Taiwan has accused two Chinese officials of beating up one of its diplomats in Fiji, after they gatecrashed a reception for its national day and harassed international guests.
The incident is the most extreme example yet of China’s so-called wolf warrior-style diplomacy, a term used to describe the use of intimidation in place of the conventional tools of statecraft. Chinese diplomats have in recent years issued threats, made demands or lectured their host countries. But the violence reported to have taken place in Suva, the Fijian capital, has not been seen from Chinese officials abroad in half a century.
Taiwan’s representative office in Fiji held a national day reception on October 8 at which “two staff members of the Chinese embassy in Fiji tried to force themselves into the venue and take pictures of the guests in attendance,” according to Taiwan’s foreign ministry. “When staff from our office asked them to stop, a violent confrontation ensued which ended with a member of our staff suffering a head injury and being sent to the hospital.”
The foreign ministry said Fijian police forcibly removed the two Chinese diplomats from the reception. However, it added that they “falsely claimed that they had been attacked by our people”. Taipei said it was pushing for a police investigation and would seek police protection for future events.
China’s embassy in Fiji disputed this account, claiming that Taiwanese officials had “acted provocatively against the Chinese Embassy staff who were carrying out their official duties” and had caused “injuries and damage to one Chinese diplomat”. The embassy claimed the Taiwanese reception violated “the one-China principle and the relevant rules and regulations of the Fijian government”.
China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to annex it if Taipei resists unification indefinitely, has increased political pressure and military threats towards the country since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president in 2016.
Analysts said the events in Suva demonstrated how hawkish and aggressive political rhetoric was disrupting traditional norms in the workings of China’s foreign ministry.
“The incident expresses the current state of ministry politics in the PRC system,” said Mark Harrison, a lecturer in Chinese studies at the University of Tasmania. “That it has only occurred in Suva indicates that it is just inappropriate local behaviour and not co-ordinated policy.”
Mr Harrison compared the incident with a scuffle between Chinese diplomats and police in London a few decades ago.
“It is not unprecedented,” he said. “During the Cultural Revolution, even more extreme politics became visible in the behaviour of PRC diplomatic representatives in some countries.”
Fiji’s relations with China have been close since 2006, when Beijing backed Frank Bainimarama after he took power in a military coup and western donors pulled their aid. Mr Bainimarama was re-elected prime minister two years ago.
China frequently has its embassies work towards limiting Taiwanese diplomats’ space for interaction abroad. Last week, the Chinese embassy in India protested the airing of an interview with Taiwan’s foreign minister on local television.
Pacific island nations last year became the main diplomatic battleground between Beijing and Taipei when China poached two of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, in one week.