/ 3 June 2008

Chinese premier hailed as Facebook star

China’s state media on Tuesday hailed Premier Wen Jiabao as the world’s sixth-most-popular politician on the social networking site Facebook — well ahead of United States President George Bush.

Wen Jiabao’s profile was set up two days after he rushed to the scene of the May 12 earthquake in south-west Sichuan province to oversee rescue efforts, the official news agency Xinhua reported.

It is not known who set it up. Anyone with an email address can create a profile. However, it has apparently proved to be a hit, with more than 44 000 people registering as supporters, placing him sixth on Facebook’s rankings of most popular politicians.

Bush ranks well behind on the Facebook site at number 14 with just 12 000 registered supporters, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy a slot further back.

US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is by far the site’s most popular politician with more than 875 000 supporters.

But Xinhua said Wen’s place is notable because he is the only Asian in the top 10.

Xinhua praised Wen’s Facebook debut as a sign that the public likes what it called a more open and approachable image that the Chinese government has put forward during the earthquake crisis.

It said overseas Chinese make up the bulk of Wen’s Facebook supporters.

Xinhua acknowledged the 65-year-old Chinese politician’s profile lacks the glitz of those belonging to other internet-savvy politicians such as Obama — pointing out Wen does not yet have a YouTube box to stream videos of his speeches.

However, photos of Wen ”shuttling through the hardest-hit towns, and many supportive posts, have given the page an incomparable emotional touch”, Xinhua said.

Xinhua highlighted one of the hundreds of photos said to be posted by the public in which Wen is seen standing in the rain shouting to a student who is trapped in quake rubble: ”This is Grandpa Wen, hang on, we will rescue you!”

In a photo posted on a separate Facebook entry called ”Wen Jiabao’s Fan Club”, an admirer juxtaposes a photo of a mother panda nuzzling her cub with a picture of Wen in black trousers and an open-necked white shirt cradling an infant.

Among the posted entries, there are also appeals to Wen to crack down on reported local corruption cases arising from the earthquake, the agency said. — Sapa-AFP