Australian PM’s Online Musings Have Chinese Wondering: Where Is Xi’s Microblog Account?

On July 9, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd posted on a social media site about a phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The twist? The message was written in Chinese on the immensely popular Chinese microblogging platform Sina Weibo. Rudd wrote:

Yesterday I spoke on the phone with Xi Jinping in my office. We spoke for half an hour in Chinese, talking about some important points in Sino-Australian, Asia-Pacific, and international affairs. I and Chairman Xi value our two countries’ bilateral relations. I also took this opportunity to invite Chairman Xi to come to Australia next year to visit and participate in the Brisbane G20 summit.

Rudd, whose Chinese name is Lu Kewen, signed the tweet “Old Lu.” His brief post was shared over 23,000 times and generated hundreds of comments. Many Weibo users complemented Rudd’s Chinese and noted how wonderful it was that a leader could be bilingual. Others drew comparisons with their own top leaders—none of whom have registered Weibo accounts.

Response to Rudd’s post was overwhelmingly positive. One user lauded Rudd for being, “Among the people, not above the people.” Others complimented his Chinese and his informal style. Many requested hufen, or in the parlance of Twitter, a follow back. Still more invited him to Wuhan, Chengdu, and other parts of China to try the local fare.

The Prime Minister’s post also sparked some reflection about China’s own leaders. One comment by Weibo user @仲岸 reflected a thought voiced by many: “[Rudd] must be the highest-level official on Weibo.” Some lower-level Chinese Party members and officials have Weibo accounts, but the only top-level officials with verified accounts on Weibo are foreign.

Chinese authorities have pushed government bodies to establish online presences—the number of official government accounts increased by 250% in 2012 from the previous year—but individual cadres have been reluctant to set up verified accounts of their own, perhaps fearing that such a move might backfire or draw unwanted attention. Weibo has been largely negative for government officials, as citizen journalists have used the platform to expose cadres’ corruption, extravagance, and extramarital affairs.

Indeed, it was only in late 2012 that Sina Weibo unblocked the names of top officials like Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang on Sina Weibo; prior to this, searches for China’s top leaders would yield no results, “in accordance with relevant laws, regulations, and policies.” Some Chinese government officials acknowledge that tuning in to social media is an excellent way to get a feel for public opinion: Wang Yang, a top Party official, has stated that he reads comments on Sina Weibo every day. Yet he and others have been reluctant to take the next step of registering official accounts on social media sites.

Responses to Rudd’s post showed, however, that many netizens wish that their own leaders would take that step. While congratulating the Australian Prime Minister for his Chinese and social media savvy, they wondered where they could find China’s officials. “Why doesn’t President Xi register a Weibo account?” wondered user @春天的猫.

China’s citizens have been eager to connect with their new president, as evidenced by the immense popularity of the Weibo account for an unofficial Xi Jinping fan club, which posts pictures of Xi Jinping that show a more informal, approachable president. Rudd has 463,895 followers on Weibo, but the unofficial fan page for Xi Jinping has 1.5 million.

Some netizens were more understanding of their president’s social media silence. Wrote @wshsh2011,

Xi is like the Australian PM; he too has the need to post things online, but China’s national condition is not as calm as that of Australia, so it’s impossible for Xi to post anything at the moment. When I think about how he can’t do things like normal people do, I feel some sympathy for him in my heart.

Media, Politics
Australia, Weibo, Internet