The Indian Embassy in Beijing has taken to China’s widely popular version of Twitter in a new public diplomacy campaign aimed at directly reaching out to young, middle-class Chinese, in an attempt to present an often overlooked “modern” image of India here in China.
Microblogs, or “Weibos”, have grown rapidly over recent years to become the most popular platform for both debate and information-sharing in Chinese cyberspace.
A number of foreign embassies have, in recent months, taken to microblogs to directly reach out to the Chinese public and circumvent the State-controlled media in their public diplomacy efforts.
The Indian Embassy’s postings on the popular Sina Weibo microblog, which has more than a hundred million users, will focus on culture and tourism.
“We are trying to maximise our outreach, and this is a new mode of communication to reach out to more young Chinese people,” Indian Ambassador to China S. Jaishankar told The Hindu.
Since it began posting messages on May 18, India Tourism’s Sina Weibo account has already attracted 20,797 followers. The account mainly posts images and information about different travel destinations in India.
On July 21, the Indian Embassy’s Culture Centre also got on Weibo, announcing its arrival with an invitation to an open screening of a Bollywood film, Lafangey Parindey.
Getting on Weibo, Mr. Jaishankar said, was part of a larger campaign to make the Indian Embassy’s public diplomacy initiatives “more interactive”. The Embassy looked to connect “to a younger set of people” to present a more updated image of India in a country where perceptions are still rooted in images of Indian cinema from the 1950s and 1960s.
“A lot of older people here have a recognition of India, but in the last thirty years we have missed out, and we are to some degree still playing catch up,” he said.
In recent months the Indian Embassy had made a concerted effort in its public diplomacy to reach out to this demographic, Mr. Jaishankar added. Earlier this year, it organised a first “India Day” to engage with students at Beijing’s elite Peking University. Events in at least three other universities will be held in coming months.
The Indian Embassy isn’t the first to get on Weibo to spread its message. The British Embassy launched an account as early as in November 2009, when the platform was only just taking off. It has 1,65,000 followers. The United States Embassy has the most popular Weibo account of any foreign mission, with more than 2,08,000 followers.
The response to India Tourism’s postings has, so far, been positive, with Chinese users sharing their experiences of travelling to India and their perceptions of Indian culture.
Any political discussions that are perceived sensitive will, however, likely remain out of bounds on Weibo, as the Canadian Embassy, which also recently opened a Weibo account, discovered last week.
A message posted on the case of Lai Changxing, a Chinese fugitive who had been granted refuge in Canada and recently returned to China, was deleted, according to reports in the Canadian media.
Despite a number of censorship controls, Weibo has still emerged as among the most free spaces for debate in the vibrant Chinese blogosphere, most recently stirring nationwide outrage following a bullet train crash which was first reported on microblogs.
Weibo's increasing popularity, Indian officials said, rendered it the perfect platform to reach out to young Chinese, as well as correct prevalent misperceptions of India.
Impressions of India on Chinese blogs are often limited to either discussions of Buddhism and related tourist spots, or widely negative portrayals of poverty in India.
“We want youngsters and youth to know what rising India is,” said Arun Kumar Sahu, Political and Cultural Counsellor at the Indian Embassy.
“Getting on Weibo is an attempt to reach to more youngsters and tech-savvy people, the people who represent rising China.”