How Weibo Became a Diplomatic Battlefield

Diplomats and lobbying groups from around the world are increasingly active — and combative — on the platform.

On the afternoon of February 15, an official social media account belonging to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued the following warning to his 1.25 million followers: “We are on the edge of a precipice, but there is still time for President Putin to step back and think. We are urging everyone to engage in dialogue — the Russian government should avoid making a decision that would be a disastrous mistake for the country.”

The reaction among the intended audience of Johnson’s post was one of surprise and bemusement, not at the message itself, which was in line with other proclamations emanating from European capitals last month, but the medium: Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.

Johnson’s warning — which had been translated into Chinese — quickly racked up views, comments, and shares as it spread across the platform. Some replies were on topic, like the commenter who asked why a British Prime Minister had “come running to China to shout at the Russian president on Weibo.” The majority, however, were not. Currently, the most-liked comment under Johnson’s post is a request for a new season of the British drama “Sherlock.”

Nevertheless, the official Weibo account of the Russian Embassy in Beijing felt it necessary to reply with two posts of its own, to the further amusement of Chinese social media users. The most-liked comment under the first reads: “I never dreamed the war would start on Weibo.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised. Over the past year, Weibo has gradually become an important battleground for public diplomacy, as politicians, embassies, and advocates from around the world take to the platform to discuss global affairs. This battle seemed to reach a fever pitch on February 22, when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed presidential decrees recognizing the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and ordered the Russian army to begin military operations in Ukraine. Continue to read the full article here

– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.