Venezuelan president’s weibo debut spurs demand for Chinese officials to follow suit

Nicolas Maduro is only the second state leader to open a Sina Weibo account

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 September, 2013, 3:27pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 September, 2013, 12:44pm

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro’s debut appearance on China’s popular microblog network may well be a mere public relations stunt coordinating with his upcoming Beijing visit this weekend, but it has prompted a flurry of calls from bloggers for haughty Chinese officials to follow suit and improve their interactions with ordinary people.

A verified account of Maduro had attracted about 18,000 followers on Twitter-like Sina Weibo by Thursday afternoon since its first message was published on Monday, making him only the second state leader to open an account on the Chinese social network after former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd who joined last year.

Most of the postings on the Latin American leader’s weibo carried his blunt political stands including endorsement of his administration’s signature “Street Government” approach and his condemnation of “malicious media” in his country. It was not immediately known who was behind the blog postings, but many foreign celebrities and officials are known to pass their Sina blog operations to their assistants or press officers.

Timing of the official account’s recent activities suggests it is likely to be part of the government’s preparation for Maduro’s visit for China this weekend which was announced on Tuesday.

The postings, which were all written in Chinese in an effort to connect with a bigger social network population, also appeared to be mostly grammatically-incoherent in terms of Chinese writing. One posting read “We shall toward those evil capitalist class bring morally condemnations” and another “Our mission at the moment is to invoke and to represent all people’s power”.

Despite many Chinese bloggers criticising the messages for being carelessly translated, many more appeared to welcome the initiative of foreign leaders to directly interact with ordinary Chinese internet users.

“While foreign state leaders open verified accounts on China’s social network website but provincial officials in China dare not do the same, how do you guys expect to ‘take control of the public opinion fronts’ as you promised?” wrote an avid blogger under the alias of “Si Ma Ping Bang” who is known for his nationalist views. More than one thousand bloggers echoed his criticism.

According to China Youth Daily, about 50,000 officials across China at all levels had registered verified accounts on China’s two most popular microblogs since the beginning of this year, although only a fraction of them are minister-level officials.

The report, citing a government study on the activities of official blogs, said government officials only wrote 15 per cent of all their postings, with the rest reposted from other accounts. Many officials remained inactive shortly after their initial postings, it added.

Bloggers have also been complaining that many officials only use the online platform to engage in propaganda without a sincere interest in listening to and interacting with online users.

Sina Weibo, which says it has over 46 million active users, has been host to a number of foreign government or international organisation officials.

The list includes International Monetary Fund chairwoman Christine Lagarde, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, London mayor Boris Johnson, and several US state-level administrators.