Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shanghai Barks

Last week, Hilary Clinton, the Secretary of State was in Asia for her first overseas diplomatic visit. At the same time, a group of Chinese officials from Shanghai consisting of police officers, retired officials, a reported and officials from a public safety campaign began a cultural tour of five American cities to exchange ideas, learn about local policy-implementation practices and discover ways of doing things outside of China. As noted in “Orem offers lessons in crime fighting: Chinese delegation see how K-9, SWAT units operate in U.S.” from the Deseret News:

"They're excited to see how things are done outside China," said Orem police dispatcher Susan Shumway…. "(The visit) has opened their eyes to the possibilities."

This article highlights many important issues about public diplomacy, including the scope and parameters of the term itself. In this case, the “public” that is affected may be somewhat ambiguous. For instance, is it constrained to the government-to-government interaction or rather the local readers for whom the American officials provide daily services. The fact that a story like this one was published in the first place is likely designed to increase readers’ opinion of local officials and remind them that their government is efficient and culturally aware.

However, this story also highlights the importance of defining the stakeholders in public diplomacy. Numerous parties have a tangible interest in a this cultural tour including the officials from Shanghai, who stand to bring back lessons learned to their fellow citizens; the local American officials who are highlighting their diplomatic skills and may stand to increase tourist revenues; or the Shanghai residents who may gain from the policy best practices gleaned from the tour’s observations.

"In public safety, the government and police officers serve the citizens more (here)," Han said through translator Grace Liu. "They serve their citizens much more and better than in China."

He [Han] praised the United States and Orem for their coordination between police, fire and paramedics, adding that he didn't know if such an organized system would ever exist in China.

Although the visit mainly benefits the Chinese delegates, it also allows Orem to be open and friendly and increase diplomacy, said Orem Police Lt. Ralph Crabb, who oversees dispatch and organized the classes.

Either way, it is important to note that we often focus on a one-way exchange of diplomatic and cultural information. This story about Shanghai officials points out, however, that both sides of the exchange have something to gain and both have a real stake in the outcome of their public diplomacy efforts.

Orem is a city in Utah. The article noted that

Orem was the middle stop on their tour, which includes Los Angeles, Denver, Las Vegas and New York, and their only visit to a police station.

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