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English>>China Society

Online platforms have become important for public diplomacy

By Zhao Shengnan (China Daily)

11:00, November 03, 2012

If not for a lottery on the micro blog of the Italian embassy's culture office, Wang Yueyue, a fan of traditional Chinese operas, may never have thought of listening to an Italian one.

"I haven't watched any foreign operas because I'm afraid my local ears can't get used to them. Besides, you know, anything foreign in China costs too much," said Wang, a Beijing resident in her 30s.

But on Nov 15, she will watch Madame Butterfly and Turandot performed by Chinese singer Li Guoling and Italian pianist Diego Cravetti in Beijing after winning a free ticket from the micro blog.

Wang is just one of the increasing number of Chinese following and actively interacting with foreign countries through micro blogs.

The micro blogs have become an important platform for foreign governments to promote public diplomacy in China and pose an increasing influence on China's Internet, said the first research report on foreign governments' micro blogs in China, which was released on Friday.

According to the report, the number of foreign government micro blogs surged in 2011, bringing the total by the end of June to 165 on the top four micro-blogging sites - Sina, Tencent, Netease and Sohu.

Those of the United States and Britain were the most influential, said the report.

The 23 micro blogs of the US embassy actively advocate its traditional values through covering diversified issues ranging from US geography, celebrities and history to commenting on Chinese social problems including gender inequality, environmental pollution and races.

They also compared China's hot issues by providing a comparison with those in the US, which convey US values, said the research, citing freedom, equality and justice on top of the list.

"These micro blogs have cast enormous influence on the Chinese public, especially the Chinese netizen. The foreign governments promote not only their culture, education and tourism resources through the micro blogs, but also forge close interaction with Chinese netizens and opinion leaders on ideology," said Zhang Zhi'an, associate professor of the School of Communication and Design under Sun Yat-sen University.

"Social media evokes public passion to talk about some serious issues which we don't often talk about in our daily life, and that's the way these foreign governments' micro blogs influence Chinese netizens in a subtle way that they didn't even notice," said Zhang, who led the research.

Observers said the trend is for governments to communicate directly with people through social media since more and more countries realize such interactive communication can maximize publicity at a lower cost than traditional media.

The UK, Canada and Thailand all run more than 10 government micro blogs in China. Among the British embassy's more than 10 micro blogs, its cultural and education section on Tencent enjoys the largest number of followers 954,000 among foreign government micro blogs.

In a bid to ensure popularity, some of these micro blogs engage China's opinion leaders, interact with China's netizens frequently, and their content is timely and well-designed with a China perspective, said the report.

The influence of foreign micro blogs is determined by their national strength, ties with China, characteristics and interaction level with netizens, said An Xiaojing, a PhD candidate on communication studies under the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Most countries provide different content to attract Chinese netizens, with Thailand focusing on popular culture, Canada focusing on tourism while Japan avoids sensitive political and historic topics, said the report.

Sixty-six micro blogs - the largest proportion - have been established by the embassies' tourism bodies.

By the end of June, the tourism office of the South Korean embassy had 4,745 posts on Sina micro blogs, far more than their counterparts.

Besides the booming publicity from traditional Chinese tourist destinations like Canada and South Korea, some less known countries also accelerated tourism promotion in China.

Xu Liang, a 23-year-old Shanghai resident, said she has been interested in Finland for a long time, but there was not nearly as much information elsewhere in Chinese about the remote northern European country as on the Finnish embassy's micro blog.

The efficiency of government micro blogs is determined by whether their operators actively interact with people or just release information, said An.

Real life activities organized online can really boost countries' diplomatic reputations, she said. The way that foreign government agencies run micro blogs provides examples for China's public diplomacy in foreign countries, some Chinese netizens said.

These micro blogs can bring a remote country closer to the citizens of the target country, and if designed well can be the most effective way for public communication at the lowest cost, said netizen Cui Meng.

"This is just like a personal friendship," she said.

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