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Can India trust China's new 'wolf warrior' foreign minister?

Qin Gang was one of the architects of China's 'wolf warrior' style of aggressive diplomacy. Now he is foreign minister, one of the youngest in its history. Will the wolf change its tone?

Qin Gang during a visit to a car factory.

China's new Foreign Minister Qin Gang seems to have recently made seemingly conciliatory remarks about the country's ongoing border tensions with India. The remarks about 'both sides willing to ease the situation' and 'jointly protect peace along the borders' came, reportedly, in an article written days before his elevation to foreign minister came.

But who is Qin Gang and can he be trusted?

This new year brought with itself another new change in China’s top party leadership. A shuffle in the ministerial portfolio was seen as the Chinese Communist Party appointed Qin Gang as the new Foreign Minister at the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee. This position was previously held by Wang Yi who himself has now been promoted to become the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission to shape the country’s foreign policy.

The appointment of Qin Gang as the foreign minister is significant because of his previous tenure as the Chinese ambassador to the United States. This position made him an important face of Chinese policy in the US and he has been credited to tackle the tensions between the two countries over the past few years, be it regarding the ‘trade war’ or the crisis in Taiwan. Not only in the United States, Qin Gang has also been a familiar face in China and has been the spokesperson for the foreign ministry for several years. This position also makes Qin Gang one of the youngest foreign ministers in the modern political history of China.

The Wolf Warrior

Qin Gang’s approach to foreign policy and placing China’s interests in the international space has gained him the status of a ‘wolf warrior’. He is significantly known for his tough, straightforward or rather ‘aggressive’ stand against the West while also emphasising on China’s ambitions.

Qin Gang may see the world as a big community that warrants mutual participation and cooperation towards the path to peace but there is no doubt that he believes that China occupies the central place in this community. The focus on mutual trust, cooperation and peace may be aimed towards changing China’s perception from being a revisionist state to a ‘team player’. The new Chinese Foreign Minister defines the Taiwan crisis as Taiwan’s separatist attempts to ‘challenge the status quo’ therefore China’s role becomes a response to Taiwan’s ‘threat’ to the existing power dynamics. This status quo here, is primarily the policy of ‘one China’ that has characterised China’s position in this conflict.

Now, coming to the approach towards the United States. The very fact that the Communist Party leadership appointed the former Chinese envoy to the United States suggests that China is willing to prioritise its issues with the US by having someone at the top who knows the political landscape in the US in depth. While Gang’s approach can largely be perceived as cooperative, a hidden aspect of this approach suggests that the onus of building this cooperation then lies in the hands of the United States. This is because as China under Gang would aim to portray the image of a team player, it would largely become a responsibility of the United States to maintain this cooperation that is extended by China. Any deviation from this position could be seen as a ‘provocation’, something that was very evident as the United States started taking a stand on the Taiwan issue. “The Chinese people are looking to the American people to make the right choice”, Qin Gang had said. The right choice here being the cooperation and support with China even in the face of a looming crisis in Taiwan. This is very relevant if we consider the fact that Qin Gang had suggested that the US involvement in Taiwan could potentially involve US and China in a military conflict.

As the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken readies for his first visit to China in 2023, the aspirations for maintaining ‘open lines of communication’ depend heavily on how the Taiwan crisis unfolds in terms of the US-China relations.

Take on India

Apart from the tense relations with the United States, another area of focus for the Chinese foreign policy would be towards the territorial disputes with India. Based on the recent accounts of the new Chinese Foreign Minister, it seems that the country could take a positive and constructive approach towards resolving the border disputes through diplomatic dialogue. However, this won’t be the first time that the heads of states have committed themselves to maintain peace and security in terms of the existing conflict and how much of this positive approach would actually materialise is for time to tell.

The existing border disputes also complicate the India-China engagements in other areas of international concern. In terms of Taiwan, India has been seeking to build some cooperation with Taiwan especially in the semiconductor manufacturing sector. Given that China itself is very particular about the other states’ engagements with Taiwan, it would be interesting to see the approach that the new foreign minister would take in handling this bilateral relationship.

In reality, it would not be wrong to suggest that Qin Gang’s approach towards the foreign policy of China would largely echo Xi Jinping’s ambitions further, but potentially in a moderate way. Although the ‘wolf warrior’ is seen to be very particular and stern about his approach, there is still a constant emphasis on mutual cooperation and building trust in the community. It would also not be wrong to assume that Qin Gang is also a small but very important part in this overall bureaucratic machinery that is the Chinese Communist Party.

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