public.

While India does have a (non-publicly stated, at least since 2010) “One China policy”, which excludes formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, both sides have trade offices that operate as de-facto embassies. In the event, India’s Ministry of External Affairs dismissed the Chinese embassy’s warning, stating that the ‘free’ Indian media would report ‘as it sees fit’. That in itself was damaging to China’s ambition to influence the Indian media but an Indian politician from Prime Minister Modi’s political party went an insult further. Mr Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga of the Bharatiya Janata Party hung posters depicting Taiwanese flags outside the Chinese embassy, leading Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen to thank ‘dear friends in India’ for sending wishes on the occasion. Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Wu was more forthright, tweeting:

#India is the largest democracy on Earth with a vibrant press & freedom-loving people. But it looks like communist #China is hoping to march into the subcontinent by imposing censorship. #Taiwan’s Indian friends will have one reply: GET LOST!

The National Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party tweeted in an address to the people of Taiwan:

India stands in solidarity with the courage, strength and resolve that you people have displayed in your struggle against colonialism and oppression by the imperial power!

The Chinese Communist Party must realise that its abrasiveness has led to economic and political losses and caused China’s increasing isolation. Worse, it is that same abrasiveness, and the uncertainty that results from it, which is causing regional and extra-regional countries that together have the capacity to take the economic and, potentially, military fight to China to come together to balance it. It goes without saying that those countries could, if future circumstances warrant, work to contain China. That would leave the CCP with few, if any, winning options.

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

Published by Future Directions International Pty Ltd.
Suite 5, 202 Hampden Road, Nedlands WA 6009, Australia.