British Prime Minister David Cameron tweets arrival on Weibo

British prime minister latest foreign politician to try to win over Chinese public by creating account on popular microblogging platform

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 11:37am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2013, 9:33am

The British Prime Minister David Cameron has become one of the most popular foreign politicians on China's biggest microblogging service, Sina Weibo.

Cameron's account had attracted some 155,000 followers by the first day of his visit to the mainland yesterday.

"Arrived in China, pleased to have my second visit to Beijing as British Prime Minister. I will meet the Chinese leaders later," Cameron announced to his followers yesterday morning.

The British embassy in Beijing confirmed the account was genuine and that it had been set up on Friday, ahead of the trip.

"Hello my friends in China. I'm pleased to have joined Weibo and look forward to visiting China very soon," Cameron said in English and Mandarin in his first message, which was then forwarded more than 27,000 times and received more than 12,000 "likes".

The British leader is the latest in a series of politicians to open an account on Weibo to boost their profile and popularity on the mainland, with some proving hugely popular.

The IMF managing director Christine Lagarde has 3.6 million followers on the microblogging site. The European Council President Herman Van Rompuy has 3.3 million followers.

Most of their posts are copied from their Twitter accounts in English and give details of their work including events they are attending. Even so, their followers on Weibo dwarf their numbers on Twitter. Just over 160,000 follow Lagarde on the US-based microblogging site, with over 134,000 following Van Rompuy.

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd comes third in the ranks of most popular foreign politicians on the mainland on Weibo. He has attracted some 568,000 followers since he opened his account last April.

Unlike others who copy and paste comments from Twitter, the Putonghua-speaking politician often shows off his Chinese-language skills.

The most popular post by Rudd, who signs off as "old Lu" a reference to his Chinese name "Lu Kewen", was in July when he messaged about a telephone conversation with President Xi Jinping . The post was shared more than 32,000 times and generated hundreds of comments.

Weibo accounts are usually opened by foreign politicians ahead of visits to the mainland.

Van Rompuy opened his account in May 2011, days before his visit to China, while Lagarde's opened hers on November 2011 before she held talks with leaders in Beijing on the mainland's contributions to the IMF.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is sometimes mentioned as potential contender for the leadership of Cameron's Conservatives, also recently opened an account.

Although he registered his Sina Weibo account last May, Johnson was inactive until October ahead of a six-day visit to Beijing. However, he has not messaged his nearly 130,000 followers since October 18 after he wrapped up the visit.

Not all politicians have had an enjoyable experience on the popular microblogging platform.

Former Taiwanese premier Frank Hsieh Chang-ting had his Sina Weibo account blocked in February, only four days after he upgraded to a verified account.