Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Canadians are afraid of the dark!


See, I wasn't making this up!

Cherry Blossoms: the PD gift that keeps on giving

Spring in Washington brings cherry blossoms. The Mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki gave the first trees to the city in March 1912. For Mayor Ozaki, the trees were a gift to celebrate a continued close relationship between the U.S. and Japan. When Japan became an enemy in WWII, the festival was cancelled (1942-1947). The cherry blossom (sakura in Japanese) even became a nationalist symbol in Japan. Years after the war, in 1965, Japan gave an additional gift of 3,800 trees to America. Today, the National Cherry Blossom Festival has become a major tourist destination—with more than a million visitors each year. This is a fascinating example of PD—a Japanese gift that continues to be an attraction for families in America. Really, what better than pretty pink blossoms to reach Japan’s audiences in the United States? The festival is largely coordinated by the Japanese embassy and celebrates Japanese culture. It is is an excellent example of forward-thinking PD. Well done Mayor Ozaki.

Click here to read yesterday's Post article on the festival.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Economy causes a double hit to PD

While it is generally agreed upon that credibility has taken a hit under the Bush administration's foreign policies, I read about how the financial crisis is also negatively affecting the image of the United States abroad (http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/03/18/economic_crisis_hits_an_already_damaged_us_image_i/). The downfall of the US market has ripple effects everywhere and it has become a global economic downturn. Given the strong and leading role that America's financial and banking sectors had in leading the world down this path and the global perceptions about what has happened in the economy, how the US cleans up the financial and banking mess will matter a lot in re-shaping America's public image. The crisis is perceived to be the making of certain greedy American individuals and corporations and this does not send a favorable message about the values of the United States. The stereotypical views about Americans being greedy and materialistic are accentuated. This again demonstrates how apart from the actions of the American government, the American private sector and corporations just like American tourists and businessmen speak volumes in shaping America's image.

Language Matters

Shell Smith spoke at an event entitled "Dousing the flames: Public diplomacy in action" at the University of Delaware. She was said to "literally be the face of the United States in the Middle East" as she assumes her new position as the media liaison for the U.S. State Department. She will be the select few U.S. officials who will appear regularly on Arab television, radio and regional newspapers to present the U.S. point of view on key Middle East issues. The three ways that, she said, the U.S. can be more effective in its public diplomacy efforts in the Middle East are: 1. Policy changes, although outside the control of the public diplomacy office, will have the greatest change on overseas opinions. 2. Listening to these opinions and not just talk over them or ignore them. 3. Speaking their language will show them the respect we have for them.

Pretty basic and widely agreed upon things she said but the fact that she speaks Arabic stands out. There are very few American officials who speak Arabic and who are high up in the hierarchy to have significant weight. Shell Smith will be an asset because not only will she be able to communicate in Arabic but also have the discretion to stray from the official line enough depending on where and who she is speaking to. In the past, high level officials who don't speak Arabic have been disregarded as ignorant Americans by the local population and lower level officials who do speak Arabic have not been seriously heard. I think that this is a step in the right direction to appoint Arabic speakers in influential positions not only so that they can craft their message better but also because they have the authority to adjust their message better.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cart-Horse, Chicken-Egg, ?

Who are the publics U.S. PD needs to address? What are the means of addressing the public(s) effectively?

We can find statistics to make a point and Gallup can draw connections that can make sense, but then so can anyone with a computer. This is a point we'll come back to shortly.

According to Internet usage statistics compiled by some likewise reputable institutions, you can take a different slant on Internet penetration. Namely, that penetration may not be all that great (24% worldwide), especially in homes around the world, but the growth rates are ridiculous. Worldwide, Internet usage grew by 338% from 2000-2008. Africa experienced a growth rate of 1,100% and the Middle East saw an increase of 1,296% in that same span of time. Asia Internet uses outnumber North American users nearly 3:1 by my math.

So, blogs matter, and revisit the point of the short paragraph above, anything that anyone can do with a computer matters. The U.S. competing in this channel is an absolute necessity especially as it grows in number and diversity of uses. Some may say that the more traditional means of communication and the corresponding infrastructure should be the focus BUT WE COULD EASILY FIND OURSELVES LEAP-FROGGED AND PLAYING CATCH UP IF A NUMBER OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES SIMPLY ADOPT NEWER TECHNOLOGIES WITHOUT GOING THROUGH THE DEVELOPMENT OF MORE TRADITIONAL CHANNELS. Think about the role of and penetration of cell phones in the stead of land line telephones in many countries as a for instance.

On the note of discussion regarding the number of people using the Internet at home. I wasn't able to track down exactly how the determination of # of Internet users was made, but if they are only incorporating those with an activated Internet account at home, I would say that the penetration numbers are skewed much lower than the reality. This would be the case because personal Internet service is very expensive through satellite providers even in the U.S. People being the economic beasts that they are would opt for Internet cafes rather than the high prices of Internet at home. In Sierra Leone, for instance, you can spend upwards of USD200-300 per month for the satellite Internet, or you can spend 1000-1500 (equivalent of 33 to 50 cents US) Leones for an hour on the Internet at a shop. It would be an interesting feat to try and keep track of the number of Internet users gaining access this way.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Medical Diplomacy in Afghanistan

In today's Huffington Post, there is an article related to what we talked about in class in regards to medical diplomacy. The post, found here,

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/27/taliban-denies-polio-vacc_n_180071.html

is about how the Taliban is refusing to allow polio vaccinations to take place in certain areas of Afghanistan. Reading the article made me think a little about how we've talked about the important roles that NGO's and other organizations play in diplomacy. Yet, as evidenced in this example, here is a role where clearly the NGO is unable to fulfill it's proper duty, probably because of a communication misperception somewhere down the line.

Though it seems from the readings that positive activities such as this are often heralded, it makes me wonder what happens when the other party clearly has differing opinions, leading to a conflict of interest. Though it makes good sense to talk about the new role that medical diplomacy will play in the public dimension, what if US efforts at bridging humanity are spurned, such as in this case? What do we do then, when tradiotional options AND new options in the PD arena such as this seem to be failing?

I think the answer lies in more aggressive communication, but due to the nature of the area, sophisticated media techniques and television probably aren't the answer. I'd like to know more about what the US plans to do in this case, when faced with a largely illiterate and uneducated portion of the population such as this. What do we do?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

First: Communication Infrastructure, then Blog

Two weeks ago, the Gallup Poll published U.S. Faces Challenges With Communications Users Abroad . The article talked about how the US’ communication infrastructure can influence its image abroad. The article noted how

In some regions, the more likely respondents were to report they had household access to telecommunication technologies such as the Internet, telephone, and television, the more likely they were to disapprove of American leadership. Gallup also compared other factors, such as income, education, and age, to American approval ratings, but the relationship was not as clear as with communications.

This brings me to what we were discussing in classes about blogs and whether or not they have an impact on the US public diplomacy. I would say this is only accurate to a certain degree because not everyone in the world has access to the Internet. According to the Gallup Poll, only 14% of the world has access to home Internet. Regionally, only 24% of the homes in the Middle East have Internet access. Even when they do have Internet access, they will also need to be literate. So as it was brought up in class, “who is the public in public diplomacy?” – For the case of blogs, I would say it would be for the group of people who are educated and able to read and they are part of a certain demographic group that can afford the Internet and time to read blogs.

The Gallup Poll noted that

Mitchell Polman, blog contributor with the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, argues that, considering the low Internet penetration worldwide, the U.S. government should not forget the importance and reach of "Public Diplomacy 1.o," or focusing on radio and the printed word.

Blogs can be used a tool for the US to gain some leverage- but other communications tools should also be used, depending on the audience and how they will have access to it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Few Thoughts on the Tibetan Seminar

A Few Thoughts on the Tibetan Seminar (March 24,DC)
I attended a Tibetan seminar with 3 distinguished Tibetan scholars from China, two of whom are ethnic Tibetan (one is a Communication Professor at the China Foreign Affairs University and the other is from the China Social Science Academy, a very prestigious academic institution in China). Although this Tibetan discussion is not directly linked to Public Diplomacy, however, the story of Tibet and 2008 Olympics did highlight this issue, and greatly tarnished China’s international image. As you may know the “face” culture in China, the pro-Tibetan independence riots (as the Chinese government calls it) or the protests (as others prefer to call) has embarrassed the government a lot who found so hard to get their own messages out. The question of how to publicize their side of the stories to the foreign audience, as opposed to the unfavorable western –media- depicted picture which actually dominates the whole world is hotly discussed during the seminar. Cultural and ideological differences are deemed as the greatest obstacles for the Chinese to communicate with the outside world. They admit that sometimes the Chinese words are just non-translatable, and if translated to English, it will lead to misunderstanding. That is why the Chinese international broadcasting can never compete with the already internationally established BBC and CNN. One of the ethnic-Tibetan scholars brought up a few advices on how to better communicate with the foreign audience. He said telling detailed and small stories; communicate heart to heart, and a grass roots approach are often more important than government propaganda. He gave an example of how his own three sisters (ethnic Tibetan)’ music band got so popular in China, and alike such as the increasing popularity of ethnic Tibetan singers in China. Based on the observations from this seminar, I sensed the Chinese academia and governments, after their struggle of telling the Tibet and Olympics , seemed to become more aware of the deficiencies of the top-down propaganda model and is learning to develop a more bottom-up approach.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

de Institute for Liberty and Democracy

In Peru, my group also met with several representatives from the Institute for Liberty and Democracy. This NGO was quite good at PD. The ILD was founded by the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto. His book, the Other Path, outlined the value of tapping into the informal economy as an alternative to “The Shining Path,” or Sendero Luminoso.

At ILD, I was impressed by a series of concrete grassroots PD efforts used in a campaign to formalize assets in the early 90's in Peru. To encourage individuals to get titles to their homes and property, de Soto’s team appointed regional leaders, placed ads in local papers, gathered stakeholders, and collected information on the success of its efforts. They were very successful.

Unlike many institutions engaging in PD, ILD had a clear message: tap into the wealth of the poor. ILD also had a clear spokesperson (de Soto) and significant support from the Fujimori government. Even the name "Institute for Liberty and Democracy" set the NGO up for success in seeking the funding and approval of the U.S. and European governments. ILD used similar tactics to reach populations in many countries, especially in Africa.

Now, de Soto says he’s found the key to solving the economic crisis. According to Neasa MacErlean's article in the Guardian,
The work [de Soto] plans to do in Africa will be similar to the work he thinks the US and UK must do now - pulling trade and assets out of the shadow economy, setting up registers and focusing on transparency. But de Soto never expected that he would be giving the same advice to London and Washington as he would be giving to Africa.
Any thoughts on his view? Which NGOs do you think are especially successful in their PD efforts?

America's PD efforts in Peru

This spring break, I traveled to Peru as part of my class with Prof. Quainton, former ambassador to Peru. Our meeting with Michael McKinley, the current U.S. ambassador to Peru, was especially interesting in the context of PD. McKinley’s primary message was that America’s role is “to support Peru’s objectives in ways consistent with our own interests.” This seemed on-point in a country with significant challenges, including ethnic and class divisions, remnants of the Maoist terrorist group Sendero Luminoso, historically weak political institutions and ongoing coca production. McKinley, along with the Peruvian leaders we met, seemed optimistic about Peru’s future, even amid the global financial crisis. He explained that Peru has the lowest sustained inflation and the highest GDP growth in the region. This, combined with transparency and good budget management, had positioned Peru well.

When asked about PD efforts, Linda Gonzalez, a public affairs officer at the embassy, described cultural exchanges and media relations efforts. She'd encountered relatively favorable media coverage in Peru. In fact, Peru's President Alan Garcia's successful free trade deal with the U.S. has been seen as one of his biggest achievements by Peruvians. Based on Entman’s continuum of “Frame Contestation in Mediated Public Diplomacy,” this favorable coverage of the U.S. would suggest that there is a high degree of cultural congruence. In reality, it may just be a sense of shared economic goals. Gonzalez cited a poll that found that 68-70% of Peruvians believe the U.S. doesn’t respect Peru. Both Gonzalez and McKinley noted the importance of partnerships to address this.

Obama Writing Op-Eds

President Obama has decided that writing an op-ed for newspapers around the world is an effective way to convey his message and vision for the global economy in the time leading up to the G20 economic meeting. The op-ed was published in newspapers in Europe, Asia, the Arab world, South America, and South Africa.

Unfortunately, I was not able to find the op-ed or reactions to it in the online editions of foreign newspapers, such as Al Watan and the International Herald Tribune. Obama's statements seemed to be very generalized and included much of what he has been saying all along, with renewed commitments to promote economic growth throughout the world and improving the IMF.

The wording he used in addressing certain issues is what really stood out to me though. Although he talks about issues that face the whole world, he says things like, "The suffering caused by this crisis will be enlarged, and our own recovery will be delayed because markets for our goods will shrink further and more American jobs will be lost." To me, it seems as though simple things like this may be interpreted by foreigners as if Obama is looking at the economic crisis as something that is only affecting Americans, despite his insistence that this is a global crisis. I think that if he was intending this op-ed to simply be published in American papers, a statement such as this would be well received, but in a global context, it may cause a bit of a stir that he's addressing American job losses as opposed to world-wide job losses.

How do you interpret this statement and do you think it's important that Obama specifically addressed American job losses instead of referring to job losses around the world?

For the full op-ed go to:
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2009/03/24/obama_reaches_out_to_the_world.html?wprss=44

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dalai Lama and South African Peace Conference

Earlier this morning, the BBC reported that South Africa has denied the Dalai Lama a visa that would allow him to attend a peace conference being held in Johannesburg this week (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7958881.stm).

The South African government has publicly denied that denying the Dalai Lama a visa has anything to do with the relationship that it has with the Chinese government, however the article quotes "unnamed" sources from the government as saying that South Africa would not do anything that would upset their relationship with China. The government has stated that their decision had nothing to do with pressure from the Chinese, and that this was merely a strategic decision that will not detract from the attention on South Africa in the leadup to the 2010 World Cup (this peace conference is part of the buildup to the World Cup next summer).

Although the Dalai Lama has stated that he only supports limited autonomy for Tibet, he still represents Chinese independence. As a result of the government's actions, other important peace leaders, such as Desmond Tutu, have decided to not attend the conference, calling the denial of the Dalai Lama's visa "disgraceful." The fallout from this decision is not merely going to stop after the peace conference is over, though, and it will have a negative impact on events over the next year and a half in South Africa as it prepares for the World Cup.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

How soon is too soon?

The New York Times reported this week on the official "reopening" of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, the institution equally famous for ancient Mesopotamian artifacts as for the extensive looting that went on there after the U.S. invasion. The move was controversial, with only 8 of 26 galleries open to a select group of invited guests, with the public kept far outside the compound. The Ministry of Culture was totally against Prime Minister's Nuri al-Maliki's decision to reopen the museum, and boycotted the ceremony.

"Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki pushed to reopen the museum, against the advice of his own Culture Ministry, as a sign of Iraqi progress. Symbol it was, and symbol it remains — not only of how much Iraq has improved, but of how far it has to go."


Archeology in Iraq has been politicized for a very long time, and archeologists from various colonial powers (US, UK, and Germany especially) as well as Iraqis themselves have used their discoveries to influence publics in ways very analogous to the PD strategies we've discussed in class. In Iraq, what qualifies as PD can be extremely muddled however, as there are a lot of groups within the boundaries of the state that behave, and are dealt with as, foreign publics. After WWI, when Britain was defining the borders of modern Iraq, archeologists were some of the most experienced colonial hands, and they've been criticized for making a country that matched the boundaries of Hammurabi's empire in 2500 BC better than it reflected the realities of 1920.

With the ethnic violence in Iraq since the invasion, there's been a move back towards archeology as a way to remind Iraqis of their common heritage, kind of an internal "rebranding" meant to give the various religious sects and ethnic groups something they can agree on. An "Arab state" or an "Islamic State" is going to alienate somebody no matter what; its thought that Iraq's unique archeological heritage has the potential to rise above this.

So Maliki's move can be viewed as both PD directed at foreign publics, showing the world that Iraq is rebuilding and is once again home to institutions of high culture. It can also be viewed as a kind of domestic PD, directed at his own people, showing Iraqis who aren't invested in the state yet that they nevertheless share this unique history with everyone else in the country.

While both of those goals are important and potentially very powerful, the effort is undermined when less than a third of the museum's exhibits are open, only select invited guests are allowed in, very visible soldiers with automatic weapons are keeping the public out, and the bureaucrats ostensibly in charge of the institution are boycotting the ceremony altogether. One can understand Maliki's urgency to unleash the PD potential of the Iraq museum, but doing so prematurely can do more harm than good.

The "Good Nazi of Nanjing" movie

The BBC had an article on Thursday about a new movie being produced that tells the story of Nanjing through the perspective of John Rabe, a German business man and member of the Nazi party.

A statue of John Rabe outside his former home in Nanjing
Rabe's house in Nanjing is now a museum and centre for peace studies
"After such a long time, there should be a way of dealing differently with the responsibility they have, rather than trying to avoid it or make it disappear," he says.

John Rabe is expected to be widely viewed in China after it premieres at the Shanghai Film Festival in June. But it is unclear whether the film will be released in Japanese cinemas.

The film's producers hope that the involvement of Japanese star Teruyuki Kagawa will prevent the film from being silenced there.

Teruyuki Kagawa plays the emperor's relative, Prince Asaka, who was the top ranking Japanese officer in Nanjing at the height of the atrocities.

During the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in 1946, Prince Asaka denied any massacre of Chinese and said he had never received any complaint about his soldiers' conduct.

Controversially, the film speculates on his involvement in the decision-making process.

Teruyuki Kagawa says: "When faced with this film, many people will be shocked [to learn] the Japanese carried out such cruel acts.

"I think Japanese people will find the two hours very hard [to watch]."


The film recently opened in Germany, and the BBC article noted that

The passage of time has allowed Germany to review its own wartime actions, notably the Nazi genocide of some six million European Jews during World War II.

Now with historical distance, the 37-year-old director hopes the film will trigger a new dialogue and help Japan also come to terms with its own past.


Reddit, a news aggregation site, has a thread about the BBC article that brings up the issue of textbook and history revision debates that are occuring in Japan, especially about issues surrounding WWII.

Using Public Diplomacy and Old Time Diplomacy: Comparing Russia and Iran

Veterans of U.S. Diplomacy Try to Revive Nuclear Arms Talks with Russia

By Andrew E. Kramer

New York Times

 

Obama's Message to Iran Is Opening Bid in Diplomatic Drive

By Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger

New York Times

President Obama's use of videotaped messages to campaign for talks between the United States has been unseen in the past eight years. These messages are not merely seen by one leader but by the entire world, including the Iranian people.  His message appears conciliatory and indicates respect for the leader.  Instead of drafting a propagated message on the evils of Iran and the "war on terror," his use of media captures an understanding of Iranian society. It also demands an answer.  It puts the Ayatollah in a position that will be difficult to escape.  It drives the leaders to meet and discuss policies rather than chastise a nation into supporting policies.

The message on Thursday is not just an attempt to build bridges with Iran but to unify the United States and Russia.  Russia refuses to apply sanctions against Iran because the US has not attempted to build relations to address the issue.  Now that the US appears to be fully committed to talks with Iran, Iran's failure to meet could prompt Russia to break economic ties.  These calls for discussions with Iran are not merely directed to their leader but to the world, especially Putin.

A few weeks ago, the Obama administration sent a letter to the Russian leader regarding nuclear arms.  This past week the Cold War leaders met with officials in Russia in an attempt to remove all nuclear weapons. The idea of a world without nuclear weapons seems to be one unrealized by the Cold War Era but now attainable and the goal of the Obama Era.  This approach has consisted of traditional meetings with leaders, which sparked the idea of creating bureaucratic offices in Russia to address the issue.  It is an attempt similar to that of the Cold War, utilizing the disarmament movement's methods to bring the two countries together. As relations with Russia seem unsteady, maybe traditional talks and a return to START can re-vitalize the once close relationship. 

This begs the question, which approach will win over Russia and Iran? Looking at Russian culture, maybe appealing to their traditional government structure and diplomatic measures are the best means forward.  Maybe the new public diplomacy skills are appropriate to Iran because the old methods are blocked or deemed inappropriate.   Does the US tend to utilize public diplomacy when diplomacy fails?

Friday, March 20, 2009

NBA "Slam dunks" in Asia

In October, the NBA Denver Nuggets and the Indiana Pacers will have their preseason games in Taiwan and China. This is not the first time that NBA teams have played in Asia. However, it will be the first time Taiwan has played host to the NBA.

In the article "Two NBA teams to play in autumn preseason games in Taiwan, China" indicated that:

The NBA has played six games in Japan since the 1990s, and has held preseason games in China since 2004, after Chinese star Yao Ming joined the Houston Rockets in 2002.

The article also noted that,

Both the Taipei and Beijing games will be aired live on TV in the United States, South-East Asia and the greater China area.

These upcoming basketball games serve as one of the United States’ many public diplomacy tools. There are two beneficiaries of these displays of dribbling, jumping, and hoop-swishing prowess. First, the United States can benefit from having two games played and aired in the region. Basketball may pique the interest of those in Asia watching the games and motivate them to learn more about the U.S.

The other beneficiary will be the Asian host countries. By having the games played and aired locally, it might influence and interest those watching, whether they are in the U.S. or in the Asian region, to travel to Taiwan and/or China. China is still a step ahead of Taiwan, as they have a hidden ace in the form of Yao Ming - a Chinese public diplomat for those interested in sports. While Yao Ming himself will not play in these two games, the very fact that the NBA is in Asia may bring Yao Ming, and therefore China, into sharp focus.

Thanks to the NBA’s traveling plans, the U.S. and the Asian host countries will all score points.

Obama Reaches Out to Iran

President Obama has released a video message, reaching out to the people and leaders of Iran as they celebrate Nowruz, the traditional New Year's celebration.

The message is a complete reversal of the Bush administration’s policies and shows the Obama administration’s different approach towards reaching out to countries such as Iran and trying to engage them in a dialogue, which hasn’t existed for a while.  From Foreign Policy magazine’s Web site:

“‘This is huge,’ said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a group that supports U.S. engagement with Tehran. ‘First of all, he is addressing the people and the government, which has not been done before. At one point he talks about the Islamic Republic. He's signaling he’s not looking for regime change; he’s recognizing Iran’s system.

‘You always heard Rice and Bush say 'Iranian regime,'’ Parsi noted. ‘It's a big difference.’ That doesn't mean Obama doesn’t support Iranian democratization, Parsi said. ‘But he recognizes the government that exists in Iran right now.’

Parsi also found remarkable Obama's comments that he recognized Iran has a ‘rightful role among nations.’

‘When he is saying the U.S. seeks constructive ties between the U.S., Iran, and international community,’ Parsi added, ‘that is signaling strategic intent. He is making it clear is that where he wants to end up through diplomacy which he supports is a constructive, positive relationship with Iran, to put aside our enmity. That is huge.’”

What’s strikingly different in President Obama’s message is the respect he shows the Iranian people, bringing in a historical and cultural aspect to the U.S.’s dialogue with Iran.  This is in stark contrast to the Bush administration and opens up the possibility of greater dialogue, as opposed to labeling all Iran and Iranians as part of an “axis of evil.”  From Foreign Policy magazine:

"Asked if Obama's message to Iran signals a concerted public diplomacy effort related to the Iran policy review underway, the White House official responded: 'He's making clear to the Iranian people and government the future that he sees for the two countries and that we're prepared to engage in direct diplomacy.'"

Here are some reactions from Iranian citizens, courtesy of BBC News.  Some are positive, some are negative, but it seems like most of them call for action and changes in actual policy on both sides.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Using Art to Build Long-Term Relationship

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said that “The mediator of the inexpressible is the work of art.” It is only reasonable for nation states all around the globe to use art to engage in cultural diplomacy and promote intercultural understanding and long-term relationships.

The overwhelming potential of art as a means to build relationships lies in the medium itself. It is an innate way to express ideas in an universally-spoken language that enables every country to build a bridge to another country and exchange ideas.

China provides a recent example of how a country can take advantage of art in the context of cultural diplomacy. On March 25, METROPOLIS NOW! -- an exhibition by the Meridian International Center, in partnership with the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) in Beijing, and the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China -- will open in Washington, DC.

"METROPOLIS NOW! is a compelling selection of 52 paintings, sculptures, mixed media, and video installations by 31 artists. Their works address the enormous changes taking place in China’s cities – specifically, the major art centers of Beijing and Shanghai. Visitors to the exhibition will experience the implications of urbanization and globalization as seen through the eyes of these extraordinary artists." (Meridian International Center)

For the Chinese artists this exhibition is a tremendous opportunity to shape the image of the country as cultural diplomats and underscore the urban and modern facets of their country. At the same time the exhibition offers US citizens to experience first-hand Chinese culture.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Returning to Old School U.S. Public Diplomacy

In what some herald as a return to the spirit of the good old days of U.S. public diplomacy, the State Department is pursuing expanded means of establishing exchanges. There is a portal for interaction that allows over 8,000 members from 170 countries to post and view content. In one of the latest projects, members could contribute, view, and vote on videos for the My Culture + Your Culture = ? Contest. I will withhold comment on the membership of the "expert panel" that selected the finalists and allow you to draw your own conclusions there.

Interesting little factoid shows that, as of November 2008, there were 66 Chiefs of State/Heads of Government around the world that are alumni of Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) programs.

Can Cultural Dip & Branding Rescue Israeli PD?


An interesting NY Times article today probes Israel’s “crisis of isolation” since the Gaza conflict, detailing how the Israeli Foreign Ministry is considering fresh PD initiatives that are nevertheless running into far denser barriers of political reality:

Israel...is facing its worst diplomatic crisis in two decades. Examples abound. Its sports teams have met hostility and violent protests in Sweden, Spain and Turkey. Mauritania has closed Israel’s embassy...Global opinion surveys are being closely examined and the Foreign Ministry has been granted an extra $2 million to improve Israel’s image through cultural and information diplomacy. “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits,” said Arye Mekel, the ministry’s deputy director general for cultural affairs. “This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”

Yet, much like Kraidy’s analysis of the fundamental deficit of US PD in the region (“Policies Before Values: US policies and perceptions of these policies, and not a difference of values, are the root cause of the US image problem in the Arab world”) current Israeli image efforts face a minefield of facts on the ground:

[F]or Israel’s critics, including those who firmly support the existence of a Jewish state, the problem is not one of image but of policy. They point to four decades of occupation, the settling of half a million Israeli Jews on land captured in 1967, the economic strangling of Gaza for the past few years and the society’s growing indifference toward the creation of a Palestinian state as reasons Israel has lost favor abroad, and they say that no amount of image buffing will change that. Israel’s use of enormous force in the Gaza war in January crystallized much of this criticism.

The new thinking in the Israeli Foreign Ministry seems to be a need to sidestep the political realities behind a sinking image in foreign publics, however:

Some Israeli officials say they believe that what the country needs is to “rebrand” itself. They say Israel spends far too much time defending actions against its enemies. By doing so, they say, the narrative is always about conflict.

This is one of the clarion calls from PD communities in disarray--for unity of message. We’ve see this formulation before in the Shared Values Campaign. Unfortunately, Israeli PD professionals seem to be making the same mistakes in assuming foreign publics are empty vessels waiting to receive the magic-bullet message of a ‘more complete’ picture.

“When we show Sderot, others also see Gaza,” said Ido Aharoni, manager of a rebranding team at the Foreign Ministry. “Everything is twinned when seen through the conflict. The country needs to position itself as an attractive personality, to make outsiders see it in all its reality. Instead, we are focusing on crisis management. And that is never going to get us where we need to go over the long term.”

Not surprisingly, Gilboa rejects the quick fix marketing strategies of a Domestic PR-esque model for Israel. To fail to engage the self-defense argument or ignore the Israeli daily reality of war and terrorism is to concede the (contentious) PD high-ground for the niceties of soft power. The solution for Gilboa is perhaps more funding for a well-rounded policy that accepts the limitations of unfavorable policies and actually engages them in the discourse:

“People here feel that no matter what you do you are going to be blamed for all the problems in the Middle East,” said Eytan Gilboa, a professor of politics and international communication at Bar Ilan University. “Even suicide bombings by Palestinians are seen as our fault for not establishing a Palestinian state.”...Mr. Gilboa, the political scientist, said branding was not enough. “We need to do much more to educate the world about our situation,” he said. Regarding the extra $2 million budgeted for this, he said: “We need 50 million. We need 100 million.”


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Internet and Anti-Americanism
Reflecting on our class discussion on why internet somehow relates to more anti-Americanism, this question leads me to connect the internet-users with the class issue. Even today, as the London-based Economist points out, anti-Americanism is partly a class issue: Poor and less-education Britons like America lot more than their richer compatriots…Upper class anti-Americanism may be surrogate snobbery. So what is the linkage here between internet and class? Unlike the easy access to internet for most of the people in the US, not everyone in other parts of the world has equal access to internet, especially in developing countries. So I tend to believe that internet users in the world are at least the middle-class who has time to surf the internet and care about these issues, like the Iraqi War, which tarnished America’s image abroad to a great degree. Poor people’s priority concern is surviving, let alone what is going on in the foreign world. Nye calls this class-related snobbery intellectual snobbery which also accounts for the anti-Americanism.

This also makes me think of the Chinese Anti-CNN movement, escalating during the Tibet riot issue last year. It illustrates how internet makes it so easy for the Chinese intellectuals (most of whom are university students who has easy access to internet) to get messages out and motivate more people into this movement. Angered by several Western media’s one-sided reports on the Tibetans’ “protests”, “crackdown” of Chinese government and the highlighting of western countries’ (notably UK, France, and U.S.) pro-Tibet activists’ boycott of 2008 Beijing Olympics, mainland Chinese and the well-established overseas Chinese online community was instantly filled with emotional protests and fervent calls for action. In China, www.anti-CNN.net and www.anti-CNN.com website are actually established mostly by university students, which states that: “this website is established to expose the lies and distortions in the western media. The site is maintained by volunteers, who are not associated with any government officials. We are not against the western media, but against the lies and fabricated stories in the media. We are not against the western people, but against the prejudice from the western society.” On their websites, they put more comprehensive pictures in contrast with CNN’s selective use of pictures which only highlight the injuries of Tibetan monks without much depiction of Han Chinese victims in order to create a “crackdown” image of Beijing government. Facebook interestingly is another important online tool for voicing out their protest. Infuriated by a German N-TV’s borrow of a picture with Nepal policemen beating the protesters in Nepal to “justify” that Chinese government is using forces to “crackdown” the Tibetan protesters, the overseas Chinese formed numerous online groups on Facebook to further expose some Western media’s biased reports, such as “Condemn Jack Cafferty's Hatred and Racist Remarks on CNN” and many others.

This case just illustrates how internet quickly makes the anti-CNN movement into such a “vogue” especially among the young intellectuals who are also the largest group of internet users in China.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Talking with the Taliban?

Looks like the say-do gap might be closing a bit after all. According to a New York Times article published today, President Obama might be willing to actually talk with the Taliban. In an interview that covered additional topics (i.e. the U.S. economy), the President "opened the door to a reconciliation process in which the American military would reach out to moderate elements of the Taliban, much as it did with Sunni militias in Iraq." The BBC's reporting of the NYT interview focused on this open door and even quoted Afghan President Hamid Karzai who supported Obama's possible talks. "'This is the Afghan government's long stand,' he [Karzai] said. 'We wanted this and we support and stand with them to bring peace and stability to this land.'"

While these potential talks may be considered traditional diplomatic efforts, one can't help but see the strategic public diplomacy angle behind this announcement. By having the President cautiously discuss this potential option with reporters, the Obama administration is now prepared to gather public opinion and feedback on this new foreign policy effort. Additionally, Obama continued to prove his own credibility, using a strategy never accepted by George W. Bush, by bluntly commenting on the military's current presence in Afghanistan:

Asked if the United States was winning in Afghanistan, a war he effectively adopted as his own last month by ordering an additional 17,000 troops sent there, Mr. Obama replied flatly, “No.”

How's that for honesty?

I'm curious to see how the public responds to Obama's suggestion over the next few weeks. While open discussion with 'the enemy' was an ideal for which Obama was criticized and praised during his run for office, what will the American people think now? While our class discussions generally lead to support for efforts to enhance the U.S's international credibility and gain back the chance to get a 'pass' on foreign policy blunders, is Obama pushing his luck by announcing his intents to the world? I fear that as the President's celebrity status and momentum of hope wears down, once his Roman Candle of optimism burns out, support for efforts so drastically different from those of the Bush administration will dwindle as well.

On a less related topic, I thought Obama's comment on his trust in blogs was interesting. I guess he won't really be reading what I say here anyway:

Mr. Obama rode to the White House partly on his savvy use of new technology, and he has a staff-written blog on his presidential Web site. Even so, he said he did not find blogs to be reliable, citing the economy as one example.
“Part of the reason we don’t spend a lot of time looking at blogs,” he said, “is because if you haven’t looked at it very carefully, then you may be under the impression that somehow there’s a clean answer one way or another — well, you just nationalize all the banks, or you just leave them alone and they’ll be fine.”

Britain to Resume Talks with Hezbollah

John F. Burns

New York Times

Two days ago, England lifted a four-year dialogue ban with the US-named terrorist organization Hezbollah.  At the request of President Bush, Britain cut its ties with the Iranian organization known for initiating violent actions against Israel. England and Iran have a checkered past, with England regularly blamed for atrocious acts against the Islamic Republic and English involvement in the overthrow of Iranian leaders. This surprise shift in diplomatic relations indicates a new willingness of Britain to reach out to the Middle East.  It also labels the old style of isolating noncompliant countries ineffective.  The rationale for opening relations was pointed out in a New York Times article summarizing Foreign Officer Bill Marteson's comments that, "Britain aimed at moving Hezbollah toward becoming a nonviolent political party with policies focused on Lebanon, and not on undermining Israel."

Earlier this week, Gordon Brown visited the White House. Since the Obama administration took hold of Washington DC, the US has sought to better relations with Muslim countries and the Middle East. This outpouring of support has occurred in two branches with Obama speaking on Al Hurrah television and Congressional visits to Palestine.  The rest of the world watched the hegemon and waited for the cue.  Yesterday, one of the most influential countries opened its doors to discussions with one of the largest labeled terrorist organizations. 

The extent of the US influence on Britain's change can only be speculated.  I predict that Obama requested that Britain serve as an intermediary between Hezbollah and the United States.  Since the US could not exactly reopen talks with an open and militant opponent of Israel, the US looked to its closest ally for assistance.  How Hezbollah will be used is still up for deliberations, is the goal Iran, Israel or Lebanon?  If Iran is the true goal, this could be the time to initiate change.  With the re-election of Ahmadinejad, who is criticized for his inability to control inflation and strict oil rationing policies, he may be forced to foster a congenial relationship to face the prospect of re-election.  If Israel is the focus of the attention, the temporary but fragile peace with Palestine could force many players to the table.  Maybe the direction is shifting towards Lebanon, and the British want to make the new state effective.

While the political intent of the change is open to debate, Britain recognizing Hezbollah gives the country a new look.  It shows an openness and willingness to collaborate that has not been seen since 2001.

Additionally, this change in England's practices reflects a changing Western view.  The US is not seen as "going alone" at opening relations with the Middle East but rather at seeking the support and acceptance of the international community.  Maybe the US will see itself accept a more multilateral approach to foreign relations. That is a big maybe.

Lastly, I wonder how Israel will respond to England's policy change.  For the past eight years, Israel has seen unprecedented support for its often controversial practices by the United States.  Now that Obama and Brown have opened their countries to talks with the Middle East, Israel will feel insecure.  How will Israel brand itself in the next four years?

 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Al Jazeera English Struggling to Gain a Foothold in the U.S.

While doing some research about international news broadcasting, I noticed that Al Jazeera English has recently been pushing for greater availability in North America. NPR’s Morning Edition recently did a story about the channel struggling to gain a foothold among U.S. television audiences. Reuters also reported on Al Jazeera English’s public relations campaign:

“Al Jazeera is starting a public relations campaign to dispel what it calls myths and misperceptions that have prevented it from reaching more U.S. and Canadian viewers, the international television news network said on Tuesday.

Al Jazeera's English-language service is starting a website called IWantAJE.net, offering news the Qatar-based network produces and a list of ‘Hits and Myths’ knocking down statements about the network that it says are untrue.”

“The websites will ask people to e-mail to their cable and satellite providers asking them to carry the channel. Viewers can also watch the channel live on the website and read bulletins with the day's top stories.”

“Al Jazeera has said that gaining access in the United States has been hampered by what it calls misperceptions that it supports al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, that it is anti-Semitic and anti-American, that it shows beheadings, and that it has an anti-Western agenda.

‘We don't wear horns. Osama bin Laden does not have a weekly interview show,’ said Tony Burman, managing director of Al Jazeera English and former editor in chief at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

When former U.S. Marine Corps Captain Josh Rushing, now a reporter for Al Jazeera, went with a TV crew to Golden, Colorado, to cover the Democratic presidential convention last year, Al Jazeera's presence sparked protests from local motorcycle gangs.

‘People who have never watched it have a super-strong opinion about this thing they've never seen and don't want it on their airwaves,’ Rushing said.”

Since its launch more than two years ago, the channel is now available in about 140 million households in more than 100 countries and has 69 bureaus worldwide. According to IWantAJE.net, the Al Jazeera English Web site receives 22 million visits every month, with about 50% of its traffic coming from the U.S. and Canada. Even so, the channel is still hardly available anywhere in the U.S.

One of the basic rules of effective public diplomacy is listening and having a dialogue. Why then is Al Jazeera English, a channel providing a voice for billions of people around the world, not widely available in the U.S.? It’s not a hard question to answer actually; misconceptions about Al Jazeera aside, even Western international news channels such as BBC World and the American-owned CNN International are hardly available in the U.S.

Of course, no news outlet is completely unbiased; everyone ultimately has a point of view. But, by listening to different points of view, television audiences can get more of a complete picture of what is happening around the world. For example, Al Jazeera was the only English language network reporting from inside Gaza during the recent conflict there.

Being able to watch some BBC and Al Jazeera English would lead to a much more informed audience than by switching between MSNBC and Fox News. This, in turn, might just lead to a boon in U.S. public diplomacy. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Diplomacy by Invitation

Secretary Clinton means business in redefining the role of the Secretary of State. With one of the Secretary's new tools, anyone can get on the Internet and keep track of the Secretary's carbon footprint (she's up to 57,944 miles traveled thus far). In case you were curious to know where she calls home, you can't miss the only American flag visible from space which marks home at the headquarters.

Seriously, though, this is a pretty powerful tool that allows you to access the Secretary's itinerary as well as links to related material on the trip. This is important because it definitely diminishes the traditional distance that stands between the everyday person and their representatives. Here, you have a tool that caters to domestic and foreign "publics" alike.

The Secretary is distinguishing not only the Office of the Secretary of State, but also herself as Secretary of State. This innovation atop the Department sets a high bar for the lower level PD folks.

UPDATE:

Hillary Clinton wows young Europeans at a town hall meeting with 1,000 attendees locally, but interactive connection through Adobe Acrobat Connect to attendees at 39 embassies. I am not altogether familiar with this application, but from the description, you can literally host real-time discussions using graphics that can be displayed and edited in real-time amongst participants at remote sites. It's commonly used for distance learning programs and the like. You gotta love how she has covered so many thousands of miles to reach out to a diverse range of publics and still she comes across this guy:

One European observer said: "I'm relieved she didn't get the nomination, she's not as good as Obama. But still, a class act."

Thank you One European Observer, may I have another.

Keyhole tv and soft power

The other day, our readings in class focused on how an increasingly media-infiltrated world was affecting the daily life of the average citizen, and how these tools can be used in the public diplomacy sphere. I found it interesting when the readings mentioned how peer-to-peer technology was really changing the future of the Internet, and how it was the forefront to technological change and communication. I found a free program the other day that Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs is testing out, using P2P technology. This project called, " KeyHole TV" allows Internet users to watch Japanese TV in real time, with a selection of the major television channels in Japan. Currently, the project is causing a stir among language learners, but I think that it's also indicative of Japan using its "soft power" of entertainment and media influence to broadcast a little more widely to the world. If anyone is interested, here is the address:


http://www.v2p.jp/video/

Nation Branding

While waiting for divine inspiration to strike and inform me as to what, exactly, I would be writing a blog post on this week, I started doing a little research for my country profile, and played with typing in a few keywords into my google search bar. First thing I typed in: "Swiss branding". I was met with a direct link to the Victorinox Swiss Army Website. Ok, enough of that. I then typed in "Swiss nation branding" and was given a link to Simon Anholt's blog. I believe that we have discussed a little about him in our class- or at least some of our reading referenced him, but if you would like to find out more about nation branding, I recommend a quick browse of his site. Along with the much too wordy heading (Simon Anholt's Placeblog: "The place for anyone who's interested in national image and identity, place branding, public diplomacy, and anything to do with the reputations of countries, cities and regions; how they're formed; how they're measured and how they are (mis)managed."), you can find a link to many of his nation branding guides as well as just about any form of media he's been in in the last few years. No matter what your opinion of nation branding is, it definitely holds a place in Public Diplomacy. Whether or not it is effective is another question.