Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Japan and met Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on November 17, for the first time for a world leader since Mr. Suga became prime minister in September. After his return to his home country, Mr. Morrison underwent a compulsory two-weeks quarantine period.

The priorities put and sacrifices paid by both countries show the importance of this meeting for them. Japan and Australia have been strengthening ties with Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) nations, U.S., India and Australia, which were conducting the joint navy exercises “Malabar 2020” in the Arabian Sea.

During Mr. Morrison’s visit to Japan, a broad defense agreement is reached. This new defense pact, in essence, enables Australia and Japan an advanced cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in South and East China seas.

As expected, China’s “wolf warrior diplomacy” was turned on against this development.

Zhao Lijian, one of the prominent “wolf warriors” and currently the deputy director of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Department, harshly reprimanded Australian Prime Minister in the press conference on that day and divulged a number of dissatisfactions on Australian policy on China. China’s embassy in Canberra followed through by circulating a list of 14 grievances about Australia.

Mr. Morrison rebuffed the Chinese threat on November 19 and showed his determination to never back down on basic Australian values and interests, such as free speech and security. And then, he toned-down on Monday this week November 23, indicating that he does not intend to choose between the U.S. and China as if there is an option not to choose.

China’s upgraded assertiveness became evident in 2018 when the old policy of “Low Profile” policy originally advocated by Deng Xiaoping came to an end and Chinese diplomats stationed all over the world threw away diplomatic politeness and started using harsh words and rhetoric in their attacks on world leaders.

It was as if they intended to force the world to go back to the era of “Kowtow diplomacy” in which Imperial China demanded envoys of minor nations from all over the world to kneel down and put their heads down to earth as if to worship the Chinese Emperor, to show respect to the sublimeness of the Emperor and to recognize their own inferiority.

Mr. Morrison, a close ally with the U.S., particularly with the Trump administration, is faced with this new version of Kowtow diplomacy and taking a zigzagging course which shows how difficult it is to dance with wolves in the new frontier of the 21st century.