UN celebrity diplomacy in China: activism, symbolism and national ambition online
In this article in International Affairs, Saskia Postema and Jan Melissen examine Chinese celebrities' UN-affiliated Weibo activism in the context of China's increasing engagement in the United Nations, which coincides with a shrinking domestic public sphere under Xi Jinping's leadership.
- Saskia Postema and Jan Melissen
- 10 May 2021
- Link to article (available open access)
Our article sheds light on how Chinese celebrity diplomacy is balancing contradictory expectations by the UN, the Chinese party-state and the domestic public in China. In doing so, we offer an important conceptual update of the western-centric literature on ‘celebrity diplomacy’, which focuses mostly on celebrity politics instead of diplomacy and tends to neglect the digital sphere. Based on a combined qualitative and quantitative approach, we draw fresh conclusions from nine Chinese celebrities' communication on Weibo since 2013. Our research covers the years marking China's growing self-confidence and a more assertive Chinese diplomatic style in global affairs. Although accredited by the UN, on balance Chinese celebrities' activism has become more symbolic than real, and as a rule aligned with the Chinese leadership's domestic and international ambitions. At a time of greater Chinese global activism, we are sensitive to the policy implications of Chinese celebrities' engagement on the cusp of the political and diplomatic spheres.