Tuesday, May 29, 2018

PM, Bishop urged to join China's Weibo

Lisa Martin, bordermail.com.au

Amid icy China-Australia relations, Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop have been urged to jump on the Weibo bandwagon - China's equivalent to Twitter.

image (not from article) from

Foreign embassies have been self-censoring and are failing to speak up when content is censored on Weibo, a new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says.

Between November 2017 and January, the US embassy's Weibo account was censored by the social media giant 28 times, including six cases of deleted posts and 15 times comments on posts were disabled immediately.

The Australian embassy's Weibo account was censored three times in three months for mentioning China's President Xi Jinping.

"Whether this lack of censorship reflects savvy account management, the (Chinese Communist Party) disinterest in the embassy Weibo account or self-censorship by the Australian government is the important question," the report by Fergus Ryan says.

Mr Ryan said in Australia's case, the lack of transparency and cycle of self-censorship sits oddly with the description of a country as "a determined advocate of liberal institutions, universal values and human rights" in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper.

The report urges the Turnbull government to set up accounts for the prime minister and foreign minister and commit to publishing transparency reports about the extent legitimate public diplomacy [JB emphasis] efforts are being curtailed in China.

It suggests embassies should cross-post all of their content on Twitter so that audiences are both aware of any incidences of censorship and have alternative avenues to access full content.

The report said Israel had ploughed resources into a Weibo presence in the last three years and now had the most followers of any foreign embassy.

Israel has close to two million followers while Australia is ranked 10th with more than 205,000.

However, Japan, the US and UK had the most popular posts.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd is a Weibo user and has used the platform to criticise Mr Turnbull for derailing Canberra's ties with Beijing.

Relations with China have soured in the past year and Beijing is especially cranky about Australia's foreign interference laws.

No Australian minister had visited the Chinese mainland for eight months until Trade Minister Steve Ciobo broke the drought earlier this month.

Australian Associated Press

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