China Doubles Down on Fiji Incident

China Doubles Down on Fiji Incident
iPhoto Credit: Taipei Trade Office in Fiji

What you need to know

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s response to its diplomats’ conduct was not only at odds with most media reports on the events, but also the image it wishes to project.

During this year’s Republic of China (ROC) National Day celebrations held by the Taiwanese representative office in Fiji, two staff members of the Chinese Embassy at Suva physically assaulted a Taiwanese diplomat after he asked them to leave the venue. The two diplomats, allegedly uninvited, were attempting to take photographs of the attendees and proceedings without consent.

When the police arrived, the two Chinese diplomats claimed diplomatic immunity and left the venue. The assaulted Taiwanese diplomat was hospitalized with a concussion. Chinese diplomats have often “observed” Taiwan’s ROC National Day celebrations abroad, but this was the first time it led to a physical altercation.

As a response, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs filed a complaint to its Fijian counterpart and the Fijian Police Force. Evidence of the assault was gathered, though the nature of that evidence has not been disclosed. Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu also condemned China’s behavior, urging them to halt their diplomatic aggression toward Taiwan in foreign nations.

斐濟事件  吳釗燮:要為外交人員討公道
Photo Credit: CNA
Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu also condemned China’s behavior, urging them to halt their diplomatic aggression toward Taiwan in foreign nations, October 20, 2020.

Premier Su Tseng-chang similarly denounced the Chinese diplomats’ behavior, and many have urged Su to hold an international press conference addressing the issue. That said, Beijing and Suva share close diplomatic ties, and it would be difficult to bring justice to the victim even in the absence of the perpetrators’ claims to their diplomatic privileges.

On the Chinese side, the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded by saying that Taiwan had no diplomats on Fiji, citing the One-China Principle (not to be conflated with the various “One-China Policies” acknowledged internationally), and characterized the actions of the Chinese embassy staff as “carrying out their official duties.”

Chinese Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, denounced the Taiwanese for holding a “National Day celebration” with a cake depicting a “false flag,” deeming their actions sufficient case for a Chinese intervention at the event. These accusations were reiterated in a statement by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Fiji. The Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party tabloid, later portrayed the Chinese diplomats as victims, claiming that one of their own embassy diplomats was injured by staff of the Taipei trade office.

Some commentators have described the event as an illustrative case of China’s increasingly aggressive “wolf warrior diplomacy,” a term coined from a Chinese action movie of the same name. The diplomatic style is most frequently seen in heated rhetoric and petty accusations against international criticism. It has also involved insults of foreigners by its state-run media and confrontational tweets by its foreign service personnel. During the Obama Administration, for instance, Zhao Lijian (then-deputy chief of mission at the PRC Embassy in Islamabad) ignited a Twitter crossfire with Susan Rice when he suggested that there were areas of Washington D.C. where “the white [sic] never go.” More recently, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also sought to influence Indian media to follow their “guidelines” in discussing Taiwan.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s response to its diplomats’ conduct was not only at odds with most media reports on the events, but also the image it wishes to project.

Had China issued an apology, it would have at least been able to express goodwill to Taiwanese who are sympathetic to its political agenda. Instead, it chose to defend what appears to be thuggish behavior from representatives, undermining its own ambitions of portraying itself as a responsible regional power.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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