At home in Israel, President Shimon Peres has encountered more than a little criticism for his ongoing defense of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a partner for peace. But in China, where he has been received with great warmth and respect, more than 50 million people have indicated that they like him.
On Thursday, the last day of his state visit to China, Peres launched a presidential account on Weibo, the Chinese answer to Facebook, and within minutes of doing so received responses from more than 50 million surfers.
Peres who also has an Israeli Facebook page and an International Facebook page which he launched in March 2012 with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, was nonetheless very excited at being able to extend his outreach to the world through Weibo, and even more excited by the extent of the response.
Peres is the first Israeli leader to open an account on Weibo and one of the first world leaders to do so.
“I’m proud and happy to be part of the Weibo family,” he declared to surfers. “I hope to meet you on my page and to speak directly to the Chinese people, especially the younger generation, and to enhance relations between Israel and China.”
Peres was surrounded by China’s leading bloggers and replied to questions by surfers who were interested in his curriculum vitae and asked for tips about the best places in Israel to visit as tourists. But what interested them most was Israel’s advanced technology and the secret of Jewish brainpower.
Peres smiled and replied that it was perpetual study and insatiable curiosity.
After the Internet session was over, the bloggers plied Peres with questions, including one on the veto on arms deals between China and Israel.
Peres the statesman instantly became Peres the diplomat and replied that he had come to China to focus on trade and cooperation in technology, medicine, hi-tech and science “rather than trade in instruments of war.” He added that it was preferable that way.
At the Rishon Lezion-based College of Management, Alex Pevzner, director of the new Chinese Media Center at the College’s School of Media Studies, said that the opening of a Weibo microblogging account by Peres highlights the emergence of the new media and the importance of public opinion in China’s dynamic information environment.
The commercialization of the media in China and the rise of the Internet created an information-hungry, technology-savvy public that knows how to get the news it needs.
“In recent years China’s interest in cooperation with Israel has undergone a qualitative change,” he said.
“China started to express interest not only in Israel’s products but also in Israel’s innovation in itself. While bilateral trade has increased in recent years and China became Israel’s third-largest trading partner, the lack of a wide manufacturing base in Israel means there’s a limit to what Israel can export to China in the short term.”
What Israel does not have a shortage of, he continued, is ideas, which is why more Chinese investors are coming to Israel not to buy a product but to invest in Israel’s ideas, in Israel’s way of thinking and in Israel’s technology.