Lowy Institute

As Australian digital diplomacy strives to catch up to rest of the world, these monthly links highlight the most creative and effective ways countries are leveraging the internet for foreign policy gain.

  • On 15 February the Lowy Institute and Facebook are hosting 'The Political Selfie, Soft Power and the Art of Digital Diplomacy' in Sydney. Stay tuned to the Institute's social media accounts for more information on how to question the panelists and watch the discussion online.
  • How publishing platform Medium is breaking Washington's op-ed habit (for example).
  • Australian Brigadier Mick Ryan outlines an Army Brigade's social media embrace in this great post.
  • A study of world leaders on Facebook ranks likeability (Obama, Modi, Erdogan, Jokowi), engagement (Macri, Hun Sen, Netanyahu) and effectiveness (Modi, Erdogan, Obama). 
  • Most world leaders have help in managing their online presence, but this report notes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi manages his own accounts.
  • Fascinating research on the importance of 'social mediators' who bridge governments and the publics they want to reach (with a hat-tip to the work of @USNavy). 
  • Alexander Downer is back in Australia for mid-term consultations and we know because he's joined Twitter.
  • The Weibo account of China's office of public diplomacy has racked up 7.42 million fans with discussions on the war in Syria and the South China Sea among 2016 posts.
  • Analysis of the social networks of ministries of foreign affairs (MFA) reveals the US, UK, Poland, Russia and Norway are most followed by MFA peers; while Peru, Iceland, Norway, Brazil and Russia are avid followers.
  • This analysis classifies Australia as a country with downward social media mobility (along with Pakistan, Egypt, Mexico and Japan), indicating that 'offline size does not guarantee online visibility'.
  • Spain has an ambassador for digital diplomacy.
  • A South Korean NGO is training South Koreans to become cyber diplomats and global PR ambassadors.
  • Canada's approach to digital diplomacy — discussed thoroughly in this panel — is accused here of taking a 'you're either with us or against us' approach.
  • The UK FCO blogs about its experiences with Snapchat and how it is working to reach the right people. 
  • This is what it looks like for staff at the US embassy in Manila when POTUS visits:


The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • A Twitter #Tsainami welcomed Tsai Ing-wen upon her 16 January victory in Taiwan's elections.
  • The Chinese Cyberspace Administration allegedly ordered online media outlets not to go over the Strait to cover Taiwan's elections, but some of them did anyway.
  • Collated Instagram and Twitter photos from the Wall Street Journal of pre-election rallies.
  • Popular Chinese social media platform Weibo censored results for 'Taiwan' and 'Tsai Ing-wen' during the election.  
  • Before delivering her acceptance speech on 16 January, Tsai Ing-wen spoke to media (with live English translation). Watch for her comments (including in the Q&A) on cross-Strait relations and the South China Sea.
  • During this media briefing she also spoke strongly about the  the alleged coerced apology made by teenage Taiwanese pop star Chou Tzu-yu (a K-pop band member) for waving a Taiwanese flag on South Korean TV, stating: 'this particular incident will serve as a constant reminder to me about the importance of our country's strength and unity to those outside our borders. This will be one of the most important responsibilities for me as the next President of the Republic of China.'
  • The Tzu-yu incident caused an uproar in Taiwan on the eve of the election, becoming an unexpected last-minute election issue. The apology, which has racked up more than 6.5 million YouTube views, can be watched here with English subtitles. 
  • China-cautious digital diplomacy played out internationally as congratulations were offered by world leaders (Japan, Honduras), presidential offices (the US), foreign ministers (Germanythe UK, Japan) and foreign ministries (US, CanadaSingaporeAustralia, the EUFrance etc.).
  • Tsai Ing-wen merchandise, including cat backpacks and cat calendars, have sold out online.
  • Reuters has reported that the popularity of the phrase 'use force to unify Taiwan' has soared on Weibo.
  • Following the election, Tsai Ing-wen's Facebook page was trolled by Chinese netizens. The President-elect's response to the 40,000+ hostile comments: 'The greatness of this country lies in how every single person can exercise their rights.'
  • Online petitions 'to recognise Taiwan as a country' have been filed with the White House and the UK Government. The UK petition is on track to reach 100,000 signatures which means it may join Donald Trump and be debated in UK parliament.

The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • In order to counter North Korean cyber attacks, South Korea's government is attempting to recruit the country's best young programmers by offering full university scholarships in cyber-defence in return for seven years of military service.
  • 'Liking' the wrong picture on Facebook can get you 32 years of of prison in Thailand. 
  • ISIS has extended its recruitment efforts into China with this digital recording of a Mandarin Chinese-language song glorifying jihad. China's strict internet censorship means the song is unlikely to travel far.
  • Myanmar's rapid leapfrogging from no telephony to widespread use of VoIP apps (like Viber) and Facebook messenger is discussed in this podcast.
  • Indonesia is fast becoming a destination for tech entrepreneurs and investors. So what did Indonesia's tech ministry do this year to facilitate this investment? (Hint: not much.)
  • Through leveraging big data from internet company Baidu, researchers have found and geo-located some of China's ghost cities (definition: more buildings than people) but are keeping most of them a secret. 
  •  A Taiwanese smartscooter company has that Internet of Things thing down pat and is expanding into Europe.
  • Can the growing interest and excitement in the Australian tech and startup scene rub off on Southeast Asia?
  • The Chinese Government is escalating electronic surveillance in Xinjiang by shutting down the mobile services of residents who have downloaded foreign messenger apps (i.e. WhatsApp and Telegram) and are using software to circumvent internet filters.

Once a month The Interpreter publishes Digital Diplomacy links. As Australian digital diplomacy strives to catch-up to the rest of the world, these links highlight the most creative and effective ways in which countries are leveraging the internet for foreign policy gain.

  • A brief history of online trolling between Western and Russian diplomats.
  • A blog post from the State Department on how the US is combating the online narrative of ISIS.
  • The US Government partnered with UNHCR and crowdfunding platform Kickstarter last month to assist Syrian refugees through citizen mobilisation.
  • The UK Foreign Office blogs about what it learnt from this year's distinctly digital UN General Assembly.
  • Last month Finland became the first country to launch its own emojis and India (via the government's 'Make in India' initiative) became the first non-US brand to get a Twitter emoji.
  • Did social media break the communication wall at the G20?
  • How can Canada's new government improve its digital diplomacy? Through distinguishing broadcasting from strategic engagement. And empowering and supporting the efforts of experimenters and pioneers. 
  • French Ambassador @GerardAraud knows how to throw an elbow and advocate for France online. Watch how he engages stakeholders and debates topics from European security to France's contribution to combating ISIS.
  • Coffee tips via Twitter from Australia's Ambassador to Indonesia.
  • Through working with hackers, Estonia's e-residency services and digital visa project forms part of how the country is thinking differently about its national brand. 
  • Scepticism about the value of LinkedIn as a tool of digital diplomacy.
  • The UK, Canada and the US teamed up to provide digital diplomacy training to Ukraine's Foreign Ministry. 
  • If you can get through the patchy recording, here's a great discussion from the Italian Embassy in Washington on getting beyond social media and using online mapping, data visualisations and e-learning:


The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • Jack Ma, CEO of China's e-commerce giant Alibaba, talks corporate social responsibility with Bloomberg.
  • Indonesia's new trade minister runs his Ministry on WhatsApp because he appreciates end-to-end encryption. 
  • China's State broadcaster CCTV censored a pin of the Taiwan flag worn by President Ma Ying-jeou following his meeting with President Xi Jinping. 
  • Facebook is banned in China but that hasn't stopped Chinese netizens trolling the page of Taiwanese Presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen. The sudden surge in posts (70,000+) and Chinese flag emojis sparked a fierce Cross-Straits debate, Tsai Ing-wen's response:

I hope the new experience will help our 'new friends' to learn more about a democratic, free and diverse Taiwan. Welcome to the world of Facebook!

  • Did India's Prime Minister Modi get it wrong in Silicon Valley?
  • Keep an eye on Myanmar's small but burgeoning ecosystem of mobile-first startups
  • Crowdsourcing ideas to improve New Delhi's public transport. Contribute here.
  • Following on from the Navy's foray into social media, China's Air Force has opened Weibo and WeChat accounts. Analysts claim it will help increase PLA transparency.
  • Not to be outshone, China's Army has released a surprisingly mesmerising and well choreographed aerobics-dance video to promote physical training:


As Australian digital diplomacy strives to catch up to the rest of the world, these monthly links will highlight the most creative and effective ways countries are leveraging the internet for foreign policy gain.



Recently Jonathan McClory from UK consultancy Portland Communications, along with Facebook's government outreach manager Katie Harbath, skilfully entered the five-year long debate on the Australian Government's digital diplomacy capabilities. It's a welcome move – the more individuals and organisations involved in this debate, the more likely it will impact upon the quality of Australia's digital diplomacy efforts.

Jonathon and Katie's article in the Fairfax papers responded specifically to an op-ed of mine. In it, they made the argument that the strength of Australian soft power should not be underestimated. The article relied exclusively on the results of a Portland Communications report (also involving Facebook and research consultancy Comres) titled The Soft Power 30. It's a great report and readers of this site will certainly be interested.

But there are four central problems with Jonathan and Katie's response to my article.

First, and most importantly, my article wasn't about soft power; in fact, I didn't mention it at all. Given Australia's acclaimed natural beauty, laid-back culture, sporting prowess and collection of cute, furry marsupials, it's not surprising that Australia ranks sixth out of Portland's surveyed countries. A much-needed review of Australia's digital diplomacy capabilities would likely reveal one of the DFAT's strengths is how it uses social media to project our country's soft power assets.

But Portland's own report points out this is not always enough:

Read More

Domestic policy stances on gay marriage, migrants, indigenous affairs and the environment often run counter to the projected image of a laid back welcoming country. To counter this, Australia would do well to redouble their diplomatic efforts and work harder in engaging on the global stage. A cuddly koala will only get you so far.

Second, as I said above, the response relies exclusively on the findings from their own report, which published a ranking of 15% of the world's countries into an index measuring soft power. The ranking included many of the world's top digital diplomacy innovators, but it missed many as well. Australia is ranked 5/30 overall in the area of 'digital' soft power. Metrics used to measure this include things like internet users per 100 inhabitants, mobile broadband subscriptions and Facebook followers for a country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head of state. Jonathan and Katie explain that, based on this data, Australia does well on digital outreach. This is a good point and it is heartening to hear that on digital outreach, Australia is much nearer to the top than the bottom of the surveyed 30 countries.

But digital diplomacy is not the same as digital outreach, and it is not limited to Facebook.

My focus in this debate has been on the need for DFAT to develop and exploit online influence, not to critique its online reach. I agree with DFAT's own definition that diplomacy is less about popularity and more about persuasion. Australia's ability to use digital tools to persuade or influence populations was not assessed in the Portland report. The Government has not struggled to open social media accounts, but there is no plan in place on how to best engage and influence people once you have established online access to them. DFAT's social media accounts are rarely used to position, explain and advocate for the Government's policy choices. That's why I have argued that the Government has developed an 'all gum, no teeth' style of online engagement.

Third — and this is key — Jonathan and Katie's article (and the associated Portland report) fail to take into consideration what Australia's foreign policy objectives are, and hence are not able to make an assessment of whether the Government has the right digital tools, platforms and expertise in place to help achieve these objectives. So while the Portland report is incredibly useful, particularly for those researching and thinking about soft power, we are no closer to knowing how effective the Government is in using online and mobile technologies to advance Australia's foreign policy objectives.

Finally, the arguments put forward fail to take into account the breadth of research examining Australian digital diplomacy, which I have consistently relied on as evidence to support my arguments. Reading beyond my op-ed one would unearth a valuable compilation, five years in the making, encompassing evidence and arguments contained in policy papers, journal articles, parliamentary inquiresinterviews with experts, books, blogs, op-eds and countless social media posts, much of which has been published at the Lowy Institute.

The author's advice that we should 'coax further improvements' on national digital diplomacy through 'encouragement to do better' is reminiscent of puppy pre-school. DFAT is one of Australia's most important, experienced and resilient foreign policy actors, it will always feature in international policy debates. Such advice also underestimates the influence of the public policy discourse in Australia, of which Jonathan and Katie are now a part. And it vastly overestimates the historical appetite and willingness in Canberra to integrate digital and emerging technologies (not just social media) into foreign policy making (despite plenty of coaxing).

It is one thing to allow embassies, ambassadors and thematic areas of DFAT to open up Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts and to use these to post announcements and soft power images of Australia. It is an entirely different thing to allow the diplomats using these accounts to project, advocate for and defend Australia's policy positions. The first is public relations and the second is digital diplomacy. Both are very important and Australia is doing only one well.

Jonathan's and Katie's op-ed again illustrates that deeper analysis of Australia's digital diplomacy capabilities is absolutely essential. As I have argued before, without an expert independent review that can be used to inform a forward-looking strategy, the Government doesn't know the usefulness or impact of its digital diplomacy efforts. And without attracting the right mix of expertise into both DFAT and the Foreign Minister's office, it is hard to see how the Government will progress past its broadcast mode, which the Portland report describes like this:

The use of the technology (by Foreign Ministries) is restricted too often to amplifying offline events, rather than making a real impact on audiences online...The record of two diplomats shaking hands in front of an oil painting or of an exhibition of an approved artist is not digital diplomacy. It is simply a concession to modernity without the risk that greater engagement or transparency entails.

The Foreign Minister's unique emoji diplomacy shows the Government's ability to take advantage of low-risk, high-payoff gains in digital diplomacy. There are plenty of other inexpensive and low-resource options: what about a central DFAT blog so diplomats can better communicate with and engage stakeholders, crowdsourcing public opinion to inform better policy development, or investing in an app game to further promote Australia's koala diplomacy (surely a guaranteed hit with our major trading partners)?

The Australian public and overseas audiences will, no doubt, have plenty of other ideas about how the Government can improve the way it engages and influences them online. DFAT's digital reach, due to its growing collection of social media accounts, presents the perfect opportunity for the Government to start tapping into them. 


The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • From Foreign Affairs: why Beijing is cracking down on 'unverified' information online.
  • @JopeTarai from the University of South Pacific looks at whether social media should be regulated in Fiji.
  • Reuters has reported new North Korean mobile figures, with Egypt-owned operator Koryolink admitting to 3 million+ subscribers, a tripling since 2012. But Koryolink isn't able to extract profits and now faces competition from the North Korean Government.
  • Japanese companies are taking virtual reality to new and exciting places.
  • In a first, Chinese hackers have been arrested at the behest of the US Government. But does America really want China arresting hackers? 
  • On that note, the head of cyber firm FireEye believes the US-China no-hack pact could be a game changer.
  • Marikina in the Philippines will become the first city in the world with 'disaster-proof' communications. Powered by FireChat's mesh network (the app of choice of Hong Kong's Umbrella protesters), developer Open Garden is working with the government to roll out the project across the Philippines.
  • Tonga's parliament has unanimously passed a bill giving the government internet blocking powers.
  • Single Chinese are turning to rent-a-partner mobile apps to fool family members.
  • Indonesians are flocking to Qlue, a new accountability mobile app which allows users to complain about shoddy public services in Jakarta by posting geo-located photos of their complaints online. Here's how it works:


The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • The number one chat app in South Korea — KakaoTalk — has reluctantly agreed to comply with the government's requests for access to online conversations. 
  • How does the Chinese Communist Party view the concept of 'internet sovereignty'?
  • A 23% increase in targeted cyber attacks on Indian organisations has prompted a warning India is becoming a strategic target for cyber crooks as the country continues to embark on ambitious technology projects.
  • Meet the man (@umarsaifpropelling Pakistan into the digital age.
  • Chinese internet giant Tencent is about to launch a consumer credit rating service based on an individual's social media networks (and it's not alone).
  • Those following next month's election in Myanmar will want to check out these new mobile apps.
  • Beyond selfie sticks and emojis, Asia's smartphone addiction is on the rise and addicts are getting younger.
  • Buzz is building around South Korean social networking mobile app Band. The app, which offers private chatting services to users, recently hit 50 million downloads and is proving popular in Taiwan, Japan and India.
  • The illicit kidney trade in South Asia has exploded as brokers use social media to find donors.
  • A 13 October hackathon is being held in Singapore to develop solutions, tools, widgets or apps that will enhance media reporting and citizens' responses to air pollution.
  • Beijing's Public Security Bureau has announced the city is now 100% covered by CCTV cameras. To prove it, the bureau even released this map which geo-locates every surveillance camera in the city:  


On the first Friday of each month the Interpreter publishes Digital Diplomacy links instead of the weekly Digital Asia links. As Australian digital diplomacy strives to catch-up to the rest of the world, these links will highlight the most creative and effective ways countries are leveraging the internet for foreign policy gain.

  • Yesterday on this site I argued that DFAT is in denial about its 'all gum no teeth' digital diplomacy. I argued it's time for an independent review — by experts who understand the digital space — into the type of online influence the Government needs to meet Australia's international ambitions.
  • The  UK FCO has done a slick re-design of its blog. A list of the FCO's blogging diplomats is here; recent posts look at whether to engage with Twitter and at getting smart about mobile video.
  • Analysis of how the Israeli Government is using online networked diplomacy to promote national goals.
  • The same blogger has also taken an extensive look at the state of Russia's digital diplomacy apparatus: part 1 , 2 and 3. (h/t @BrendanTN)
  • Turkey has become the second most active user of Twitter's live-streaming app Periscope and three of its cities — Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir — are among the top 10 Periscope cities in the world (embassies in Ankara take note).
  • This week senior Indonesian diplomats went through digital diplomacy training.
  • Last week a Russian TV station tweeted a photo of US Ambassador John Tefft they alleged showed him at an opposition demonstration. The US embassy in Moscow claimed the photo was fake, meming a series of hilarious responses. Russians joined in, and then there were cats. 
  • The UK FCO again: now it has become the first Foreign Ministry to join Snapchat.
  • How did the Russian media and Twitter bots respond to President Putin's speech at the UN General Assembly?
  • Jan Melissen, from a Dutch think-tank, explains why digital diplomacy practitioners need more than a laptop and a mobile phone.
  • How international organisations, including NATO, can get beyond posting news and statistics and engage on a more personal level.
  • India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi used his live Townhall Q&A with Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook headquarters to talk at length about how social media has changed diplomacy, including his experiences with Weibo in China and tweeting with Israel’s Prime Minister:



In 2010 former Lowy Institute research fellow Fergus Hanson published a forward-looking policy brief urging Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to catch up to the rest of the world, join the 21st century and get online. Social media, he argued, is only one aspect of digital diplomacy. By looking at the capabilities of the US, UK and Canada in 2010, Hanson outlined how DFAT could use tools including mobile apps, podcasts, diaspora networking sites, blogs and cloud computing to better achieve diplomatic objectives.

Five years on, DFAT is yet to use many of the tools recommended in Fergus' report. And while gains have certainly been made, these are not substantial when compared with those made by other countries. The Department is yet to create a dedicated digital diplomacy unit or develop a strategy that involves public (and, importantly, online) consultation. However, unlike in 2010, DFAT is now on social media. It has a sizeable following on Facebook and Twitter, and is launching on Instagram and LinkedIn. This is good news.

What is not good news is the type of online presence DFAT is cultivating, a presence I described as 'all gum and no teeth' in an op-ed in The Age last week.

I argued that, with the exception of a small number of embassies and ambassadors, Australia's digital diplomacy is stuck in broadcast mode, rarely progressing beyond posting official releases and promoting Australia through light-hearted uploads that seldom engage with the reality of Australian foreign policy (for some exceptions, see Indonesia and the ambassadors in Russia, Lebanon, the UN and Israel; the last also has a blog). But DFAT is arguing differently. It updated its list of social media accounts and responded to the op-ed with a news release titled A Digital DFAT. This was accompanied by a Twitter campaign to promote this release and draw attention to its collection of social media accounts.

It is fantastic to see the Department engage in online debate; it should do so far more often. But unfortunately, the Digital DFAT release only emphasised how much the Department is struggling with the very concept it is seeking to defend.

Read More

The release was riddled with inaccuracies. It claimed that if digital diplomacy were simply about numbers, the Department would be a world leader, with the @dfat Twitter account (41,400 followers) more popular than its Canadian, French and Japanese counterparts. But the Japanese Foreign Ministry has 136,000 Twitter followers (more if you add its duplicate English account). And unlike DFAT, Canada's Foreign Ministry has split its departmental presence on Twitter into four areas — public diplomacy, foreign policy activities, trade and development — the sum audience of which is over 200,000 followers (not including duplicate French accounts).

France was an especially poorly chosen comparison. France's Foreign Ministry has a huge 677,000 followers via its @francediplo account, which is also replicated in Arabic, Spanish and English for a total of 822,000 followers. In fact, France's single Foreign Ministry Twitter account has more followers than all DFAT's 48 Twitter accounts combined.

The assertion in the release that this tweet by Australia's Ambassador in Indonesia — one of Australia's more tech-savvy diplomats – actually 'reached 28 million users' is also incorrect. The fact Indonesia has about that number of Twitter users in total should have been an enormous red flag. While the Ambassador's tweet was re-tweeted an impressive 259 times, it reached nowhere near every Twitter user in the country. Governments should be cautious not to mix up the dubious social media metric of 'potential exposure' (possibly millions) with 'actual reach' (more likely thousands). An adequately resourced digital diplomacy unit and a senior tech advisor in the Foreign Minister's office would have picked up the above mistakes (and others) immediately.

Most disappointingly, the news release failed to take the opportunity to outline the Department's intended direction, point to a strategy or promote future plans. Who is the Department trying to engage and influence with its social media accounts? Is it learning from and working with other countries that are well ahead of Australia in this space? Do staff have access to adequate training to build their online skills? Where is the evidence DFAT is actually engaging with overseas audiences on issues that interest them, and should that be the only aim? Has research been commissioned (as Finland and many others have done) to better inform Australia's digital diplomacy efforts? 

I agree with DFAT's definition that diplomacy is less about popularity and more about persuasion, which is why only a single sentence in my 1000-word op-ed referred to popularity. The real problem here is that DFAT's growing collection of social media accounts are predominantly used only to promote Australia and the Department's media releases. Rarely are they used to advocate for or defend the Australian Government's international policies. Therefore, the capability the Department has developed over the last five years is less digital diplomacy and more public relations. This week's news release only highlights the difficulties DFAT is having in exerting online influence and explaining to the public what it is doing online.

This struggle will continue unless a review is commissioned into the type of digital diplomacy the Australian Government needs to meet its international ambitions. An independent review should address resourcing levels and examine what outside expertise the Department needs to complement what it already has. Such a review could use lessons learned by those diplomats and embassies excelling within DFAT, to help guide those who are not. It should look closely at what other countries are doing and highlight potential areas for collaboration. It should assess whether it is in Australia's interests for the online presence of the Australian aid program to remain idle (particularly given the public's preference). Canada's tactic of separating out core functions online might help DFAT better target and engage with audiences with various interests. The review could collect and crowdsource opinion from the Australian public and embassy audiences, as well as stakeholders from the business and NGO sector.

Until the Government is willing to hold up a mirror and review its current digital diplomacy efforts, Australia will continue to lag behind the rest of the world and be unsure of whether its digital diplomacy is changing minds. Will this be good enough for the most digitally savvy prime minister Australia has ever had?

Photo by Flickr user Rosa Menkman.


The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • As part of his US visit, China's President Xi Jinping has been in Seattle this week holding meetings with tech CEOs. The NYT has daily updates and the WSJ lists which tech leaders Xi met with and why.
  • Is China's relationship with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates more important than with President Obama? 
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi will soon be in Silicon Valley to bolster's India's tech credentials as a part of his US visit. He will dine with top tech CEOs and address a rally for 18,000 members of the Indian diaspora. 
  • What will Google (and others) try to get out of Modi? Could his visit to Silicon Valley help reverse India's tech brain drain?
  • Digital diplomacy supporting Xi's visit includes a Facebook page, hashtag #XiUSAVisit, 24-hour CCTV YouTube broadcasting and a tie up with US newspapers to publish a 48-page China Daily special insert (online and print).
  • The Global Times reports that Xi's US visit has attracted unprecedented attention from the Chinese public on social media.
  • Not to be outdone, Modi will re-use the hashtag #ModIinUSA and his digital diplomacy will centre on a Townhall Q&A at Facebook's headquarters with CEO Mark Zuckerberg on 27 September.
  • The Q&A will stream live via Modi's Facebook page, but if you are not one of his 30 million friends you can also submit questions via his website or mobile app.
  • Zuckerberg has already met with Xi this week, speaking with him entirely in Chinese.
  • Human Rights Watch has called on Silicon Valley to 

    use 'every lever they have to resist China’s quest for a controlled Internet'.

  • A day before Xi's arrival in Washington, the US Government revised the number of federal employee fingerprints stolen during the OPM cyber attack (widely attributed to China) from 1.1 million to 5.6 million.
  • In an interview with Caixin, Rupert Murdoch said he believed cybersecurity issues between the countries were 'exaggerated'. Nevertheless, the expected US-China cyber pact has not been finalised.
  • Modi will also visit Googleplex this week to oversee a hackathon with 150 Indian programmers aiming to produce software and apps for Modi's Digital India initiative. In an advance welcome, new CEO Sundar Pichai:


Thanks to advances in digital technologies, open-source intelligence (OSINT) is playing an increasingly important role in the mix of intelligence collected by state and non-state actors. Now and then The Interpreter will publish OSINT links instead of the weekly Digital Asia links to capture the most innovative ways in which OSINT is being used around the world.

  • The US Government first learnt rebels in Yemen had fired a scud missile towards Saudi Arabia, not via spies or satellites, but via Twitter.
  • Relying predominantly on video and imagery, the Institute of Modern Russia's Putin in Syria blog is providing daily updates on Russian military action in Syria (for even more see this).
  • Yes, Russia is in Syria, but does that include enlisted Russian military personnel? Researchers dig through imagery of Russian vehicle movements and soldier's social media accounts (including those of their wives) to find out.
  • Instagram photos and geotagged tweets from soldiers are valuable intelligence, but fake geo-locational data can also be sent out to fool adversaries. 
  • There's a coup going on in Burkina Faso. Here's a tweet-recap of what's happened so far. 
  • The US and Russia periodically reveal special operation mission locations via website Flightradar24.com.
  • Ukrainian journalists drafted into the military are turning their social media accounts into personal field diaries
  • Russia's newest submarine, the SSBN Alexander Nevsky, is on its way way to join the country's Pacific fleet. This blog attempts to track its location via Russian media sources.
  • New satellite imagery of China's enormous Divine Eagle UAV, the world's largest drone, at Shenyang.
  • The US intelligence community is beginning to embrace open-source tools (including use of geotagged Google-based maps to direct air support in Syria). 
  • This investigation finds the 108 American volunteers fighting ISIS – they range from software engineers to surf instructors – have little in common except prior military experience.
  • Still unclear about what OSINT is and its value? Let Eliot Higgins, a British researcher and blogger, explain:


The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • Downloads of off-grid mobile chat app FireChat (which now has an encrypted texting feature) spiked during Malaysia's anti-government Bersih 4.0 rally after organisers promoted use of the app and set up chat rooms.
  • China's anti-graft campaign has expanded its use of anti-corruption crowdsourcing, and it has the Mid-Autumn Festival & excessive gift-giving in its sights.
  • Mumbai developers have come up with a way to incentivise garbage collection – the WiFi Trash Bin – and it's coming to a festival near you.
  • Baidu may have failed in Vietnam but it plans to boost investment in India and Indonesia.
  • Twitter's Indonesia strategy (and new office in Jakarta) is taking shape.
  • An analysis from ANU shows that on its proposal to change the country's flag, the Fijian Government wants to use social media to win support. However, it doesn't want it to be used to express opposition to Government policy. 
  • How to brilliantly undermine the US Government's stern line on cyber attacks? By giving top US tech executives an offer they can't refuse – an invitation to an exclusive 'technology forum' and a likely audience with President Xi.
  • Is Google ready to return to China?
  • Following a series of controversial arrests related to Facebook posts, Cambodia's Interior Ministry has revealed plans to establish a new 'anti-cybercrime' department.
  • Patriotism and mockery dominated Chinese social media during the country's military parade commemorating the end of World War II.
  • Chinese websites were allowed to cover the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region but were allegedly given a directive to 'tidy up negative and harmful information' and to close the comments section on major stories.
  • Singapore, whose press freedom ranks alongside the likes of Libya, Belarus and Iraq, has enjoyed a surprisingly vibrant debate – thanks largely to social media – ahead of the city-state's general election being held today:


On the first Friday of each month the Interpreter will publish Digital Diplomacy links instead of the weekly Digital Asia links. As Australian digital diplomacy strives to catch up to the rest of the world, these links will highlight the most creative and effective ways in which countries are leveraging the Internet for foreign policy gain.

  • The BBC has a fantastic radio documentary and magazine piece on the UK's leading digital diplomat Tom Fletcher (h/t @ukinaustralia).
  • This critique of how US ambassadors attempt to influence online debates points to French Ambassador @GerardAraud as someone who 'does Twitter right'.
  • Russia's game of trolls: how 'digi-kids' and anime is helping President Putin's fight for online supremacy.
  • The fastest growing government Twitter accounts in the world hail from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and India.
  • The office of Ukraine's President has tweeted detailed intelligence and nifty info-graphics of Russian troop movements and equipment in Ukraine. This journalist believes the information was sourced largely from signals intelligence.
  • In order to be heard, pro-nuclear deal Iranians have joined together to create a 'grassroots' social media and YouTube campaign
  • How Uganda's High Commission in Rwanda is tapping into the power of social media and mobile chat apps.
  • The new head of the UK's diplomatic service is on Twitter via @SMcDonaldFCO (as was his predecessor).
  • It's worth mentioning Australia's equivalent, DFAT Secretary Peter Varghese, is not yet on Twitter (or any other online platform). However, he did touch on DFAT's use of social media – only one aspect to digital diplomacy – in this recent speech.
  • A touching tribute to Dr Suniti Solomon, who is credited with waking up India to the threat of HIV and who recently passed away, was cross-posted on the blogs of USAID and the US State Department.
  • A snapshot of how the Fijian Government – with a little help from India – is expanding its use of social media.
  • The Digital Diplomacy coalition – a Washington group which began in 2012 with communication officers from embassies and think-tanks – has partnered with Google and is going global.
  • The UK Government wants you to know what it's doing to 'destroy and dismantle' ISIS and it has launched a new Twitter account (@UKAgainst ISIL) to provide you with updates.
  • On that note, this video from last year analyses some of tactics used by the US State Department to digitally counteract ISIS and includes a history of the department's Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications: