Zhao Lijian is at the forefront of Beijing’s combative campaign against criticism
Zhao Lijian thrives on controversy. Aggressive promotion of China’s interests is expected for a foreign ministry spokesperson, but Mr Zhao has pioneered an extreme approach by becoming a populist provocateur who owes his career to a willingness to shock, needle and troll Beijing’s critics on Twitter.
For Beijing, he has crystallised a model for diplomacy with a jagged edge and driven the shift away from an older generation of more conservative and restrained engagement, analysts said.
The diplomatic furore that Mr Zhao set off last week, when he tweeted a computer-generated image of an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to the throat of an Afghan child, was the latest in a string of incendiary incidents that delight Chinese nationalists.
In a sign of acceptance of Mr Zhao’s tactics, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a think-tank that reports to China’s State Council, in May released a series of strategy documents on the need to “strengthen China’s ability to fight for international public opinion”. It said China had to “counterattack” against critics on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, all of which are blocked in mainland China.