A Chinese diplomat in Pakistan is setting Twitter on fire with his brashness

Lijian Zhao, Deputy Chief of Mission, Chinese Embassy in Pakistan | Photo from his official Twitter handle @zlj517

Lijian Zhao not only parrots Beijing’s official position on diplomatic issues on Twitter, but also Islamabad’s – and with even more gusto.

New Delhi: Diplomacy through Twitter isn’t all that new, and US President Donald Trump has elevated the practice to a whole new level. So much so that the buzzy 280-character medium is attracting the most unlikeliest of diplomats.

Like Lijian Zhao of China for instance.

Sure, the Chinese are known to be tight-lipped diplomats even off social media, let alone on it. But Lijian – China’s number two diplomat in Pakistan – is an exception. The 45-year-old deputy chief of mission at the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad is constantly parroting not just his own country’s position on diplomatic issues on Twitter, but also, and perhaps with more gusto, Islamabad’s.

So committed is the diplomat to the Islamic Republic that until last year, he had prefixed Muhammad to his name, which he dropped days after authorities in China’s western Xinjiang province were reported to have banned 29 Islamic names, including Muhammad.

He retweets more than he tweets. But there’s reason to take the retweets seriously too – his Twitter bio doesn’t carry the usual disclaimer of “retweets are not endorsements”. Instead, it features a cryptic line: “Seek knowledge even in China”.

On Trump’s New Year tweet on Pakistan

The first day of the New Year came as a jolt to the already beleaguered US-Pakistan ties, with Trump tweeting that the US has “foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid” even as all it has got from the Pakistanis are “lies and deceit”.

As expected, the Pakistani government scrambled to give the US a tough response (on Twitter), while the Chinese jumped to their ally’s defence, arguing that Pakistan has made “great efforts & sacrifices for combating terrorism”, and that the “international community should fully recognise this”.

But Zhao didn’t stop here. He not only retweeted every official Pakistani response that there was to the tweet, but also the unofficial ones.

For instance, he retweeted Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who said: “The US just wants to ‘win’ in Afghanistan/Iraq/Syria & the many quagmires they are involved with. No plan to get out. All they are left with is excuses, blame games and denial.”

Another tweet from Zardari that Lijian retweeted was: “We will eradicate extremism because it’s in our interest not because of what @realDonaldTrump says. We will not allow the #US to scapegoat #Pakistan for its own failures in the region.”

He also retweeted retired brigadier Asad Munir, who said the US would get “an unexpected response” for any offensive against Pakistan.

 

Do retweets equal endorsements? The jury’s still out on that.

On CPEC

Lijian’s love for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, however, is unmatched. At one point in time, his Twitter bio, in fact, said: “Follow me for China and CPEC”. He offers his followers a blow-by-blow account of CPEC, its projects and other details.

In the reticent world of Chinese diplomacy, one can’t be quite sure how Lijian’s social media diplomacy is viewed. Yet, for his more than two lakh followers, the Chinese diplomat is a revelation.

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