China’s diplomacy is unfolding in the world in a “war wolf” mode, and Taiwan is fighting back with a unique “war cat” mode. Scholarly analysis, this soft, flexible, with a personal touch, but around the liberal democratic and open values of the “war cat” message, in the diplomatic battlefield out of a new way.
In July 2020, a self-described “war cat” of Taiwan’s new representative to the United States, Xiao Meiqin, moved to Washington, D.C., with her four cats.
“Finding a way out of a small space.”
“Cats are capable of finding a way out of small spaces.” In an interview with the China Central News Agency, Hsiao used her favorite pet as a metaphor to illustrate how a cat’s flexibility, wisdom, and independence can help her meet the advances of China’s diplomatic “war wolves”.
Hsiao is not only the first female representative of Taiwan to the United States, but also the first ambassador to run her own social media accounts.
For more than three months, she has tweeted a different style of Twitter diplomacy than the Wolf: she has put up selfies with special U.S.-Taiwan masks and written messages in English about deepening U.S.-Taiwan cooperation; she has retweeted reports and interacted with officials and scholars from many countries, occasionally with cat stickers. The latest Nikkei Shimbun report on China’s war wolves and Taiwan’s war cats, which Xiao Meiqin retweeted from her Facebook account, included one word: Meow!
“I think she is one of the most pleasant diplomats in the entire international diplomatic community.” Ivana Karásková, head of the China Studies Program at the Association for International Affairs (AMO) in Prague, which has been tracking Chinese diplomacy with Taiwan, acknowledges this model of “battle cat diplomacy”. In her view, it appeals to Western audiences because of the intimacy of the interaction, the clarity of the message and, most importantly, the strong contrast with the aggressive Chinese war-wolf style.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center, an American pollster, found that negative perceptions of China are at an all-time high in 14 advanced countries. From Beijing’s increased control over Hong Kong, the expansion of military operations throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and China’s cover-up of information about the early stages of neo-coronary pneumonia, global distrust of China is growing.
How do war cats and war wolves go further and further apart?
Australian scholar Wendi Song, who teaches at the Australian National University’s School of Asia and the Pacific, observed that from the point of view of social media-active officials such as Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Foreign Minister Wu Zhao-xie, Taiwan’s use of the terms “democracy, freedom and openness” and “shared values” makes it easier to find common ground with Western countries and generate positive online communications on Twitter.
On the contrary, Wolf’s Twitter diplomacy has gradually developed two axes: one is to criticize foreign countries for hurting the feelings of the Chinese people; the other is to warn the other side that it will pay the price.
“This reflects the inconsistency between the current political system of the CCP, especially in recent years, and the important values of the Western liberal international order. Projected at the executive level, when there is a certain gap between a regime’s domestic values and mainstream international values, it is of course relatively more difficult for him to convince the outside world with soft appeals. As a result, his incentive to use material, coercive means becomes stronger,” Song Wendi told the station.
Officials in authoritarian countries play Twitter
In stark contrast to the “Taiwan War Cat”, it is Zhao Lijian, a representative of China’s Twitter war wolf and spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. International relations and communications scholars have found that, over time, Zhao Lijian’s interactivity and friendliness on the Free World platform still bear the hallmarks of authoritarian societies.
“Previous research has found that authoritarian countries are relatively inflexible in their social media performance, source free top-down communication, a form of communication that it is difficult to change due to the use of social media. So their messages can appear more homogeneous, and not interactive or lively, just a different platform to present the message.” Qiaoning Su, an assistant professor of journalism at Oakland University, told the station.
Su Qiaoning mentioned that from a communications perspective, Twitter diplomacy still boils down to two things: building the image of one’s country and deepening relations with other countries. And the benefit of Twitter, in addition to real-time and online communication, lies in the diplomat’s mastery of this and the display of authenticity.
“It’s as if you’re not watching a decree being announced, but a diplomacy with warmth and emotion.” Su Qiao Ning mentioned, and this is exactly the kind of information dissemination that democratic societies are better at.