Weibo diplomacy
: management, measurement and challenges

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


There is increasing discussion around digital diplomacy and its impact on both the concept and practice of diplomacy in the most recent literatures. However, most of them rarely address the controversial issues in specific political, cultural and social background with a non-Western emphasis and contribute to the theoretical development in this new area. In addition, the evaluation method of the impact and performance of digital diplomacy are not explored enough to support digital diplomacy management and development in practice.

Therefore, this thesis takes the British Embassy China’s Weibo (micro-blogging) as the case study objective to analyse the data retrieved from the preliminary research within a theoretical framework adapted from Bjerling’s (2012) analytical model that illustrates the three dimensions of media personalisation, Farrell and Webb’s (2002) operationalisation of the concept of professionalisation, Nye’s (2011) soft power theory, and Grunig’s (2004) Excellence theory in public relations to discuss Weibo diplomacy in the context of new public diplomacy. It uses the method of content and narrative analysis, interviews, focus group survey to collect research data between January 2011 and July 2018. Furthermore, this thesis uses the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) method to measure the performance and impact of the British Embassy China Weibo. The outcome answers the fundamental research question of this study: How did professionalisation and personalisation help to articulate the British Embassy Weibo content and whether Weibo enables two-way symmetrical diplomatic dialogue that makes real influence among Chinese public? This study adds a rarely examined case study of digital diplomacy practice in China where social media regulation and political system are completely different from those of the Western countries to address the research gaps mentioned above.

The thesis firstly discussed that the Weibo had been used as a new public diplomacy tool by diplomatic organisations and diplomats to communicate foreign policy issues and accomplish diplomatic goals. It also identified the presence of professionalisation of the new digital tool and staff who managing digital communication. Secondly, it argued that the Weibo becomes an alternative official diplomatic information resource narrated in personalised and informal content to engage target foreign audience with emotional links. Finally, it argued that the communication model of the British Embassy Weibo is two-way but unsymmetrical and measured the impact of the British Embassy Weibo among the target audience.

As concluded, the findings highlight the dilemmas that the foreign diplomatic institutions in China face up to when they conduct digital diplomatic practice. Digital diplomacy is finding its way to make impact between control and transparency. The conclusion suggests that using social media in diplomatic communication is a great step forward but not yet a revolutionary change as assumed by many scholars and diplomats. It has made a noticeable impact, but this impact is still limited due to China’s unique state and non-state actors’ intervene. Therefore, digital diplomacy is still on its way to achieve desired outcomes in different social and political contexts worldwide.
Date of Award1 Jan 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRamon Pacheco Pardo (Supervisor), Melissa Nisbett (Supervisor) & Timothy Hildebrandt (Supervisor)

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