Chinese Outbound Social Media Platforms in the Indian-Pacific: Just How Soft is Chinese Digital Power?

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Chinese Outbound Social Media Platforms in the Indian-Pacific: Just How Soft is Chinese Digital Power?

Day 1: 25 June 2021

Melbourne, AEST (UTC +10) | 17:00 – 18:00

Beijing, CST (UTC +8) | 15:00 – 16:00
London, BST (UTC +1) | 08:00 – 09:00
New York, EDT (UTC -4) |03:00 – 04:00
Los Angeles, PDT (UTC -7) | 00:00 – 01:00

Crystal Abidin | Curtin University 
Xinyu (Andy) Zhao | Deakin University
Xiaoting Yu | Queensland University of Technology
Gary Rawnsley | University of Nottingham
Daya Thussu | Sage journal Global Media and Communication
Michael Keane | Queensland University of Technology

Michael Keane
Crystal Abidin


This panel members will investigate the ‘power’ of Chinese social media in the Indian-Pacific. Geographic and cultural proximity are deemed by many cultural nationalists to be assets comparable with the Anglosphere. Chinese tech companies have now ‘gone out’, echoing the rise of China on the global stage. In the region Made-in-China apps are offering solutions to lifestyle issues while engendering a pan-Asian sensibility. Beijing brands the latter a ‘community of shared future’. Chinese digital entrepreneurs as such represent a new generation of national champions which can promote public– private diplomacy, sometimes glossed as ‘soft power’. 

With this diplomatic agenda in mind, the panel considers how the internationalization of Chinese culture online (including the telling of Chinese stories and ideas) is rendered ‘influential’ in the Indian-Pacific. Because China’s digital entrepreneurs seeking to build their own capitalist empires while remaining bound to the administrative remit of Beijing, the threats to local democratic systems are becoming evident. Some Chinese digital ambitions are encountering significant blowback from politicians, the media and the public. 

This panel brings together speakers who can provide comparative perspectives with regards to Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Taiwan and Australia. The question we seek to answer is: How soft is China’s digital power? Topics discussed will include ambivalence towards WeChat and Chinese branded video platforms in the wake of recent anti-PRC events, the cosmetic make-over of TikTok, and the appearance of Chinese, and Diasporic Chinese influencers, in the region. The presentations will be short and provocative, (approx. 7-8 minutes) leaving room for a moderated Q&A with panel members and the audience. 

Key words:

Digital power, influence, influencers, democracy, internet sovereignty 


Crustal Abidin

Crystal Abidin is a digital anthropologist and ethnographer of vernacular internet cultures. She researches internet celebrity, influencer cultures, and social media pop cultures.  She is currently Associate Professor of Internet Studies and Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow at Curtin University.  

Xinyu (Andy) Zhao

Dr Xinyu (Andy) Zhao currently teaches and researches at Deakin University, the University of Melbourne and Curtin University. He completed his PhD at Deakin University in 2020 and is particularly interested in the intersections of transnational mobility, digital technologies and young people

Xiaoting Yu

Xiaoting Yu, a doctoral candidate at the Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Digital Media Research Center, focuses her research on media industry, creative labor and Chinese digital culture. Her ongoing PhD project—Inclusive Creativity: Wanghong economy and China’s Social Media Entertainment Ecology—explores how social media entertainment industry facilitate a new form of creative economy with micro-productivity 

Gary Rawnsley

Gary Rawnsley is Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of Public Diplomacy at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China. He works at the intersection of international communications and international relations, with particular expertise on propaganda, public and cultural diplomacy, soft power and international broadcasting.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu is the founding editor of the Sage journal Global Media and Communication. His research has involved him in numerous projects with international bodies such as UNESCO, the United Nations Development Programme and the British Council. He has been invited to contribute to policy formulation by think-tanks and policy fora including the Deutsche Welle Akademie, Bonn; the World Media Summit in Qatar; the N-Ost policy forum for journalists, Berlin; the East-West Centre, Washington; the World Public Forum in Rhodes; and the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. 

Michael Keane

Michael Keane is an independent scholar and adjunct Professor at QUT in the Digital Media Research Centre.  

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