James Kynge – Financial Times, 10 August 2021
Signs of China’s growing assertiveness predated the pandemic. But it was in early 2020, as Covid-19 spread rapidly around the world, that Beijing went full “wolf warrior”.
Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, alleged on Twitter in March that the virus had originated in the US and suggested that Washington was engaged in a cover-up: “When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? . . . It might be the US military that brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”
On this rare occasion, Zhao — who has nearly 1m Twitter followers and legions of supporters inside China — was slapped down by his own superior. As outrage flared across America, Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the US, dismissed his remarks as “very harmful” speculation.
The episode, taken in a broader context, raises crucial questions. Why have China’s diplomats, long known for their poise and discipline, started shooting from the hip? What strategies is Beijing pursuing to undermine US power and the world order it leads? What does China’s foreign policy mean for countries on its borders, such as India?
The next decade is set to be crucial for a new era of superpower competition between the US and China that could result in both military escalation and a host of subtler changes to the way the world works. Three revealing books provide indispensable perspectives on the challenges that China’s rise is presenting to the wider world.
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