Web-savvy FM leads way with microblog

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Foreign Ministry events such as news conferences were previously considered to be the sole preserve of diplomats and journalists, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, anyone who is interested in diplomacy can now get involved.

In an online chat with Ambassador Song Zhe, head of China's mission to the European Union, on Thursday, netizens asked a wide range of questions on issues such as agricultural cooperation, youth exchanges and the environment. 

They got in touch with Song through the online forum of the Foreign Ministry and Waijiao Xiaolingtong, the ministry's microblog on Sina.com.

Waijiao Xiaolingtong has attracted more than 220,000 followers since it was registered by the ministry on April 13, with over 750 posts as of Thursday.

More than a platform releasing important information about top Chinese officials' state visits and providing timely contact information in case of emergencies, the microblog also shares the experiences of diplomats working abroad and lighthearted information, such as the proper table manners, with Internet users.

After Chinese tennis player Li Na won the French Open, the microblog immediately posted foreign media reports about Li's victory.

With more than 10 posts, it also closely followed her and even updated fans on Li's after-match celebrations when Ambassador Kong Quan invited Li to the Chinese embassy in Paris. The posts included photos and stories revealing that Li was enjoying a very relaxing evening by eating her favorite Chinese food at the embassy.

With its easygoing language peppered with humorous online catchphrases, it is not difficult to see how the microblog has managed to attract attention from a fast growing number of fans within a very short time.

Most of the microblog's followers are young people or students who are interested in diplomacy and international relations, Jia Xiudong, a fan of Waijiao Xiaolingtong since it was set up, told China Daily.

Jia has also been involved in establishing a fans' group with around 240 members, which has regular polls and offers suggestions on the microblog's future development.

The Foreign Ministry seems to have been in the lead among ministry-level departments in the Chinese government in terms of using microblogging services.

However, it is not alone in favoring microblogging diplomacy in China.

A number of diplomatic agencies and foreign embassies in China have already opened accounts on Sina.com, such as the United Nations and UNESCO.

The Japanese embassy in China, whose microblog has more than 55,000 followers, used this platform to express its heartfelt gratitude for the Chinese government and people's support following the devastating tsunami and earthquake on March 11.

"As a communication tool, we think microblogging is definitely worth a try. It helps us reach our 'final target', which is Chinese people, in the most direct way," Li Xiaofo, press officer of the French embassy in China, told Chinese media.

Government organizations used to communicate with the public in an official and formal manner. But now, digital tools like microblogs are providing interactive channels that cater to personalized needs, according to Yu Guoming, a professor of communications at Renmin University of China.

"Public diplomacy no longer solely depends on official channels. The forms of communication will become increasingly diversified, digitalized and people-oriented in the future," Yu told China Daily.

Diplomacy is not supposed to be mysterious, said Zhang Ying, associate professor at the Public Diplomacy Research Center of Beijing Foreign Studies University.

With its microblog and holding its Open Day event during which the public can visit the Foreign Ministry, more people have the chance to get involved and gain a deeper understanding of the country's foreign policy.

"The government now attaches more importance to public diplomacy programs, and its input in them is growing. Compared with other forms of diplomacy, public diplomacy programs require a smaller input but have a greater impact," she told China Daily.

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