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Foreign politicians turn to China's social media in diplomacy

2013-12-13 16:50 Xinhua Web Editor: Mo Hong'e

Political leaders dominate headlines and TV news, and some even maintain official Facebook and Twitter accounts. Now foreign leaders are popping up on China's most popular social networks and gaining masses of followers.

Before his three-day visit to China, British Prime Minister David Cameron registered an account on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo on Nov. 29. Within ten minutes of posting his first message, Cameron had amassed over 10,000 comments from the social network's users. So far, the post has gained 50,000 forwards, comments and "likes."

The prime minister showed off his authentic British style on his Weibo, with photos of him dressed in suits in Shanghai and Chengdu.

On Dec. 2, he posted a message saying that he had arrived in China and was happy to be visiting the country for the second time as British prime minister.

"I have learned about how Jaguar and Land Rover achieved great success in the Chinese market," said one entry in Chinese. Another read: "I have witnessed the signing of contracts with China."

Currently Cameron's account, under the user name "Yingguoshouxiang," which means "British prime minister," has attracted over 490,000 followers, most of whom are interested in international relations, trade, pollution control and other big topics.

Followers have also left funny comments. One user wrote: "Hi David, could you kindly ask the TV crew to accelerate the shooting of 'Sherlock.' We miss the curly Sher to death." Others have commented on Cameron's British accent.

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd shared news from his retirement on his Weibo account on Dec. 6. "I am in Beijing for a family visit. My daughter is getting more beautiful," read one update from the former PM. The sweet message and picture won over Chinese netizens, who posted their kind wishes.

Rudd started his Weibo account in April of last year. He was one of the first foreign leaders to establish an account on Sina Weibo.

According to Sina's public relations department, 148 foreign political leaders, including European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde, and Mayor of London Boris Johnson have started Sina Weibo accounts so far.

Weibo is not in charge of updating or translating the messages of these accounts, according to Sina. Some are written by the leaders, while others are written with help from outside Weibo operation teams.

Li Yonghui, dean of the School of International Relations and Diplomacy of Beijing Foreign Studies University, said that public diplomacy is a new trend in diplomacy, and impressive communication is possible when public diplomacy and new media are combined.

"As a political show in form, the combination helps to build national image, deliver national policy and showcase politicians' friendly images," Li said. "They could also use it as an opportunity to explain the rationality of their diplomatic policies to the people."

Li said that China has been extremely active on the global political stage. "Especially for Europe, China is a lively emerging economy. Countries hope to build and maintain close economic relations with China and attract investment."

Of course, some of these accounts have not been maintained. For instance, Mayor of London Boris Johnson quit updating his Chinese Weibo when he finished his China visit in October of this year.

However, Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies, still believes Weibo accounts can bring benefits to both sides in diplomatic efforts.

"The support teams of foreign leaders can take the opportunity to promote their China visits," Qu said. "Meanwhile, the leaders' microblogs could help the media of other countries take great notice of China."

"In contrast to being interviewed by official media, foreign leaders now exchange information with common people in a relaxing way with netizens on microblogs," said Huang Yu, dean and professor of the School of Communication of Hong Kong Baptist University.

The convenient communication method may bring unexpected effects in this globalized and information age, Huang added.

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