The February 22 edition of The Economist has turned its eye on how Chinese diplomats are tweeting. As more Chinese diplomats become active on Twitter, posting their daily work, sharing videos and relaying comments, it has become a convenient way for the public to get informed about China. Some official accounts even act like an official "spokesperson" or media source.
In the age of social media, such "diplomacy" is a major step forward for Chinese diplomats wishing to communicate with the world to create a better and more comprehensive understanding of China.
However, while many Chinese diplomats are just beginning to tweet, their foreign counterparts are already veterans on China's Weibo and other emerging Chinese social media platforms.
Foreign embassies in China has been practicing "Weibo diplomacy" or "Wei-diplomacy" for years. It's a remarkable publicity practice. To gain popularity in China, some politicians, like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have opened official accounts on Weibo. Trudeau opened his Weibo account in 2013.
The UK embassy in China launched its official Weibo account soon after the government distributed Twitter and public diplomacy guidance to cabinet members in 2009. Its account tends to behave like a newsroom, updating the public on high-level exchanges and visits of British officials and business representatives. Sometimes, the embassy also posts recruitment advertisements and visa policies.
Of the embassy accounts on Weibo, the U.S. embassy's account is probably one of the more active. Seminars on American society, culture, history, education, visa policies, U.S. politics, and elections constitute the main contents. However, one of the most attractive topics on Weibo this January was perhaps the online "wars" between the U.S. embassy and Iranian embassy, centered on the Soleimani assassination. It is very interesting, especially since the two embassies are located opposite sides of a road in Beijing.
The photo shows the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in Beijing, capital of China, April 6, 2018. /Xinhua Photo
In terms of promotion, many embassies have strategies and have hired special people to implement them.
"Durian activities" and "Thai food festival" are brands for the Thailand embassy in China. Every year, the Thai embassy will organize activities, invite influential online figures and interact with them online. Thailand is one of the most attractive destinations for Chinese tourists in recent years. Interactions, including "online quarrels" among Sweden, Norwegian and Denmark embassies in Beijing, sometimes trigger a wave of media coverage. Nowadays, the Scandinavian countries are emerging spots for Chinese travelers.
Beyond brand setting, home decorations could be a very attractive and unique edge.
Sushi, Mountain Fuji, kimonos and Japanese bullet train Shinkansen make up the Japanese embassy's Weibo account homepage. Joint promotion activities on China-Japan exchanges are the main themes among the Japanese embassy, consular offices, Japan's local tourism agencies, and influential Chinese travel vloggers.
The Israeli embassy in China would be a good example for a case study. The Middle East is a complex region with many sensitive topics. In its strategy, specialists operate Weibo and WeChat account to attract its target audience, interact with followers, shape public opinion on Israel and exert Israeli soft power. Israeli public diplomacy has been careful in handling sensitive issues and has set a good image among Chinese netizens.
So far, its official Weibo account has 2.09 million followers, just a little bit fewer than the U.S. embassy's 2.68 million followers and the Canadian embassy's 2.33 million followers. But the embassy's publicity campaign is pretty impressive.
With newly emerged content platforms like Jinri Toutiao, many embassies and foreign organizations in China are trying to adjust their publicity approaches. Similar trends are emerging in international communication, as Chinese diplomats want to talk more with the locals, and the locals are eager to learn more about China. Therefore, to meet the increasing demand for Chinese stories, more Chinese diplomats have joined social media, including Twitter.
Today, social media is more influential than traditional media. As China becomes the world's second-largest economy, no country can be excluded from hot topics related to China. Therefore, more Chinese voices on social media could provide more perspectives for people to have a better, more vivid, comprehensive and balanced view of China.