Diplolingo: "stern representations"

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This is a typical headline emanating from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC:

Furious mainland China slams Taiwanese leader’s ‘blatant’ call for independence

People’s Daily commentary blasts William Lai Ching-te’s inauguration speech for ‘inciting hatred against the Chinese people’
Beijing also objects to US secretary of state’s congratulations to Lai

Xinlu Liang in Beijing
Published: 2:05pm, 21 May 2024

During the last decade or so, the Chinese foreign ministry has developed such a distinctive, confrontational brand of diplomatic jargon that I thought it deserved a neologistic portmanteau designation of its own, though I think the expression could be used for different styles of diplomatic language that are quite different from the harsh rhetoric of the current Chinese approach.

Overall, contemporary Chinese diplomats are instructed by their government to adopt a "wolf warrior" approach.

Wolf warrior diplomacy is a form of public diplomacy involving compellence adopted by Chinese diplomats in the late 2010s. The term was coined from the title of the Chinese action film Wolf Warrior 2 (2017). This approach is in contrast to the prior diplomatic practices of Deng Xiaoping and Hu Jintao, which had emphasized the use of cooperative rhetoric and the avoidance of controversy.

Wolf warrior diplomacy is confrontational and combative, with its proponents denouncing any perceived criticism of the Chinese government, its ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and associated policies on social media and in interviews, as well as using physical violence against protestors and dissidents. As an attempt to gain "discourse power" in international politics, wolf warrior diplomacy forms one part of a new foreign policy strategy called Xi Jinping's "Major Country Diplomacy" (Chinese: 大国外交; pinyin: Dàguó Wàijiāo) which has legitimized a more active role for China on the world stage, including engaging in an open ideological struggle with the Western world.


In this post, I will focus on a particular expression of PRC diplolingo, viz., "stern representations" (yánzhèng jiāoshè 严正交涉), which is generally preceded by the verb tíchū 提出 ("propose; put forward; raise"), hence tíchū yánzhèng jiāoshè 提出严正交涉, which in diplospeak English usually comes out as "lodge stern representations".

According to a Baidu definition (Google translated with some modification):

"Stern representation" is a diplomatic term, and solemn means serious and legitimate; representation means consulting with the other party to resolve relevant issues; the two words together roughly mean consultation with the other party to resolve relevant issues seriously and legitimately. Seriously and formally to express an attitude of opposition.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs mainly focuses on the most commonly used vocabulary regarding China’s sovereignty issues and disputed territories. Similar words include strong condemnation, strong indignation, regret, solemn statement, solemn concern, doomed to failure, deep regret, etc.

A common conception of diplomacy is that it is practiced by highly trained individuals who use language and knowledge skillfully and effectively to solve problems that may arise between various countries.

Diplomacy is the art and practice of building and maintaining relationships and conducting negotiations with people using tact and mutual respect.


Source:  "The Skills of Diplomacy:  The nine skills of diplomacy fall into three different categories: informational, relational, and operational."  National Museum of American Diplomacy.

It would seem to me that PRC / CCP-style "diplomacy" runs contrary to the purposes of conventional diplomacy as it has been conceived for the last several centuries, that is, not at oppositional and confrontational, but with the aims of solving difficult issues that arise among countries by means other than war.

Diplomacy comprises spoken or written communication by representatives of state, intergovernmental, or nongovernmental institutions intended to influence events in the international system.

Diplomacy is the main instrument of foreign policy which represents the broader goals and strategies that guide a state's interactions with the rest of the world. International treaties, agreements, alliances, and other manifestations of international relations are usually the result of diplomatic negotiation and processes. Diplomats may also help shape a state by advising government officials.

Modern diplomatic methods, practices, and principles originated largely from 17th-century European custom. Beginning in the early 20th century, diplomacy became professionalized; the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, ratified by most of the world's sovereign states, provides a framework for diplomatic procedures, methods, and conduct. Most diplomacy is now conducted by accredited officials, such as envoys and ambassadors, through a dedicated foreign affairs office. Diplomats operate through diplomatic missions, most commonly consulates and embassies, and rely on a number of support staff; the term diplomat is thus sometimes applied broadly to diplomatic and consular personnel and foreign ministry officials.


The term diplomacy is derived from the 18th-century French term diplomate ("diplomat" or "diplomatist"), based on the ancient Greek diplōma, which roughly means "an object folded in two".[4] This reflected the practice of sovereigns providing a folded document to confer some official privilege; prior to the invention of the envelope, folding a document served to protect the privacy of its content. The term was later applied to all official documents, such as those containing agreements between governments, and thus became identified with international relations. This established history has in recent years been criticized by scholars pointing out how the term originates in the political context of the French Revolution.


So I would say to our Chinese colleagues, "Why don't you try to be more diplomatic?", where diplomacy means "exercising tact or courtesy; using discussion to avoid hard feelings, fights or arguments."  (Wiktionary)


Selected readings

[Thanks to Mark Metcalf]


  1. jin defang said,

    May 22, 2024 @ 11:05 am

    am I mistaken or has there been a marked falloff in wolf warrior "diplomacy" over the last year of so. Certainly it seemed to be arousing more animosity than it was extracting compliance.

    in my observation, 'stern representation' is the mildest expression of official CCP/PRC annoyance, typically used in instances such as the Japanese prime minister sends a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine but doesn't physically attend. More serious 'offenses' are met with stronger language, such as the offender being warned that he will 'bear the consequences.'

  2. AntC said,

    May 22, 2024 @ 4:31 pm

    am I mistaken or has there been a marked falloff in wolf warrior "diplomacy" over the last year of so.

    You're mistaken. I haven't noticed any falloff. (Perhaps you've been living under a rock? [**]) And as Prof Mair instantiates, PRC commentary over the peaceful transition of Presidential terms following due democratic process in Taiwan is in paroxysms of fake outrage.

    So far this month [as of May 16], Taiwan has tracked Chinese military aircraft 208 times and naval vessels 80 times.
    [and scroll down to the bottom of that page to see other daily reports]

    You perhaps didn't notice a couple of months ago PRC moved their coastal civilian air routes to be only just the PRC's side of the Taiwan Straits. There is absolutely no navigational justification for this — indeed it requires civilian aircraft go out of their way from (say) Shanghai to Hong Kong. Routes closer to or over the mainland had worked fine for decades.

    What that move does mean is that it's now much harder for Taiwan's defence forces to distinguish civilian aircraft from PRC military sorties (fighters, spotter planes, helicopters, drones) crossing the median line. Sorties that have been daily since Nancy Pelosi's trip last year, and have ramped up in advance of Lai Ching-te's inauguration.

    Taiwan's forces are taking great pains to peacefully intercept such sorties. PRC forces on the other hand are acting with maximal bad faith. (Including PRC military vessels getting dangerously close to U.S. vessels exercising freedom of navigation through the Straits.) It's only going to be a matter of time before there's an accident or mis-calculation. My fear now is that a civilian aircraft will get hit by a stray drone or missile.

    We'll see then whether PRC's Wolf Warrior narrative mentions just why PRC forces were the wrong side of the median line.

    [**] I linked yesterday on the AI/Xi Jinping LLog post to PRC's January response to UN HCR's 'Periodic Review' of PRC's human rights .

  3. AntC said,

    May 23, 2024 @ 4:59 am

    Wolf warrior much?

    The People's Liberation Army (PLA) on Thursday (May 23) announced that it is holding military exercises around Taiwan and its outer islands as “punishment” for those seeking independence.

    I appreciate that report is from Taiwan-based media. It includes a link to PLA's announcement, in Mandarin. You can check whether "punishment" is a fair translation. Google at least seems to agree. There's also a PLA-issued chart of the exclusion zones surrounding both Taiwan's main island and Kinmen/Matsu.

    The Eastern Theater Command said this is "a strong punishment for ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces seeking ‘independence’ and a serious warning against interference and provocation by external forces."

    "external forces" would be USA and allies, including Japan — both countries sent representatives to Lai Ching-te's inauguration.

  4. ajay said,

    May 23, 2024 @ 5:15 am

    So I would say to our Chinese colleagues, "Why don't you try to be more diplomatic?", where diplomacy means "exercising tact or courtesy; using discussion to avoid hard feelings, fights or arguments." (Wiktionary)

    And they would reply "I wasn't talking to you" – a lot of commentary around this issue has speculated that Chinese diplomats are speaking mainly for domestic consumption, because being rude to foreigners is popular with the more nationalist bits of the Chinese public and also, more importantly, with MFA senior management.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    May 23, 2024 @ 6:57 am



    They are talking to us and to the whole world.

  6. Kathleen Carolan said,

    May 23, 2024 @ 1:00 pm

    My husband's family always said Sliding Pond, when they talked about a slide (for children). Any slide, not just a water slide. We thought it was a misread of the words Slide Upon, which I have heard, although it seems only in old fashioned stories

  7. chris said,

    May 27, 2024 @ 4:06 am

    Is this just another word for saber rattling, or is there a subtle difference perceivable by professionals?

    I suppose, being Chinese, they might think it unpatriotic to rattle a saber, and would prefer to rattle a dao instead, but the effect is much the same.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    May 27, 2024 @ 11:07 am


    "Is this just another word for saber rattling"

    No, it's official government policy, emanating from the highest levels of the CCP, directed at the diplomats of the Foreign Ministry instructing them overall to use harsh, aggressive language and tough tactics, which is how they got the name "Wolf Warriors".

  9. AntC said,

    May 28, 2024 @ 4:24 am

    Not content with aggressive military activity across the centre-line of the Taiwan Straits, the "Wolf Warrior" is now sending drones towards Japan.

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