Thursday, September 30, 2010

Panda Politics

Ken Layne stirs the pot over at Wonkette, insisting that China's government is forcing middle-aged Americans to clean up panda poop -- an exercise in transnational humiliation.

Layne argues that the scatological expedition (which, for those keeping score, was arranged by the scoopers themselves) is like China's decision to recall Tai Shan from the National Zoo and efforts to undervalue its currency: a deliberate attempt to gain the upper hand in the Sino-American relationship.

Like most satire, Layne's piece has a grain of truth to it. There has certainly been evidence of Chinese muscle-flexing in recent months. And why shouldn't China want the upper hand? Nobody actually prefers riding the bench to being starting quarterback.

Now I like a good panda poop joke as much as the next girl. But let's focus for a moment on what a smart PD move this is. The women who traveled across the Pacific to collect Tai Shan's scat actually paid for the privilege, volunteering through the Bifenxia panda research center. According to the Washington Post, "The program was designed to give foreign donors a hands-on look at the center, but has since been opened up to all tourists."

The program (private sector take note!) takes advantage of the panda's cache to attract donor-tourist-volunteers, garnering funding, cheap labor and fabulous PR. Innovation! Conservation! Goodwill generation! This program has it all.

Further capitalizing on the panda's popularity, China recently announced the names of six winners of its search for "Pambassadors" to spread the good word about the adorable bamboo-guzzlers. The Wall Street Journal reports that the winners were selected from the U.S., France, Sweden, Taiwan, China and Japan. Guess they think the odds of ambassadorial pandacide are slim.

China's working hard to protect the panda and promote its image at home and abroad. Whether it translates into positive foreign attitudes or not remains to be seen. As always, it's important to remember the role of foreign and domestic policy in shaping public opinion abroad. To that end, a little currency revaluation could go a long way.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Public diplomacy enthusiasts spend a lot of time focusing on the need to drum up foreign support for foreign policy, but it's important to remember that domestic support is equally important.

Over at Foreign Policy, Stephen Biddle commends President Obama for taking domestic considerations into account when developing war strategy:

Waging war requires resources -- money, troops, and equipment -- and in a democracy, resources require public support. In the United States, the people's representatives in Congress control public spending. If a majority of lawmakers vote against the war, it will be defunded, and this means failure every bit as much as if U.S. soldiers were outfought on the battlefield. A necessary part of any sound strategy is thus its ability to sustain the political majority needed to keep it funded, and it's the president's job to ensure that any strategy the country adopts can meet this requirement. Of course, war should not be used to advance partisan aims at the expense of the national interest; the role of politics in strategy is not unlimited. But a military strategy that cannot succeed at home will fail abroad, and this means that politics and strategy have to be connected by the commander in chief.

Biddle is focusing primarily on military strategy, but what about out aspects of security--specifically communication? Is the United States capable of developing and sustaining a cohesive foreign policy strategy without the support of the public?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shanghai Noon -- Showdown Near Senkaku

Japan has done a lot to improve traditional and public diplomacy in Asia, as I've written in the past. From pop culture cache and technological supremacy to cultural exchanges and language education, Japan has attempted to broaden its soft power resources.

But it looks as if Japan's diplomatic efforts could use a Pikachu-powered jolt of energy as diplomatic relations with China have been suspended this week, the latest development in a standoff following a maritime fender bender near the Senkaku islands.

Over at Foreign Policy, Dan Twining argues that the tension "is part of a larger pattern of Chinese assertiveness towards its neighbors over the past few years," an observation in keeping with China's growing military and economic power. With economic and technological strength, an advantageous geographical position, a close relationship with the United States and diplomatic cache, Japan is in many ways well situated to counter China's rising power.

China, of course, is no stranger to the PD game itself--from panda politics to Olympian spectacle to extravagant Expos to the establishment of the nation's first PD research center, China has demonstrated an adept appreciation of soft power politics.

Ultimately, the question of Chinese v. Japanese regional influence may be determined less by soft power and public diplomacy strategies than by hard power politics. But even if that were the case, it can only be disadvantageous to suspend diplomatic relations and open channels of communication as the nations try to resolve their differences in a (presumably) peaceful manner.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


More from the U.S. foreign policy files: In American Foreign Policy Since World War II, John Spanier and Steven W. Hook argue that U.S. foreign policy is largely couched in moral terms. That makes the nation generally averse to fight, but when pressed to, the fights must be framed in terms of U.S. values: protecting liberty, democracy and freedom at home and abroad.

However, this "moralistic attitude also militated against the use of diplomacy in its classical sense: to compromise interests, to conciliate differences, and to moderate and isolate conflicts."

America's deep suspicion of diplomacy meant the nation was slow to create a permanent diplomatic corps. Hook and Spanier argue that this attitude has also made it difficult for the United States to compromise, because any compromise is not simply political but moral, which means a weakening of American values.

Their observations are in keeping with the U.S. trend of increasing traditional and public diplomacy resources during times of war and crisis and decreasing them during times of relative peace. The U.S. has always been a champion of democracy, but has this led the country away from compromise toward violence?

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Middle Ground

And last night, Jon Stewart called on the rational middle ground to gather in D.C. to appeal for moderation:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rally to Restore Sanity

Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Pragmatists

Last night I was thumbing through AU professor (and sometime consultant, advisor, director, fellow and diplomat) Robert Pastor's chapter on U.S. foreign policy in A Century's Journey. Full disclosure: This wasn't casual bedtime reading. I'm in his class.

Pastor argues that U.S. foreign policy is characterized by a sort of divided vision. Team Teddy leans toward strength, independence and unilateralism. Team Woody leans toward international institutions, universal norms and multilateralism. However, most U.S. foreign policy decisions have been decided by a third, pragmatic camp: Team Undecided, which tends to be swayed and directed by current events.

I haven't gotten far into the reading (although I will soon, as I'm co-leading a discussion on it), but thus far it seems that Pastor's emphasizing hard power (that is, economic and military) action. But how does this bi-/tri-polar foreign policy system influence soft power activities in the United States? After all, foreign policy is one of the most crucial factors in shaping foreign opinions about the United States--a major PD goal. So what does this mean for soft power?

For some reason, it's put a Kaiser Chief's song in my head: We are the angry mob. We read the papers every day. We like who we like, we hate who we hate, but we're also easily swayed.

Pastor suggests that the United States has frequently been more committed to Wilsonian rhetoric than Wilsonian action, an inconsistency that could undermine PD efforts abroad. In fact, the entire system, with its reliance on the pragmatic but variable Undecideds seems geared toward inconsistency in general. And that's a problem for an enterprise that relies on consistency.

Of course, I'm only a few pages in and I could be totally off-base on my assessment. Stay tuned for an update when I finish my reading!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Social Media: Two Views

Two views on social media. The first, courtesy of Scott Adams, below:

and the second is available here, from mashable.

Essentially, the article argues that in the future, social media will cease to be a media phenomenon--not because it's going to disappear, but because it's going to be integrated. ("All media as we know it today will become social, and feature a social component to one extent or another.") Author Vadim Lavrusik claims that social media is already becoming integrated into online journalism, via such trends as collaborative reporting and social media beat-mining.

Seeing as how PD involves elements of both marketing and journalism, what does this mean for the noble field of public diplomacy? Less message content control (bad) but more active engagement with potential audience (good). The problem is that most PD bodies seem to be a little slow to capitalize on social media technology. There's a desperate need to better align objectives with technological capabilities--not the government's strongest suit.

It's not that I think the State Department shouldn't be on Twitter--but there's a reason they have fewer followers than your average sirloin-clad pop starlet.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

...and counting

More news from the China files. The government is evidently thinking about easing its one-child per family rule, according to Time.

In place for over three decades, the law was initially passed after population growth was blamed for fatal food shortages.

The domestic fall-out of a policy shift is likely to have both positive and negative aspects, and the consequences for China's role on the world stage are not yet clear.

Policy wonks specializing on territorial disputes, however, are united in agreeing that the back seats of the nation's minivans are likely to become increasingly contentious spaces in the years ahead.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fighting Fire with Fire

It's no secret that China's leaders have succeeded in expanding the nation's global influence over the past century. Today, its military, economic and political strength is considerable--and growing. But while this has obvious benefits for China, it also has the opposite effect. Namely, China's growing strength has attracted negative attention abroad.

In The Washington Post, Andrew Higgins cites China's growth as one instigator of violence against Chinese expatriates in Kyrgyzstan: "As China pushes beyond its borders in search of markets, jobs and a bigger voice in world affairs, a nation that once boasted of 'having friends everywhere' increasingly confronts a problem long faced by the United States: Its wealth and clout might inspire awe and wary respect, but they also generate envy and, at times, violent hostility."

China's growth, inevitably, has caught the attention of its neighbors, and not always in a good way. The AP reports that Japan, also a significant regional power, and China have recently clashed over a fishing boat collision. The resultant diplomatic tension is not unusual for the two countries, whose relationship has frequently been marred by territorial disputes.

China is aware of the importance of smooth international relations. The New York Times today reports that Chinese officials are making overtures to improve dialogue between Washington and Beijing, quoting a Chinese state official saying, "Strategic trust is the basis of China-U.S. cooperation."

Powerful countries (particularly those rich in hard power) incite suspicion. Disregarding the difficulties of entering the Chinese embassy, it's clear that China recognizes the role of soft power in balancing some of the negative consequences of hard power acquisition. The People's Daily Online recently reported the opening of China's first public diplomacy research center at Beijing Foreign Studies University: "This is China's first institution to specialize in public diplomacy research and its establishment will promote China's public diplomacy research to provide intellectual support for the practice of the government's public diplomacy and a platform for the public to participate in public diplomacy."

It's worth noting that the PDO announcement describes the center's purpose as improving China's public diplomacy and thereby helping the nation to expand its foreign influence. That's hardly surprising. Expanding foreign influence is, after all, one of PD's major objectives. But if China truly wants to maintain and improve its foreign relations, it needs to ensure that increases in power--hard or soft--don't increase wariness or suspicion abroad. To that end, its actions will speak louder than its words.

Monday, September 6, 2010

PD Grab Bag

From the Fars News Agency, Tehran University Dean Mohammad Reza Koushki argues that public diplomacy can strengthen ties between Iran and Azerbaijan, saying: "In addition to formal and official diplomatic activities, an unofficial public diplomacy is the best way to pave the ground for the expansion of deep cultural, religious and ideological relations."

In India, the Foreign Ministry is getting a PD 2.0 update, according to the Hindustan Times, expanding its presence on social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube. The Ministry of External Affairs hopes to take advantage of PD 2.0's interactive capabilities--although the article notes that the ministry is aware of potential drawbacks, as tweeting has already had negative repercussions for some politicians in the country.

And from UNC's American Diplomacy, Egyptian diplomat Abeer Bassiouny Arafa Ali Radwan argues that public diplomacy is an increasingly important tool for international relations. Granted, she uses a broader definition of the term that this blog generally employs, but raises a lot of interesting points about the advantages and disadvantages of PD, including its long-term limitations. And in a quote that made this communication student smile, she notes that "culture and communication are the keys not only to technological progress and economic prosperity, but also to social cohesion and sustainable development."