In an unusual move, one of China’s most prominent “wolf warrior” diplomats, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has been moved to an obscure department, according to the ministry’s website, reported The Straits Times.
“Boundary affairs is not one of the (foreign ministry’s) more popular departments,” said Yun Sun, an expert on Chinese diplomacy at the Stimson Centre in Washington, of Zhao’s new role. “It could be because he had caught too much attention in the past three years and needs some time and space to cool off.”
Zhao gained prominence as one of China’s most outspoken “wolf warrior” diplomats and was transferred to the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs on Monday as deputy head of the ministry.
Zhao took up the post of foreign ministry spokesperson in 2020, after making headlines with controversial tweets as an envoy to Pakistan, reported The Straits Times.
Zhao was known for his vociferous defence of the Communist-led country on social media platforms such as Twitter – which is blocked in China.
He built a large following on Twitter as well as on Chinese social media for his frequent and often combative posts, many targeted at the US, reported The Straits Times.
In a controversial Twitter post in March 2020, Zhao wrote that the US military might have brought the coronavirus to the Chinese city of Wuhan.
He also sparked outrage in Canberra when he posted an illustration of an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to a child’s throat, prompting condemnation by Australia’s prime minister.
Zhao, who often hosted the ministry’s daily media briefing, has 1.9 million Twitter followers.
Zhao and the ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his change in role.
His rise in influence came as Beijing spearheaded a more aggressive diplomatic turn under President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful ruler in decades.
Late last month, China promoted Qin Gang, its ambassador to Washington and a trusted aide of President Xi Jinping, to be its new foreign minister, as Beijing and Washington seek to stabilise rocky relations.
Other former spokespersons have also risen to prominent posts. Lu Kang became a director at the ministry’s North America department and is now China’s ambassador to Indonesia, while Geng Shuang was promoted to become China’s deputy permanent representative at the UN.