The biggest country in the world is tired of being “badmouthed.”
Date: December 2, 2019
By: Ben Smith, BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief
BEIJING — The most interesting diplomat in the world these days may well be Zhao Lijian, the combative, bombastic, frankly Trumpy voice of the People’s Republic of China on Twitter.
Zhao was in fine form this Thanksgiving weekend, offering an eight-part tweetstorm on American racism, tweeting at one point that the US was merely suffering from “replacement anxiety” at China’s unstoppable rise (he deleted that one), then mocking the US president:
Out of respect for President Trump, US & its people, on the occasion of thanksgiving day, I pay special thanks to US for squandering trillions of dollars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria…
China has long claimed that America is a thief crying “stop thief” when it comes to human rights (China releases an annual human rights report on the US). Now that whattaboutist argument is meeting the American political conversation where it lives — on Twitter.
American leaders and opinion-makers have long preferred to devote attention to smaller and easier problems (the Middle East, NATO, really anything!) than the rise of a massive strategic rival with a population of 1.4 billion. Zhao’s 55,000-and-counting tweets make that a little harder — as will what he’s been retweeting this morning: The Chinese Foreign Ministry just joined Twitter, over @mfa_china.
I’ve been following Zhao since he achieved a measure of global fame in July, when he responded to global condemnation of China’s internment of its Muslim citizens with a blunt attack on American racism.
The tweet provoked heated condemnation from the US political elite, including former national security adviser Susan Rice, and he deleted it — but then followed up with an article noting Washington’s racial segregation. It was a familiar kind of rhetoric, a standard Chinese strategy with echoes from another era: Like China, the Soviet Union regularly criticized — and covertly sought to exacerbate — American racism and racial conflict. And at a moment of profound internal division in the US, it’s an effective one, hitting directly at a raw nerve rather than engaging criticism of China. [FULL STORY]