China’s Diplomacy 2.0 and Hu Xijin

When Global Times’ editor Hu Xijin went on Twitter he generated quite a buzz among foreign correspondents and activists in China. The Council on Foreign Relations looks at Hu’s tweeting as part of a new paradigm shift in Chinese politics and diplomacy:

A very long discussion in the December 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs Review, the journal of the Foreign Affairs University, provides some context for what Hu’s tweeting might be about. The article, entitled “Global Politics in the Web 2.0 Era” is a discussion about how communication technologies are changing politics. The cases cited are the usual ones—the protests after the Iranian elections, the Arab Spring, SMS being used to organize protests against Philippine President Joseph Estrada, the Obama campaign’s use of Facebook and other social media—and political dynamics described are also now well known—web 2.0 empowers the individual to spread information, flattens hierarchies, and lowers the cost of mobilizing groups. Democratization and the growth of civil society are trends difficult to control, and as a result China must have a strategy for bringing about gradual change.

Online expression by Chinese netizens, according to the article, can be “immature, aggressive, or empty.” But if China can develop an effective legal system and internal controls, resolve complaints from society, urge people to contribute policy suggestions and better understand national conditions, and strengthen the capacity of the state and the Party, then web 2.0 technology should be viewed “at least [as] an opportunity that outweighs the challenges.”

There is a foreign policy component of the strategy as well. China must defend its Internet sovereignty. It must raise cybersecurity. It must be on guard against a Wikileak-style strategic crisis. It has to be vigilant against malicious rumors and outside interference. China must oppose America’s Internet Freedom agenda, but it also must do more than be reactive. The Chinese government must develop a diplomacy 2.0. The United States and Europe are already using microblogs like Sina Weibo to spread their message within China. During bilateral exchanges, diplomatic negotiations, and international conferences, Chinese officials should use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to spread their policy views. Use of social media will be an important part of building soft power.

See also a related discussion by Elizabeth Economy on how China needs to reset its foreign policy in light of new challenges, including the rise of social media. Read more about China’s diplomacy and about Hu Xijin via CDT.

February 2, 2012 4:10 PM
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