Justin Trudeau turns to Weibo and WeChat to reach Chinese audience

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is well-known for his use of social media in Canada, but what will he do in China, where social media services are heavily monitored and censored?

Known for social media savvy, PM tries direct approach during visit to China

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be able to reach out to Chinese people during his visit through social media services Weibo and WeChat, which are highly popular in China though tightly controlled. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is well-known for his use of social media in Canada, but what will he do in China, where social media services are heavily monitored and censored?

Senior Canadian government officials say Trudeau plans to use his Weibo and WeChat accounts on this visit, both of which he has had since last year's federal election campaign.

Weibo is like a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook and is one of the most popular sites in China. It was launched in 2009 and by last year it reportedly had 222 million subscribers and about 100 million daily users.

WeChat is similar to Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, in which users share text messages, "stickers," pictures and videos.

And Trudeau has a few things on the itinerary of his China trip that will likely merit some sharing. 

He will visit the Great Wall of China while in Beijing and meet young people at an event in Shanghai. The prime minister will also join former NBA player Yao Ming when he visits a private high school in that city.

Reaching out to the Chinese 

David Mulroney, Canada's former ambassador to China and current president of University of St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto, said using social media is a smart idea.

"There are some limitations, but social media provides an access to the Chinese people that was never on offer before," he said.

"Does it give us 100 per cent access? No. But it certainly is a really welcome alternative to the Chinese state media," the former ambassador added.

Trudeau shared his family Halloween experience last year directly via the Chinese social media site Weibo. (Weibo.com)

Mulroney points out Trudeau already has an international profile that will make Chinese people want to learn more about him.

"They will be interested in someone whose father helped to establish a relationship. They will be interested in someone who's young, who's got a family, who's different, who's obviously interested in China," Mulroney said. "There's a powerful message there, and I think it would be really wise for us to make the most of it."

Mulroney also said Trudeau's trip comes at a time when Chinese people are showing a growing interest in Canada.

"Increasingly, Chinese people, who are newly prosperous, they're footloose," he said. "They're travelling the world. They're sending their kids overseas for education. They're buying property internationally.

"And increasingly, Canada is on their agenda."