Gifts that Keep on Giving

3 May

Gifts are common practice in diplomacy. The tradition goes back as far as diplomacy (perhaps even predating our conceptions of the practice), and were a way to directly garner favor and show respect to foreign rulers. Recently in fact there has been a spat of articles on the diplomatic gifts President Obama has received. Under US law diplomatic gifts above $350 are disclosed, cataloged, and turned over to the official archives, because these gifts are only received by the President on behalf of the American people. (Here’s an interesting look at Gabon’s pricey gift: While these gifts go directly to leaders (though in cases like the US may be passed on to the people) I was wondering what role gift giving plays in public diplomacy.

 To reign in the definition of what we’re talking about here I am simply refereeing to symbolic (if expensive) gifts given for diplomatic purposes- not economic aid. I also want to look at cases where instead of giving gifts directly to foreign rulers gifts have been given to entire foreign publics. I had a hard time researching this sorts of gifts (those no real good search term for them) but they exist and occur quite regularly. For instance the (troubled) Tolstoy bust on AU could be considered a gift from one country the public another. But mostly I wanted to think of things that were on a grander scale. The two examples I came up with were The Statue of Liberty and the Cherry Blossoms around the Tidal Basin.

Lovely Lady Liberty dates back to an effort began in the 19th Century by members of the French public to bestow a gift to the American people in a symbolic gesture of friendship and unity. It took a while to raise enough funds to transport and assemble it but eventually it was set up and became an American icon. And over the course of its creation, transport, and assembly it was heavily publicized in both countries- filling the newspapers, calling for local fundraising drives, and even being exhibited (in pieces) at the world fair. Since then the Statue of Liberty has become a clear symbol of both for New York City and the American Immigration story, its relation to France has receded. This is no doubt due to it being so far removed from its historical origin, and having gained such a unique place in America’s societal symbolism.

The Cherry Blossoms around the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC are a different story. While the cherry blossoms may seem like just a part of the DC scenery to many, many others are aware of their origin as a gift from the Japanese Ambassador. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival with its emphasis on Japanese culture, Japanese-American relations and heavily funded outreach is a regular reminder of the trees symbolic meaning and their public diplomacy function.

What this shows is that while a public gift (ecological or architectural) may seem like an innovative way to perform long term public diplomacy, physical objects have a way of becoming a part of their environment. Annual or semi-annual event programming made possible (or at least given a certain inertia) by these public gifts may be a more effective public diplomacy strategy. Combining this traditional diplomacy practice of gift giving (scaled up to a public level) with modern public diplomacy approaches to cultural diplomacy programming seems to be a fairly effective way to communicate with foreign publics. Also worth mentioning is that this gift giving can be done by individual citizens and portions of the domestic public, without the direct funding or assistance from the government but can still benefit government image. This is an interesting practical example of the “new” public diplomacy.



New Domestic Violence Campaign and Skepticism

1 May

Saudi Arabia has, through the King Khalid Foundation (ostensibly private, but run by the ruling family, so still a part of the regime), begun a campaign against domestic violence. A laudible campaign, it aims to end domestic violence in the kingdom and promote “legal protection for women and children against domestic violence”. 

While admirable, it is drawing skepticism abroad and for some good reasons. In a nation that is very male-dominated and where access to the ads will be hindered by censorship of the internet, many are seeing it as a difficult campaign to implement successfully. The reactions captured by Al Jazeera certainly do cover a range of reactions. Saudi Arabia does lack some credibility abroad as reforms are slow to actualize in the nation, and backslides are more often reported than progress. Could this be just window dressing? Part of Saudi Arabia’s public diplomacy seems to be an emphasis on ‘shared values’. 

Such campagins have existed in the past. Ultimately, it is too soon to tell whether the program will be a success or failure, but the present reactions to the announcement are hope and skepticism, suggesting a rather spotted record in terms of credibility, especially abroad. The success of the campaign may help improve that credibility or it may not, but, regardless, the reactions to the campaign do suggest that Saudi Arabia has a public diplomacy dillema here that needs to be addressed. 

Public “Diplomacy Clubs”

22 Apr

These articles describing the opening of a “Diplomacy Club” in Doha is an interesting illustration of overcoming the “last 3 feet” in diplomacy and talking face to face. The club illustrates an interesting some of the intersections, overlaps, and conflicts between more traditional forms of diplomacy and newer public diplomacy strategies. The Diplomacy Club has a lot to offer as public diplomacy, its programming even has a public diplomacy category. While being called a “Diplomacy Club” it is open to members of the local business community and can provide those sorts of important networking opportunities and connections with “gatekeepers” that many public diplomacy scholars deem essential. But there is also a lot of the traditional diplomacy in the idea that leaders, business or diplomatic, can gather together in small groups and make large decisions with little interaction from the actual public. This being the emirates business connections may be the main desire of all states involved and it might not be worth reading too much into “diplomacy clubs” which has an air of elitism about it (ever seen an Admirals Club in an airport, doesn’t actually have anything to do with Admirals). But that elitism being a connotation of the word diplomacy is revealing.

 Even through public diplomacy efforts often have a goal of reaching as large a general public as possible I wonder how tied they are to receptive, often elite, audiences. Mentioned in the Culinary Diplomacy event Public Diplomacy practitioners often work with limited resources and have to make decisions based on where their resources will make the most impact. This often means reaching out to audiences predisposed toward you in the first place. This may in theory be using resources effectively because it draws larger crowds but in actuality it may be convincing those who are already convinced, especially in the nebulous world of public diplomacy where the goal may just be to expose or create positive sentiment (something that may not be necessary for someone who already knows about and is willing to attend your public diplomacy event). Embassy week in Washington in DC would seemingly be a festival of public diplomacy but under a critical lens wouldn’t the immigrant rich, urban, and international city already be predisposed to many diplomatic goals (even more so considering attendees are often the most international, well-educated, and professionally involved with diplomatic events within the city). This self-selection bias would seem just s true in broadcasting (what type of person listens to Voice of America anyway), many of the cultural diplomacy events (traveling symphony orchestras really being a way to reach out to the common man?), and even in the networks diplomats attempt to join. If this is true then how different is “public diplomacy” from “traditional” diplomacy of smoke filled rooms except for being slightly more democratic by involving the entire power elite of a given country rather than just a specified “diplomatic” portion?

This of course is an exaggeration meant to follow an idea to its most extreme conclusion. But it is something public diplomacy practitioners should be aware of when using limited resources and defining which publics it truly wants to reach.


Anime Ambassadors – Not Just for MOFA

19 Apr

In 2008, former Prime Minister Aso appointed Doraemon to be the anime ambassador of Japan. Recently, Crunchyroll has latched on the idea of anime ambassadors, but instead of appointing anime characters to be ambassadors, they have appealed to their audience. Crunchyroll is a website where viewers can watch all anime and J-drama that they can take in.

Crunchyroll has called out to cosplayers, industry professionals, and bloggers to take on this role (no pun intended). The application requires not only a cover letter, but also a portfolio of work and links to applicants’ facebook pages, tumblr, or twitter. The benefits include monetary compensation for all premium memberships they claim through referral, a free 90 day premium membership, VIP access to conventions, and promotion on and Crunchyroll convention booths. It seems like it is not a bad deal.

Earlier class reading indicated that the commercial sector plays a large role in Japan’s public diplomacy, independently of the Japanese government, and this appears to be the case. However, I have to wonder whether the motivations of the commercial sector undermine the public diplomacy benefits. Crunchyroll will presumably make money from this venture if it is successful. Public diplomacy benefits are almost certainly an afterthought and frankly, it could compete with some government initiatives. In this case, it’s unlikely to negatively affect a government initiative, but the problem with commercial sector public diplomacy efforts is that, given their autonomy from the government, they may inadvertently do damage. In some cases, they may intentionally contradict the government.

Ambassadors can come in all shapes and sizes, and are no longer just for the government.

Public Diplomacy in Tragedy

16 Apr

I was unsure whether or not to post this for fear of appearing crass or insensitive. So upfront I would like to say this blog post is not intended to belittle the tragedy at Boston, the anniversary of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, or any of the tragedies that I mention (or any I don’t). I merely wish to explore an idea in writing.

This morning I overheard a girl talking on Skype to an Egyptian friend about what had happened in Boston. The Egyptian girl was interested both out of reasons of compassion and because as she stated “What the US does and how the US reacts affects us.” This statement of course comes in the context of US intervention in the Middle East as part of the War on Terror, and the Egyptian girl is right that oftentimes even domestic issues in the US become important for the whole world.

That same morning my Facebook newsfeed, while filled with support and condolences for Boston, also had quite a few posts that went like this, “Boston was terrible but yesterday X happened in Y and no one is talking about.” While I don’t think moral superiority in the face of a tragedy is an effective way to communicate a message, or particularly compassionate, I also don’t think that was the message many of the people were trying to convey. Rather they hoped to use this opportunity of a public out pouring of compassion to highlight other areas and issues in need of attention.

These experiences and others over the past few days affected me in many ways but I want to explore one thought here.

How does public diplomacy interact with tragedy?

A few weeks earlier I wrote an article about Japan’s public diplomacy in relation to its remilitarization. In that article I argued (among other things) that the source of popular domestic support for this remilitarization, being from the military’s execution of humanitarian efforts with the Fukushima Disaster, would make Japan’s remilitarization follow a humanitarian path often for public diplomacy purposes.

I did not explore the idea that after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami there was a slightly contentious dialogue from Japan concerning humanitarian aid. Some parts of Japanese society did not want to be perceived as a needy country depending on Western benevolence. Was this rejection of aid (which happened more discursively than an actual rejection of aid) a public diplomacy act asserting Japan’s power status?

What does that mean for countries actively pursuing aid after an economic disaster? Are, for example, the charities following the Earthquake in Haiti to receive aid from abroad and provide humanitarian assistance in Haiti bad for Haiti’s public image? Does that even matter for most countries following a disaster?

An interesting note is that many of the methods for getting aid internationally look a lot like public diplomacy. There are public private partnerships, international cooperation, and direct outreach to publics in both countries. Media frames, media content, and media control, are also very important often affecting what we know to be a tragedy and we do not. Networks, influence leaders, and the social ties all also come into play when doing this sort of social work.

But for who is this public diplomacy? The states providing the aid? USAID puts American Flags on all its rice bags, among other things and US aid is seen as a key part of many diplomatic strategies. Oftentimes humanitarian aid offers the best opportunities to reach out to the public directly.

For the country where the tragedy occurs though I think the issue is more complex. First off often times the need for aid is much greater than such a question. But for instance in the case of Japan the call to refocus not on monetary and physical aid but on compassion and Japan’s human relationships. I think while almost certainly not an intentional public diplomacy act, it had positive public diplomatic effects. It showed national strength and courage, while reminding people to keep Japan in their thoughts and encouraging a positive human view of the country from the outside world.

For countries that must pursue aid though it is equally concerning that shortly following the disaster attention to these countries often drops off rapidly. To again reference Haiti, this has been one of Haiti’s key problems after numerous disasters. International focus, contributions, plans and then a lack of follow through after the initial crisis is solved leaving poor Haiti still unable to handle the next one (notice how I unintentionally slipped into categorizing Haiti as a victim which shows perhaps the validity in Japan’s strategy in terms of protecting their national image).  But perhaps by viewing disaster relief through the same technical lens with which we view public diplomacy Haiti may be able to develop more long term and sustained aid efforts that will help it address long term issues.

This post was perhaps a tad disjointed, but hopefully not disrespectful. I merely hoped to relate a few thoughts on public diplomacy to these events that all too often occur. Tragedies must be responded to depending on their situation so I shy away from offering any sort of best practices. But suffice it to say that the world often notices them, and when presented with tragedy there is usually an outpouring of compassion from the global public. With a complete lack of cynicism I would recommend that in interacting with that global public, countries affected by tragedy should keep public diplomacy methods in mind because that is what they are for.

And I’ll close with a quote that I’m sure many of you have seen but seems particularly relevant to a discussion of aid and tragedy: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”- Mr. Rodgers


A Two Part (perception of) Harmony

16 Apr

Mingjiang highlights the conceptual importance of “harmony” in Chinese strategy on soft power. Harmony is already an important cultural value and domestic political goal/justification in China. In an age of fragmentation, environmental, and polarization it could even be appealing internationally. But I think it will fail China as a guiding image because of current Western conceptions of China.

Racism, anti-Communism, and Orientalism already predisposed the West to see China as a place with too much conformity. China’s history of state enforced harmony (and the Western emphasis on this history) may make the idea unpalatable. In fact the image of harmony in China from a Western perspective may come closer to Tiananmen Square than a Confucian ritual.  For example the Beijing Opening Ceremonies with its 15,000 coordinated and choreographed performers drumming and dancing in unity, could be seen as a perfect example of harmony but many Westerners  thought it was just “scary.” (The 2012 opening ceremonies use of the Industrial Revolution as a centerpiece is particularly interesting after Mingjiang’s article depicts its failures as a opening for Chinese influence.) With this in mind instead of harmony China should try something more approachable for the West. Perhaps “longevity” would be better.

Longevity is also an important concept and key value all of the Eastern traditions. It also offers China many opportunities to promote its national brand. First it clearly emphasizes China’s long continuous history. On another historical level the pursuit of longevity lead to some of China’s greatest contributions to science. This could highlight future scientific contributions in medicine, alternative energy/green technologies (longevity of the planet), and other fields. Longevity is also a nice counter-image to the sense of a technological world moving too fast, economic and environmental crises stemming from short term thinking, and global political instability. Pairing the “Beijing Consensus” with “longevity” could be a nice fusion of the philosophical and the practical. Domestically longevity seems to be exactly the type of frame the Party would want to promote. Finally, harmony, when broken down, becomes concepts like balance, respect, and restraint, which conceptually are also already integrated into longevity in Eastern thought and could be promoted as part of China’s image (along with their political implications) without as many negative connotations.

While I see harmony as being a potentially problematic image for China that will eventually need to be discarded, longevity on the other hand was built to last.


Goals and Gastrodiplomacy

12 Apr

At the gastrodiplomacy event at American University on Tuesday, April 9th, students were formally introduced to gastrodiplomacy concept, which was defined by Paul Rockower as a way to reach hearts and minds through people’s stomachs. Although I agree with his contention that commensality can create a sense of commonality that may place people in a better position to influence each other, I am not convinced that food can serve as a diplomatic tool simply by bringing people to the table.

One of the questions raised during the question and answer section of the event was what the difference is between culinary diplomacy and culinary tourism. The explanation that the panel came up with boiled down to this: culinary tourism is tourism to eat the food of a region or country. Culinary diplomacy is using food as a diplomatic tool to promote countries and cultures.  I believe that gastrodiplomacy has to be more than raising awareness of a country’s culture. Much though some people like Iranian food, they aren’t necessarily pre-disposed to agree with Iranian political views. This may seem like an extreme example, and there are many reactions to that statement that people could have. I imagine that one of the mostly would be that Iran is not attempting to harness gastrodiplomacy, nor is it trying to endear American audiences to it. This is exactly the point. Gastrodiplomacy must be linked with specific policies and goals in order to be effective.

To put this in a less extreme context, I blogged previously about Japan’s ramen ambassador program, in which members of foreign publics were to blog about their love of ramen for a year. This initiative was presumably supposed to raise awareness about Japanese culture through its food. However, there was no specific policy goal related to it, and so Japan’s gastrodiplomacy efforts may fail. Much like people who like anime do necessarily agree with Japan’s politics, people who discover a love for Japanese noodles may not pre-dispose them to liking Japan’s politics.

Of the countries represented, Peru and South Korea had specific goals. Peru is trying to harness gastrodiplomacy to attract tourism and built their economy. Another benefit of gastrodiplomacy is to bring Peru’s country brand into the 2000s by adding to the image of Peru as more than a country of Incan ruins and rainforests. The Peruvian representative pointed out that given its ecological diversity, the Peruvian cuisine has impressive variety, and the broad appeal has resulted in a rise in popularity of Peruvian food and thus a rise in tourism to Peru.

The representative from South Korea explained that Korean take pride in their food and would like to draw attention to it to provide momentum for continuing the ‘K’ phenomenon (such as K pop). Although he did not detail what the international goals Korea would like to reach through food are, it was clear that there was a strategy to gastrodiplomacy, such as increasing food infrastructure, promoting the health benefits, and improving marketing techniques.

Gastrodiplomacy, like all public diplomacy tools, is not a surefire way to make affect publics in a desired way. Nor is it is possible to open a restaurant and immediately cultivate political affinities. However, if governments tie gastrodiplomacy to specific goals and are prepared for a long-term commitment, having people at the table can open up the possibility of using other diplomacy tools.