The rising question in the digital diplomacy field is: whether it is possible to apply the basic principle of Chinese philosophy “I came – I traded – I made friends” to the digital performance in the Chinese market.
All the power of the Internet can be graphically displayed by the number of its users. At the very moment – it is the largest in China, amounting to 721,434,547. And growing every second. This figure represents 52.2% of the total population of China and has increased by 2.2% compared to 2015. The share is 17.4% higher than second-ranked India, although 38.9% lower than fifth-placed Japan. But it still represents a huge potential for the digital face of public diplomacy – digital diplomacy.
The majority of the Western popular social networks do not have access to the Chinese market. On the other hand, according to available data, neither Chinese officials have accounts in western social media. Censorship or if you feel more convenient – strict control of the Internet content by the Chinese state, imposes strict rules and restricts access to traditional #digitaldiplomacy tools.
This requires a change in the strategy of the diplomatic representatives. The communication seems to have been adapted and they now communicate with residents of the host country through the enormously popular Chinese platforms such as Sina Weibo (新浪 微 博) or mobile chat service WeChat (微 信) instead of Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Two months ago, we in Serbia witnessed great interest from Chinese and regional media in the visit of the Chinese President Mr. Xi Jinping to the Republic of Serbia. As part of the tour which reinforces a new strategic approach to the European continent, which is reflected in the restoration of the traditional Silk Road, the two countries signed numerous bilateral strategic agreements.
The euphoria in Serbia, which occasionally overcame the common norms of diplomatic protocol, having roots whether in the unrestrained feeling of friendship and intimacy or overt happiness due to the announced investments, was transferred to social networks.
Thus, the official Serbian communication accounts of the President, Prime Minister, and Ministry of Defence (the most reactions caused by welcoming of the Chinese President’s plane entering Serbian airspace by SAF MiG 29 jets) covered this activity with a large number of tweets and posts. The official visit was covered also by Chinese media and its social network accounts monitored such as the Xinhua News Agency, China Daily, particularly the CCTV youtube channel.
Detailed analysis of how Weibo users tracked the visit is difficult due to the obvious language barrier, but a cursory review of the results obtained enrolling “president – Serbia – visit” in the Weibo search – gave interesting data.
As I previously wrote, the Republic of Serbia still has neither the official communication channels of the MFA nor embassy accounts (except the non-verified Twitter account of the embassy in Washington). It remains to appeal to Serbian officials to open the channels and start practicing the basic principles of modern digital diplomacy as soon as possible. This especially bearing in mind that Serbia recently raised the strategic partnership with China on the level of comprehensive strategic partnership.
Speaking about the performance on the Chinese online stage, The Republic of Serbia (and the rest of the world) should follow the path that has been paved by the embassies of western countries accredited in China. They have already recognized the potential of “Chinese Twitter” Weibo with its 600+ million users (according to the latest statistics 120 million daily active users). Video clips on it are seen more than 470 million times daily. These are figures that make dizzy the average Internet connoisseur in Europe.
If the newly opened accounts were carried out following a clear strategy by carefully selected content and interaction with the local population – I am convinced that the number of followers would be multiple. When it comes to Serbia, one should not ignore the popularity of Bata Zivojinovic and Novak Djokovic have had in the most populous country. This would significantly improve the potential of not just natural resources promotion. As a reminder – Chinese tourists recorded 150 million visits overseas in 2015.
In the end, I would remind you of an interesting case from May last year. A few days before the visit to China, the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi opened a Weibo account and greet the Chinese followers with “Hello China”. In clear Chinese. This post sparked reactions of ordinary Chinese people – both positive and negative due to outstanding bilateral disputes. The number of followers had a dizzying increase after a few days only. One of the most popular #digitaldiplomacy leader during the meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang went a step further by posting a selfie with his colleague. Selfie diplomacy at its best.
I opened a Weibo account.
Proceed according to your preferences.