Commentary: Maintaining the Harmony between the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of State Security in an Apparent Totalitarian China

People’s Republic of China President and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee Xi Jinping (center right) in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. On August 26, 2020, Xi presented Minister of Public Security (MPS) Zhao Kezhi and Minister of State Security (MSS) Chen Wenqing with the “Police Flag” at a ceremony in which over 300 police officers were present. Xi ordered the security forces to be loyal to the Party, serve the people, be impartial in law enforcement, and maintain strict in discipline. Xi also called on the security forces to uphold the Party’s absolute leadership. Historical evidence shows maintaining two main intelligence and security services with overlapping responsibilities is an odd choice as it usually creates difficulties for senior executives and managers of the respective organizations in sorting out issues over cases, turf, and budgets. At least publicly, MPS and MSS have managed to coexist peaceably.

Among some Western intelligence and counterintelligence services, distracting bureaucratic and operational rivalries have been observed.  However, the two main civilian intelligence and counterintelligence services in China, Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Gōng’ānbù (Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China) or MPS and Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù (Ministry for State Security of the People’s Republic of China) or the MSS, have publicly avoided such problems despite inherent parallels in their domestic responsibilities. Except for experienced hands on China policy and the Chinese intelligence services and national security via diplomatic, intelligence, defense, military, or law enforcement work, most in the West have likely never heard of either organization. MPS is an intelligence service under the State Council in charge of the country’s internal and political security and domestic intelligence. MSS, also under the State Council, is an intelligence service responsible for foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security as well. Their impact stems mainly from providing consumers in Beijing to include the Communist Party of China leadership, the Party’s key organs responsible for foreign and national security policy, and ministers and senior executives of appropriate ministries and organizations of the State Council, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with data that may shape their decisions. This commentary briefly focuses on the apparent management of a smooth working relationship between MPS and MSS as they share overlapping intelligence responsibilities in the service of Communist Party of China, all powerful in the People’s Republic of China. Concordia res parvae crescent. (Work together to accomplish more.)

These two national intelligence organs are the embodiment of the logic that created the Chinese system’s intimidating, authoritarian–perhaps it could even be called totalitarian–order and for years has choreographed events to accomplish the Communist Party of China’s purposes. To that extent, the Communist Party of China has entrusted the defense of the modern Communist Chinese state to these two complex government organizations. On August 26, 2020, at the ceremony held in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping conferred the “Police Flag” to Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi and Minister of State Security Chen Wenqing. Xi ordered China’s security forces to be be loyal to the Party, serve the people and be impartial in law enforcement. Xi also demanded the police force forge iron-like discipline and conduct. In his address at the ceremony, Xi lauded the major contributions made by the Chinese police to safeguarding national security, social stability and people’s interests, He called them a mighty force that can be fully trusted by the Party and the people, and spoke highly of the major contributions made by the Chinese security forces to safeguarding national security, social stability and people’s interests. Xi also called upon the security forces to uphold the Party’s absolute leadership.

Xi has placed considerable focus on police, judges, prosecutors, public security,, and state security officers as part of a new Communist Party of China drive against graft, abuses and disloyalty in their ranks. The campaign is also said to be part of an effort by Xi to bolster domestic discipline as he prepares for a leadership shake-up at the Communist Party Congress in 2022. Reportedly, Xi has been spurred on to push for iron authority down to local police stations as a result of the reaction among Communist Party of China leaders toward near-endless protests in Hong Kong, and their need to be assured of the Party’s total control of the population after that became an issue during China’s coronavirus outbreak. The ministers of the MPS and MSS understand their marching orders. Zhao, the Minister of MPS, was quoted as saying, “Resolutely put absolute loyalty, absolute purity and absolute dependability into action.”

Ubi concordia ibi victoria. (Where there is unity, there is victory.) As already alluded to briefly, historical evidence shows that maintaining two main intelligence and security services with many overlapping responsibilities is an odd choice gor it normally creates difficulties for senior executives and managers of the respective organizations in sorting out issues over over cases, turf, and budgets. However, MPS and MSS have managed to coexist peaceably, at least publicly. The most apparent reason that such high profile parochial struggles over turf and budgets do not exist at least publicly between MPS and MSS, interestingly enough is that they are actually prohibited under the People’s Republic of China National Security Law. Hypothesizing on the matter, purely out of academic interest, if a competitive relationship between MPS and MSS had ever taken flight, it very likely would have been the result of happenstance in the 1980s. During the after its inception in 1983 and the larger part of the 1990s, MSS took on an assignment from the Communist Party of China concerning a burgeoning student movement that was redundant given the matter was covered by MPS.

As that situation stood, the Communist Party of China’s leadership became concerned about the student movement as a threat to social order and its power. In response, there was a call for all hands to mitigate those fears. MSS, newly minted, had the officers and was available. The Communist Party of China insisted that it place its focus on students in both China and abroad after the Tiananmen Square protests. Tiananmen Square, in addition to being embarrassing to the Communist Party of China leaders, caused them to remain greatly concerned over a possible follow-on move by students. That concern was somewhat supported when Chinese authorities announced that some 200 Chinese had been accused of spying for the Soviet Union. One might conclude that due to the counterintelligence aspect of the assignment, it made some sense to pass it the MSS. The MSS as an organization, threw itself into the immediate domestic task set for it by the Communist Party of China.

Inter cetera mala, hoc quoque habet stultitia proprium, semper incipit vivere. (Among other evils, folly has also this special characteristic, it is always beginning to live.) Perchance to further satisfy and impress the Communist Party of China or perhaps in an attempt to redesignate the intelligence service’s purpose wholly, MSS leaders at the time, arguably taking a turn down the wrong path, exploited the situation by deciding to expand and invigorate their organization’s presence in the provinces and municipalities. That expansion occurred in four waves. In the first wave during MSS’ inaugural year, the municipal bureaus or provincial departments of state security for Beijing, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Liaoning, and Shanghai were created. A second wave appeared shortly thereafter between 1985 and 1988, including Chongqing, Gansu, Hainan, Henan, Shaanxi, Tianjin, and Zhejiang. The third wave from 1990 to 1995 completed the expansion of the Ministry across at the provincial levels, bringing in Anguilla, Hunan, Qinghai, and Sichuan provinces. The fourth wave the provincial-level departments expanded vertically, taking over local public security bureaus or established subordinate municipal or County bureaus. The MSS policy of expanding representative offices in most major towns and cities was reversed in 1997. Nevertheless, by then, the MSS was a nationwide security organization at every level. Presumably, having reached that status, it may have been called upon to perform some special tasks for the Communist Party of China’s leadership on occasion.

To add to that situation, in its first two decades, the ranks of the MSS were filled with longtime MPS who transferred over to the office. MSS provincial branches were often staffed with PLA and government retirees. The new MSS was funded in part by the MPS.To help MSS take on its mission, MPS also passed some networks to the new organization. With some uncertainty that existed as to the political nature of MSS, MPS was reportedly reluctant to make such transfers. MSS was declared to be a foreign intelligence organization, but as things stood then, it was doing more of what its rank and file knew how to do best, which was to perform as police.

In the end, though, MPS has remained the dominant service concerning the domestic counterintelligence mission. Moreover, with regard to MPS’s organizational identity, as aforementioned, from its beginnings, has embodied the will of the Communist Party of China, and its leaders insisted upon retaining that grand status. Even today,, MPS leaders are regularly striving to garner praise and the further favor of the Communist Party of China from the flash and bang, bells and whistles, of high profile cases. MSS leaders returned to shaping their organization into a truly effective foreign intelligence organization. The MSS foreign intelligence capability was built up most effectively when intelligence cadres from the Communist Party of China were brought into its ranks. An uptick in both competency and necessity favored a rise MSS influence in foreign policymaking. When direct political power is absent, influence usually relates to merit and necessity. Senior leaders of the Communist Party of China involved in foreign policymaking  would eventually want the MSS in the room, contributing to deliberations. Yet, MSS still maintains a very significant domestic operation via provincial and municipal offices throughout China. Presently, the MSS’ thirty-one major provincial and municipal sub-elements. Sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas. (Use what is yours without harming others.)

Placing MPS and MSS alongside the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in a search for parallels, the record indicates their situation was the contrary as considerable conflicts over cases, turf, and budgets once existed between the two US organizations. A growing schism resulted in cooperation between them on intelligence and counterintelligence being mandated by authorities to the chagrin even to date of some case officers and special agents. Notably, the CIA does not independently determine its intelligence collection priorities. The CIA’s intelligence activities are instead conducted in response to intelligence requirements established by the President and the CIA’s other intelligence consumers. Specifically, the Director of National Intelligence approves the National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF), which establishes national intelligence priorities that reflect the guidance of the President and the National Security Advisor with input from Cabinet-level and other senior government officials. The CIA’s duly authorized intelligence activities are conducted in response to the NIPF priorities or other intelligence requirements imposed by the President and other intelligence consumers. Under the framework established by Executive Order 12333, the CIA’s intelligence activities are primarily focused outside the US. The FBI is responsible for coordination of clandestine collection of foreign intelligence through human sources or human-enabled means and counterintelligence activities inside the US. Generally though, the CIA can cooperate with the FBI to collect foreign intelligence within the US, subject to the restrictions imposed by statute, Executive Order 12333, the Attorney General Guidelines, and other legal and policy requirements. Specifically, the National Security Act prohibits the CIA from exercising police or subpoena powers or otherwise engaging in law enforcement or internal security functions, with the exception of the security protective officers who protect CIA facilities within a limited jurisdiction pursuant to the CIA Act. If, for example, the FBI has a cooperative relationship with an individual inside the US who provides foreign intelligence information, the FBI may appropriately consult with the CIA regarding the relationship, and the CIA may continue the relationship for intelligence purposes should the individual travel overseas.

Of course, the situation between the MPS and MSS is also made quite different from that of FBI and CIA particularly due to the nature of the government in which the two intelligence services respectively function. In a country such as China, there is a need among leaders to create some acceptable degree of certainty about their world that is existential. As an expression of need, they tend to find it preferable to have as many ears to the ground as possible, know what comes next, be sure of who can be trusted, understand how to protect their personal interests, be made aware of where the next likely challenge from the inside, and be forewarned of the next threat to the country from the outside, will come from. The role of the security services in satisfying that need is not an ancillary role. Thereby, protecting the interests of the political leadership is really their raison d’être.

The 20th century US philosopher and political theorist, Hannah Arendt, in her seminal work The Origins of Totalitarianism (Schocken, 1951) provides an excellent discussion of why multiple security services exist in totalitarian countries. The history of Chinese intelligence validates what she presents. The most relevant passage, too precious to condense, is presented here in its entirety. Using the situation in the Soviet Union as a yardstick, Arendt explains: 

In Russia, the ostensible power of the party bureaucracy as against the real power of the secret police corresponds to the original duplication of the party and State known as Nazi Germany, and the multiplication becomes evident only in the secret police itself, with its extremelycomolicate, widely ramified network of agent, in which one Department is always assigned in the supervising and spying on another. Every enterprise in the Soviet Union has its special Department of the secret police, which spies on party members and ordinary personnel alike. Coexistence with this department is another police division of the party itself, which again watches everybody, including the agents of the NKVD [Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs)], and whose members are not known to the rival body. Added to these two espionage organizations must be the unions in the factories, which must see to it that the workers fulfill their prescribed quotas. Far more important than these apparatuses, however, is “the special department” of the NKVD which represents “an NKVD within the NKVD,” i.e., a secret police within a secret police. All reports of these competing police agencies ultimately end up in the Moscow Central Committee and the Politburo. Here it is decided which of the reports is decisive and which of the police divisions shall be entitled to carry out the respective police measures. Neither the average inhabitant of the country nor any one of the police departments knows, of course, what decision will be made; today it may be the special division of the NKVD, tomorrow the Party’s network of agents; the day after, it may be the local committees or one of the regional bodies. Among all of the departments there exists no legally rooted hierarchy of power or authority; the only certainty is that eventually one of them will be chosen to embody “the will of the leadership.”

The only rule of which everybody in a totalitarian state may be sure of is that the more visible the government agencies are, the less power they carry, and the less is known of the existence of an institution, the more powerful it will ultimately turn out to be. According to this rule, the Soviets, recognized by a written constitution as the highest authority in the state, have less power than the Bolshevik party; the Bolshevik party, which recruits it members openly and is recognized as the ruling class, has less power than the secret police. Real power begins where secrecy begins. In this respect, the Nazi and Bolshevik states were very much alike; their diffetence lay chiefly in the monopolization and centralization of secret police services in [SS-Reichsführer Heinrich] Himmler on the one hand, and the maze of apparently unrelated and unconnected police activities in Russia on the other.

It must be noted that there remains some debate in a few scholarly circles as to whether China would qualify as a totalitarian state, such as that deliberated on by Arendt. China certainly ticks off most of the boxes that would qualify it as such. Totalitarian countries are those in which the government does not permit its people to partake in political decision making. Instead of giving the people a voice, a totalitarian country is typically ruled either by a single dictator or a group that has not been collectively elected by the people. The ruling leaders, in China’s case, a ruling party, of totalitarian countries do not merely enact laws. Rather, the people or person in charge controls all aspects of both public and private life. There is no limit to what a totalitarian government can control because there are not any checks or balances placed on the leaders of the country. Essentially, totalitarian leaders can do whatever suits their agenda and say anything that comes to mind.

Citizens are stripped of all freedoms in totalitarian countries. Denial of the right of free speech will usually include a ban on freedom of the press. Ideologies, beliefs, and religions may even be highly curtailed or absolutely forbidden in a totalitarian country. The national government has full and total control. Totalitarian leaders often rule through fear because they take advantage of citizens’ emotions in order to keep them from revolting and protesting. When you live in fear, you do not know how to speak out against injustices because you are scared. It becomes a matter of staying silent in order to stay alive, and totalitarian rulers know this. In fact, they thrive off of this natural human instinct. To reinforce the idea that citizens must show complete alliegance and compliance with the government, totalitarian leaders typically have security forces, some secret, that ensure citizens do not fall out of step. In some totalitariam countries, certain religious minorities and political groups by the security forces. Expressing dissent toward government decisions and actions is strictly prohibited in these countries. Although liberal democracies pride themselves with regard to the way people can form and express their own reactions to the government, people who live in totalitarian regimes must agree with everything the government does, says, and enforces. Outward expressions of disagreement are forbidden. By these qualifications, China certainly could be viewed as a totalitarian state. Audi vide, tace, si vis vivere in pace. (Use your ears and eyes, but hold your tongue, if you would live in peace.)

Senior executives and managers of the MPS and MSS are mutually responsible for creating tranquillitas ordinis—the tranquility of order. That is indeed a charitable perception of their work, especially MPS, which has a history using brutal methods in the name of establishing law and order. It would seem that between the two intelligence services, there has been the some successful creation of a figurative cross organizational masonry through which fruitful communication, agreements, and interoperability can be shaped and facilitated. One might imagine establishing that order has rested in efforts such as obliging both MPS and MSS to mutually keep each other informed of developments. One could hardly imagine that one organization steps on the figurative toes of the other by suggesting anything as grand as using an alternative strategy in an ongoing investigation of an individual or group of individuals would occur. At this stage, MPS does not desire to share the anxieties of MSS, and visa-versa. There would appear to be enough for both organizations to do. Further, sources of funding and support for both derive from specified sources, leaving little need to struggle for means. Periclum ex aliis facito tibi quod ex usu siet. (Draw from others the lesson that may profit yourself.)

Commentary: China’s Coronavirus Tack Includes More Abrupt Officials and Political Warfare; Its Diplomatic Tool Must Endure the Consequences

Communist Party of China Headquarters (above). The Communist Party of China’s line on the coronavirus pandemic has been thoroughly questioned in the West, especially in the US. Beijing’s finger wagging in response has not resulted in some grand conversion of anyone in the US or anyone in the world to China’s point of view. If Beijing stays on its current course, activities in support of the Party-line will surely intensify. Political warfare units and officers overseas of the Chinese intelligence services possess the know-how to propagate the Party-line and are being relied upon. A quiet sense of resentment has likely risen among Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomats and professionals who seem to be increasingly tasked with making right turns on the truth and have watched as their legitimate work, to promote China’s policy interests, is regularly supplanted by intelligence efforts.

From the moment the coronavirus outbreak began, the People’s Republic of China was not able to overcome and resolve all challenges that beset it. Facing that reality appears to have shaken the psychological foundations of China’s Communist Movement to its core. Under the somewhat mechanical guiding principles of the Communist Movement reinvented by Chairman Mao Zedong insist that China must be forever driving upward and making progress. All efforts should be directed at pushing China to meet its destiny of taking a dominant position in the world. If China did not reach the top, it would remain a sheep not a shepherd. The volumes of collected concepts and quotes could not offer answers for Beijing to quickly and effectively contain the coronavirus, Having failed to meet the needs of its people, Beijing then failed to prevent a coronavirus outbreak worldwide which it must have come to term with by now. Thereby, any sense of failure has likely been intensified. Yet, Beijing has refused to give up the ghost and has continued to extol the virtues of its medical, scientific, and advanced technological capabilities. The identity of the Party is dependent on a certain worldview concerning the Communist Movement, the teachings of Mao, China’s greatness, and China’s world dominance in the future. When that worldview was threatened, the Party would only hold even more tightly to it and potentially double-down on that line of thinking. That possibility of doubling-down most likely led to the decision by Beijing to contain the virus in China as robustly as possible and contain any information just how bad the situation was. Certain medical approaches were approved and taken. Concern over what might have happened outside China was not given equal importance. and few real steps, if any, were taken that related to a concern over an outbreak. No alternative ideas concerning an almost certain outbreak from the discerning and wise in Beijing–academics, scientific scholars, any with relevant expertise–were investigated or allowed any light. Controversies were to be avoided. Those few who said anything contrary to the Communist Party of China line were effectively silenced.

Indisputably, the Communist Party of China’s line on the coronavirus pandemic clashes with the truth. It has been questioned in the West, especially in the US. Although finger wagging at the US in response may seem morally invigorating, it has not resulted in some grand conversion of anyone in the US or anyone in the world to China’s point of view. It certainly has not improved relations with the US. In China, the Communist Party of China, the National Party Congress, and the State Council of China are the immediate sources of all the daily needs of the Chinese people, that certainly would include information. The government would like to convince the Chinese people that international affairs, it says what it has to say, does what it has to do, to lay up a future of world dominance for China. Given this, perchance Beijing has continued this course because it believes the rebuke of the US has served to assure the Chinese public that there is no ambiguity in what the Communist Party of China has determined are the facts. Beijing may believe it is helping Chinese citizens live their lives fully and clear because they are provided “the truth.” By now, though, a good number of Chinese citizens are aware that one cannot know with certainty what is real from what one hears from the government.

In hac re ratio habenda est ut montio acerbitate. (Reason should be held to (applied) in this matter so that the admonition may be without harshness.) While greatcharlie would prefer to avoid being seen as providing advice to Beijing–which in reality would most likely have no interest in its meditations on the matter. Nonetheless, one might say out of academic interest, greatcharlie has sought to conceptualize what Beijing could have done on the world stage when the coronavirus epidemic began in China and offers some thoughts on what it could still do today to recurvate better present itself as “a leader” on the world stage. Related to that, greatcharlie also takes a brief look in the abstract at why any immediate change in the attitudes and behavior may not occur so quickly as its diplomatic tool, the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), has been going through a type of transition contrary to its purpose of building better relations with other countries.

As a net result of its ongoing tack concerning the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing has thoroughly encased itself in the dreadful mistakes it made by unintendedly, yet repeatedly, shining light on what it did not do right and by its continuous attempts to muscle its way out a disastrous situation with words and actions cobbled together inconsistently in an unsuitable emergency public relations campaign. It would seem that in undertaking its current course, not one appropriate contingency has been considered.

If one were to allow Beijing a bit of latitude, purely out of academic interest, its response to the Western, particularly the US, may be the sense that Chinese leaders might have seared into their psyches over decades about Western perceptions of China. That sense might be informed by utterances of identifiable relics of bigotry from a bygone era to the effect that China is nothing for the West to worry about and the Chinese lack the intellectual power and scientific and technological know-how to ever match US capabilities. That was the case when former US Vice President Joe Biden stated: “I mean, you know, they’re nice folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.” To that extent, Chinese leaders view their country a being wronged for too long and they endeavor to right that wrong. (Interestingly, in the administration of US President Barack Obama from which political leaders who have made such statements mostly emerge, a laissez faire attitude resulted in policies on China lost in the wilderness that failed to genuinely protect or promote US interests. The delinquency and lethargy of previous administrations also allowed for the steady progress of China versus US power and further advances in technology.)

Certainly, the moment for immediate action has passed. However, a better course than the one taken, to be brief, would have been to accept the reality of their situation, listening to those in their own country who presented the truth about the virus, and fully acknowledging all of the different developments as they happened, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Most important would have been to be the very party that sounded the global alarm, proactively suggesting constructive precautions to all countries, interacting closely with those leading industrial powers which could have a real impact in stemming the problem worldwide while there was still at least a modicum of time for all countries to act, not just China. Beijing could have worked strenuously with international organizations to include the UN Security Council, fully alerting them that the threat that global pandemic may be in the making. Within those institutions, practical and promising forward-looking recommendations to forge a synergistic international response could have been formulated and promoted by China. The flurry of positive action, that would most noticeably include Beijing’s humble recognition of its errors, would have been an astonishing, powerful display of international leadership by Beijing, albeit over a crisis it caused. The fact that something akin to this approach was not undertaken, and perhaps not even considered, has been a sticking point for Trump.

If it so chose at this stage, Beijing could still direct energy and resources at pecking away at the shell in which they trapped themselves much as a chick breaking out an egg. Nuanced approaches requiring positive action by all relevant bureaucracies across the government to create a positive image and firm, favorable picture that a sanguine China is taking all affirmative steps possible should need to be developed. They would need to be finessed, reshaped continuously, to maximize impact upon viable opportunities to break out its self-inflicted shell the country’s earlier missteps. It would also require more humble cooperation with the rest of the world, not reckless antagonistic verbiage that has so far only triggered the never previously considered process of genuinely isolating China from the international community, international trade and political economy, that is slowly gaining momentum. Rather than experiment with anything new, thoughtful, and inspired, Beijing simply turned to the derivative tactics of locking down and concealing less-desirable and outright unpleasant developments. Disappointingly, the leadership of China appears to lack the reflexes, sensibilities, and sadly, the sophistication, to turn toward the more advanced notions required for positive cooperation. Perhaps, brooding leaders of the Communist Party of China have managed to convince themselves that the main front in all of this is a battle of wits between East and West, in which two disparate political and economic systems compete for dominance.

If no erosion of its current positions occurs, and Beijing stays on its current course, one can expect activities in support of them to intensify. Seemingly, the quondam Cold War era, in which such thinking held prominence is apparently not dead, at least not in the foreign affairs parlors of the Communist Party of China, as well as the Chinese intelligence services, particularly the Ministry of State Security (MSS), and to an extent, departments of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and intelligence elements of the Communist Party of China. The MSS, a civilian intelligence agency, comparable to some degree to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is the embodiment of the logic that created the Chinese system’s intimidating, authoritarian order. Since 1983, it has choreographed events to accomplish the Communist Party’s purposes worldwide. With regard to China’s coronavirus crisis, MSS possesses the know-how through specially trained personnel in political warfare units and officers overseas who could engage in active measures, propagating the line of the Communist Party of China. So far, the apparent political warfare attack against the US, has not been the smashing success leaders of the Communist Party of China were hoping for. However, its effects are doubtlessly being felt throughout the foreign and national security policy apparatus of the Chinese government. With regard to the MFA, large swathes of activities concerning China’s foreign relations with other countries have been taken out of the hands of the diplomats and other professionals at the MFA and put in the hands of the intelligence services.

Materiam superabat opus. (The workmanship excelled the materials.) In the offices of the MFA, there is very likely a very quiet sense of resentment among professionals having chosen to represent China and promote its policy interests worldwide only to have their legitimate activities regularly superseded and supplanted by the machinations of the Chinese intelligence services at the behest of Communist Party of China. After decades of proudly engaging in complex, meaningful diplomatic work, mostly behind the scenes, with the goal of having China respected and reckoned as a power that can have a significant impact in international affairs by the international community, it is surely difficult for MFA diplomats and other professionals to watch as China, instead of further establishing its place among dominant powers, is now earning a reputation as an international pariah.

The purpose of diplomacy should be to prevent war. Bilateral and multilateral contacts with other countries, statements, press releases, and other messaging should not have the aim of antagonizing and raising the ire of leaders and other decisionmakers in foreign capitals. MFA diplomats and professionals would surely prefer to avoid a tit-for-tat situation with the US in which one act of retribution would lead to another from China. With every new act, the chance that a serious outbreak of violence increases.

As mentioned, MFA is ostensibly the primary government agency with a portfolio of implementing the foreign policy and managing diplomatic affairs of China, however the ministry now finds its diplomatic efforts with the US being increasingly supplanted by MSS efforts to conduct active measures such having journalist, academics, and other policy scholars promote the Communist Party of China’s hardline and by intensifying its efforts to steal a wide variety of technologies from US companies and universities. More recently, that nefarious work has included efforts to steal the fruits of money, time, and research into therapies and vaccines for the coronavirus. MFA diplomats may find themselves more and more dragged into MSS operations and those of other Chinese intelligence services as their efforts intensify. In a recent incident, it was discovered that a biology researcher at the University of California-Davis lied about her ties to the PLA. After being interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, she sought refuge in China’s San Francisco consulate. While it has not been definitively established that she was engaged in intelligence work in the US, there is a high probability she was. The PLA would not knowingly deploy an officer to the US without tasking her with some intelligence function. MFA is a consumer of information from cloak and dagger work, and it’s diplomats would prefer not to be sacked into the business of obtaining it.

One might suppose that it was already enough for MFA diplomats to tolerate a policy generally understood to be in effect that has MSS personnel assigned to China’s embassies and other permanent diplomatic missions overseas for up to six years, with a few remaining in post for 10 years if required. Reportedly, in the US, there are seven permanent Chinese diplomatic missions staffed with intelligence personnel. When the accommodations to the MSS aforementioned are added to this, it most assuredly piles on to a heap of discontent that has been long standing.

To enlarge on the point of how MFA is intriguingly being utilized in the larger more belligerent approach of China toward the US, recall how early into the coronavirus crisis, the world witnessed the Department of Information of the MFA using a far sharper tone. As time moved on, it seemingly devolved into being simply a direct mouthpiece for the Communist Party of China, providing some cover for the Party’s own offices. What was being declared about the US has been far from plausible, and apparently manifested anxieties, fears, over outcomes of grave errors made within China. Press briefings amplified those statements online with a bit more vigor. Spokespersons propagating the stronger line were abrupt in what is the approved Party fashion. Indeed, all MFA officials comported themselves publicly with an astringency which some regime critics would say uncloaked the true nature of the regime. Disinformation was also being spread from MFA sources through posts on Twitter. Those who are following this matter closely will hardly forget the shocking and incredulous tweet from Zhao Lijian, the Director of the Information Department of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which he tried to direct blame at US for the coronavirus epidemic in China. From @zlj517 on March 12, 2000, at 10:37 AM, Zhao wrote: “2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

The hallowed diplomatic doctrine of the MFA has been moderation in all things. Calmness and authority must be shown not only in diplomacy but in all circumstances. The more recent assertive approach has pulled MFA officials from their more traditional conservative, stolid posture. Reportedly, the transition in approach is due to something called “Wolf-Warrior diplomacy.” The name derives from high grossing, action films, “Wolf Warrior” and “Wolf Warrior II,” that feature Chinese special operations forces in battle against China’s adversaries. While the films present a false reality, the nationalistic ideas and ideals they  promote apparently cross-polinated with thinking of China’s leadership on real foreign and national security issues.

Res ipsa repperi facilitate nihil esse homini melius neque clementia. (I have learned by experience that nothing is more advantageous to a person than courtesy and compassion.) With good reason, somber and astute foreign policy analysts worldwide have found it difficult to believe that MFA diplomats and professionals are pleased to adhere to a policy that is named after and centered upon a banal amusement. There is some indication that the Wolf Warrior diplomacy is not novel, but rather has been in effect for a decade. However, the requirement that MFA diplomats and even officials of other government ministries take on a “fighting spirit” has really been something insisted upon by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Wolf Warrior diplomacy is all seen is a response by Beijing to highly biased perceptions of China presented especially in Western media. Recall, that notion was touched upon earlier here. Biases heard from overseas by China are often perceived not only as ideological but racist. There is also a prevalent perception in China that as the country has become more powerful on the world stage, other countries increasingly sense that it poses a threat to their respective interests.

The official position on the impact of Wolf Warrior diplomacy on Chinese diplomats and professionals is that it has raised their morale and encouraged a more assertive style. Yet more plausibly, MFA diplomats and professionals feel Wolf Warrior diplomacy is a load of bollocks, and they could mercilessly dissect the shortcomings of that diplomacy and anything produced under it. Intriguingly, expressions of traditional Chinese diplomacy and professionalism have been heard here and there. Comments of that nature made by the People’s Republic of China Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai about the anti-US declarations from Beijing were highlighted in greatcharlie’s March 31, 2020 post entitled, “Commentary: Beijing’s Failed Political Warfare Effort Against US: A Manifestation of Its Denial Over Igniting the Coronavirus Pandemic”. Reportedly, Cui told the HBO news program “Axios on HBO” that he stands by his belief that it’s “crazy” to spread rumors about the coronavirus originating from a military laboratory in the US. Cui even called this exact conspiracy theory “crazy” more than a month ago on the CBS News program, “Face the Nation.” well before the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs first began publicly promoting the conspiracy. However, despite such coruscating flashes of what could be called true MFA sensibilities, strong disagreements felt by diplomats and professionals are generally left at the door of their office buildings. At best a very cautious demarche should be attempted in house by the most secure diplomats in the face of decisions and policies of the leadership in an authoritarian, and arguably totalitarian, Communist state. That demarche should never be looked upon by outside observers as a fuite du courage, as much as a pragmatic, existential necessity.

Perchance, more MFA diplomats and professionals disagree with Communist Party of China line policies than one could imagine. No one hoping for the best for China would want to see good thinking officials engage in some une enterprise désespérée that could result in having them brutally weeded out of the system. At least for the time being, nothing that could relatively “bring down the house” should be uttered. Having been directed to promote policies based on the attributes of a fictitious character from an action film, MFA diplomats and professionals have done so without question both overseas and at home. The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle stated: “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

At one time, the MFA had a clear cut choice between being a mediator and an enforcer of China’s foreign policy. Its diplomats displayed a certain style and nuance as they made offers and discussed the proposals to resolve issues with other countries. Wolf Warrior requires a hardline stand every time. Insights will not advance efforts, dogma will. In following, as time passes, the MFA will likely be forced to make half turns away from the truth, ensuring that it is never on the correct side of issues. As the MFA is used more and more as a tool to proclaim the aggressive message of the Communist Party of China, it places into question whether the ministry will even keep its main job of making peaceful entreaties with foreign governments. While diplomats might meet with the foreign diplomatic counterparts, there would be superficiality to those contacts. It would be diplomacy after a fashion, albeit in an unsatisfactory way. The work of MFA diplomats, as it once was, would be finished. Maliuolum solacii genus est turba miserorum. (A crowd of fellow suffers is miserable kind of comfort.)

The fact that the Chinese government initiated the ongoing coronavirus disaster cannot be credibly truthfully argued against. Sadly, Beijing so far has not demonstrated any interest in acting appropriately concerning the present matter of the coronavirus. It will most likely attempt to continue to assail the global media with waves of distortions. Nevertheless, despite that having transpired, it is not too late to turn the situation around. China can put the present time to good use. The US, as the true dominant power in the world must maintain its poise. It must not react. It must act in a measured way using effective means, at a time and place of its choosing. Despite all the dissatisfaction and disappointment felt toward China, the US must interact as amiably as possible. Surely, the two countries are not at a point yet when the dark waters of despair have overwhelmed their leaders. When diplomats from both sides meet, they must approach each other with a certain buoyancy and hope. Consilio melius contendere atque vincere possumus quam ira. (We can compete and prevail better through wisdom than through anger.)