Foreign embassies reach out to Chinese net users on microblog

April 8, 2011Jing GaoNo Comments, , , , , , , , , , ,

From Southern Weekend

“My colleagues in the Delegation of the European Union to China and I have become fans of China and the Chinese people, so I am happy to invite you to become our fans.” March 29, Markus Ederer, newly elected EU ambassador to China, post his first message, similar to tweet on Twitter, on EU’s official Chinese language microblog hosted by Sina.

Ederer looks to bring something new to the China-EU relations, “Presenting credentials, attending activities, making contact with officials, these are our routine work,” He said, “But I have always been thinking how to better communicate with people in China.”

He is not alone. The U.S. Embassy in China launched its microblog at the end of last may, and now has 68,277 fans. Within the past 10 months, they posted about 900 messages, which averages out to be three per day.

The U.S. embassy posted a picture of Ambassador Huntsman with Chinese Harley-Davidson riders in Shanghai on April 7

British embassy is the first one to launch an official Chinese language microblog. Then Japan and France also began to stay connected with Chinese netizens. Denmark has expanded the size of its fan base to 24,574 people, although it did not start microblogging in Chinese until March 3, and it so far has only posted 50 messages.

Earlier than that, French embassy jumped on the band wagon before the new ambassador to China took office. But it seems the Eiffel Tower’s glamor pales before the Little Mermaid. French Embassy has jabbered out 96 messages and has only got 5,662 fans. On March 8, Sylvie Bermann, the new French Ambassador, said hello to Chinese net users and reported her first diplomatic event – a ceremony of the International Women’s Day at the Great People’s Hall. She even attached a photo to the post, a Sina Microblog feature that Twitter doesn’t have.

Microblogs use tags to establish personas. The Danish Embassy adopts “High quality food,” “innovation” and “fashion,” whereas the French embassy associates itself with “Romance.”

“As a communication toll widely used in China, microblog is worth our effort to try. Its major advantage is reaching ‘end users,’ or Chinese people, directly without going through any agent. They will all receive our messages from their own computer screens,” press officer of Embassy of France in China said.

Japanese embassy has a similar wish. Their first microblog post was published on Feburary 1. So far, they have published 111. “Microblog has significance as a platform of communication on the web. We hope that more Chinese friends can follow Japan on microblog and develop an interest into Japan,” said Shigeo Yamada, a minister at the Japanese embassy in China.

On one occasion, Uichiro Niwa, Japanese ambassador to China, said, “Why the feelings of Japanese and Chinese citizens towards each other is so bad? It’s just because most citizens of the two countries haven’t made contact with each other…Now the information technology is so advanced, if there is a will to communicate, there is a way.”

On March 7, the U.S. embassy published four posts about then ambassador Jon Huntsman visiting the China-North Korean border. One of them mentioned that when Mr. Huntsman visited the broken bridge across the Yalu River, he said to the effect that the bridge recorded a historic moment in our world’s history and reminds people there are bridges to be completed.

The post attracted 38 comments. A user named CopyGar wrote, “Who was responsible for breaking the bridge?” Some asked Huntsman if he went to learn about North Korea out of his desire to become the U.S. president. The U.S. embassy did not respond to these comments.

Interestingly, some users think what’s good about the U.S. embassy’s microblog is it doesn’t delete comments or “blacken” people (microblog terminology, meaning blacklist users and block them), so it is “much better than the Japanese embassy’s microblog. ”

Among posts published by the U.S. embassy, 310 of them, or about 36% were about American culture, history and society. Only 7%, or 60 posts, were about U.S.-China relations.

The most popular post by the U.S. embassy was one published on January 5 about property prices in the U.S. It says the market value of a 3-bedroom house about 30-minute drive away from downtown Washington D.C. is US$400,000. The message was shared 6,922 times and generated 2,265 comments. Most commenters were stunned to know a decent house in the U.S. is cheaper than an apartment in many Chinese cities, and complained about the skyrocketing housing prices in China.

Netizens then began to ask questions about life in America on the microblog, such as tax, telephone bills, etc. The embassy answered them in its posts. Prior to China’s Two Sessions, it published information regarding finances of the U.S. government.

Compared with the U.S. embassy, Japanese embassy’s microblog seems very reserved. Among all the 110 posts so far, 1/3 are about food and travel. 1/3 are updates of the ambassador. The rest is information of studying in Japan and Japanese enterprises in China.

“From now on, we will also discuss topics that interest everyone with fans,” Minister Shigeo Yamada told Southern Weekend.

“EU in China,” the delegation’s official microblog, said specifically that their posts will mainly focus on non-political subjects and aim to introduce to the Chinese general public European lifestyle. The team in charge of updating the microblog is a group of vigorous young people. The ambassador himself will also write some of the posts himself.

Currently microblogs of the U.S. and Japanese embassies have the largest fan bases. Southern Weekend sampled 600 people from “fans” of the U.S. and Japanese embassies, 300 from each, and studied the characteristics of this demographic.

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Quite a share of fans are nationalists. There are comments about claiming Diaoyu Island (aka Senkaku Islands, land in dispute between China and Japan; currently controlled by Japan but also claimed by China) on almost every post published by the Japanese embassy. User “Leajoy” told Southern Weekend that he wants to convey views of him, an ordinary Chinese, on delicate issues between China and Japan, such as Diaoyu and Ryukyu Islands.

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