On October 19, multiple media outlets reported that a physical altercation occurred between diplomats of the People’s Republic of China and officials from Taiwan during an October 8 event held in Suva, the capital of Fiji.
According to the Associated Press, the fighting started when a Taiwanese government official tried to prevent the Chinese mainland diplomats from photographing guests attending a Taiwan “National Day” celebration.
The altercation allegedly began when the Chinese mainlanders refused to leave. One Taiwanese official was hospitalized with a head injury, and a mainland Chinese diplomat was reportedly hospitalized as well.
Both countries issued statements blaming the other side for the incident, and local Fiji authorities have opened an investigation.
In a short editorial, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times, accused the Taiwanese of concealing details of the incident. The editorial included a blanket defense of the Chinese diplomats.
“Analysts think that Taiwan has concealed full details. Otherwise, how could have Chinese mainland's diplomats, who always act in a gentle manner, easily beat someone from Taiwan into a ‘brain concussion?’ ”
The statement is misleading.
Pending outcome of the investigation, whether the Chinese diplomats were “always gentle” remains an open question. According to the Guardian, the Chinese diplomats claimed diplomatic immunity when the police arrived at the scene. And the Guardian report described the altercation as “violent.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian blamed the Taiwanese trade officials for provoking the incident. He referred to the Taiwanese celebration as a “so-called national celebration event” and ridiculed their use of the Taiwanese national flag, which he labeled a “fake flag.”
According to Zhao, such actions violate the so-called “One China policy,” whereby most of the world recognizes the communist People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate Chinese state. Taiwan, which is officially known as the Republic of China, is only officially recognized by a handful of countries (not including Fiji). Many countries, including the United States, have unofficial relations with Taiwan.
Pending results of the investigation, it is difficult to determine exactly how the Chinese diplomats behaved on the day of the incident.
The AP, citing a Taiwanese statement, said the confrontation “erupted when Taiwanese at the gathering tried to stop Chinese diplomats from taking photos of guests at the reception marking Taiwan’s national day and disrupting the event.”
Citing the Taiwan ministry, the BBC reported that the “Taiwanese diplomat who asked them to leave was assaulted and needed hospital treatment for a head injury.”
According to CNN, China countered that “Taiwan officials had been ‘acting provocatively against the Chinese embassy staff, who were carrying out their official duties in a public area outside the function venue.’" The embassy said that one Chinese diplomat had been injured. …”
In recent years China’s Foreign Ministry has become increasingly confrontational abroad, an approach that’s become labeled “Wolf Warrior Diplomacy,” after a Chinese-produced, “Rambo”-style action film released in 2015. The aggressive style has been mainly rhetorical and aimed at rebutting other nations’ criticisms of China. But the rhetoric has mixed with disinformation, such as China’s false claim that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was from a U.S. lab and came to China via U.S. soldiers.
When asked about “wolf warrior” diplomats in May 2020, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters: “We will strongly hit back against malicious slanders and firmly defend national honor and dignity. We will lay out the truth to counter the gratuitous smears and to firmly uphold justice and conscience.”
On Twitter, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu brandished the label in context of the Fiji confrontation.
“We strongly condemn the violence against our diplomat in Fiji by China’s uncivilized ’wolf warriors,’” he wrote. “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.”
In December 2019, two Chinese diplomats were expelled from the U.S. for suspected espionage. The two had been detained after driving through the perimeter of a U.S. military installation in Virginia, one which housed the U.S. Navy’s elite counterterrorist unit, SEAL Team 6. The Chinese Foreign Ministry denied the accusations.
Of late, the mainland government has taken a more aggressive posture toward Taiwan, which it essentially sees as a breakaway province.
In early October, one mainland Chinese academic said in an interview that the Hong Kong National Security Law, a set of measures greatly restricting political rights and autonomy in Hong Kong, could become the basis for a “Taiwan National Security Law” in the future.
In September, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) flew two bombers and several fighter aircraft into Taiwanese airspace over the Taiwan Strait as part of an exercise. The move was said to be in response to an earlier visit to Taipei by a U.S. State Department official.
There had been another mainland military airspace incursion just two days before. On October 12, two days after Taiwan’s “National Day,” the PRC released a video of military exercises showing a simulated invasion of Taiwan. Perhaps more worrying, earlier this year a PRC government working report removed the word “peaceful” from the stated goal of “reunification” with Taiwan.