Australian politician Kevin Rudd replaced his former deputy Julia Gillard as prime minister and leader of the Labor Party on 27 June 2013. Rudd previously served as prime minister from 2007 to 2010 and leader of the Labor Party from 2006 to 2010. A former diplomat and Chinese-speaker, Rudd is the first former Australian prime minister to return to office since Robert Menzies in 1949.
Kevin Rudd's Weibo post about phone call with Xi Jinping goes viral
It’s been less than a fortnight since Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took office in Canberra, but the Labor Party chief has already become somewhat of a social media rock star – in China.
A post by the newly reinstated leader on China's biggest microblogging platform, Sina Weibo, went viral this week after it was forwarded more than 30,000 times and favourited some 5,000 times. The PM currently has 480,752 followers on Weibo.
In the Tuesday microblog post, Rudd describes a telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping in which the two leaders discussed bilateral relations and diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region.
The conversation is Rudd's first with Xi since he became Prime Minister last month and mostly consisted of "pleasantries", Australia's ABC News reported.
According to China's state-run People’s Daily newspaper, Xi told Rudd he hoped both countries could be “flexible and creative in finding solutions to various problems”.
Xi reportedly told Rudd that a "a high level free-trade agreement" should be secured between the two countries as soon as possible and said he welcomed a visit by Australia’s new Trade Minister Richard Marles to carry out further negotiations.
China's appetite for commodities such as iron ore and gold has grown exponentially in recent years, and it has now become Australia's largest export market. Bilateral trade hit US$134.2 billion in the financial year of 2011 to 2012.
"Last night (Monday), in the office, I spoke with President Xi Jinping over the phone. We chatted in Putonghua for half-an-hour," Rudd said.
Rudd, who speaks fluent Putonghua and has a degree in the language, said he had invited Xi to Brisbane for next year’s G20 summit. A photo of the call was attached with the post.
On Weibo, Rudd, who has been posting since April 2012, follows 15 users including Australia's Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), the United Nations and China's ultra-nationalist newspaper the Global Times.
Most Chinese netizens, all too often thrilled when well-known foreigners take to mainland social media, responded positively to Rudd’s post.
One of 580 users who left comments on the Weibo post said: “It’s great that Rudd puts so much emphasis on Sino-Australian relations. He is taking it to the next level.”
But the post was also the subject of social media humour, too. “I didn’t know Rudd worked for the [state-run] Xinhua News Agency as a correspondent?” one user said.
The joke went the other way as one netizen poked fun of Zhongnanhai’s now-questionable grasp of English: “It’s only fair that Xi calls Rudd back in a few weeks for a half-an-hour phone conversation in English. Let’s see how that goes.”
More high-profile foreign dignitaries and politicians have opened Sina Weibo accounts in recent years, including London Mayor Boris Johnson (125,000 followers), International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde (2.8 million followers) and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (2.6 million followers).
Lagarde and Van Rompuy have more followers on Weibo than they do on Twitter.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying also had a “verified” Sina Weibo account with 68,000 followers and no posts. But it was apparently taken down shortly following a Post request for confirmation.