HuffPost launches WorldPost

 

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On January 8th, the Huffington Post announced the creation of WorldPost. This is how The Guardian portrayed it: “The 1% are about to get their own publication. The digital media titan Arianna Huffington and the billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen on Wednesday announced the launch of World Post, a comment and news website that looks set to become a platform for some of the most powerful people on the planet.” (http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/jan/08/world-post-news-website-launches-huffington) World Post was officially launched at Davos, during the World Economic Forum. This was no coincidence, considering it is the hub where many of the world´s most influential leaders, entrepreneurs, practitioners, and policy-shapers converge. These are people with vast power to shape our everyday lives. Now some of them, including former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and both Microsoft’s and Google’s masterminds, will seek to influence our minds through the soft power of the media. They will be some of the big names contributing to the HuffPost’s latest expansive project. However, what the creators of this joint venture insist makes it different is that it will be a space as much for the powerful as for the ordinary people like you and me. They are seeking to establish partnerships with local media institutions around the world, in addition to the team of correspondents already in action in 10 countries, and the creation of new correspondence positions across Beirut, Beijing, Cairo, and more locations. 

This organizational scheme is supposed to be based on cooperation amongst the different actors for the common purpose of giving life to the World Post. Indeed, it is supposed to mirror the structure already in place, whereby the HuffPost maintains alliances with key international media editors and agenda-setters. Considering the growth and reach of Huffington Post in the last couple of years, it makes sense how they would grab this opportunity to spread their interests and perspectives further. In words of its global news editor, Peter Goodman, “We have an incredible opportunity to use the pieces we already have on the board to speak to our existing audience and grow that audience simply by embracing the fact that we are an international entity.” There’s never been a better time for them to do it, taking advantage of the media revolution, the importance and influence media channels such as these hold over citizens and governments worldwide, and the nature of our interconnected world. 

As soon as I saw the headline announcing the creation of World Post, I thought “there goes an authentic PD effort.” The statements issued by Huffington, Berggruen, and the rest of the staff underscore this. Without a doubt, here is an example of how international communication venues, the mass media, non-state actors, and even states themselves, even if indirectly, come together to shape a PD initiative. As Gilboa mentioned in his critical article, there is no single definition to PD. More than ever, it must be seen as the increasingly interdependent, interdynamic phenomenon it is. It is no longer possible to separate its parts from its purpose. The creation of World Post is, in my opinion, the very reality of what public diplomacy is. I find it hard to further elaborate this point, as I feel that what World Post is and symbolizes speaks for itself. Undoubtedly, it will become an essential actor in the shaping of international perspectives both at home and abroad, both about the US and about the rest of the world. This actor is not merely restricted to its role as a powerful media outlet (and thus, an agenda setter), but also as a representative of public opinion, civil society, influential non-state elite members, the powerful within (Western) states, and those alternative, still unknown voices fighting for a chance to practice PD too– their public diplomacy. Hence, it will be interesting to monitor and critically analyze how PD plays out coming from the same venue, but not from the same sphere of power. There is a new opportunity for the “common citizens” to engage in dialogue and influence with broader actors across the world. It remains to be seen whether their voices will exercise considerable pressure upon the NPD practiced by the more recognized members of World Post, their audiences, backers, and sponsors, and end up creating a need for even more updated, interdisciplinary paradigms of what NPD is and can be in the 21st Century. 

For more on this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/covering-the-world-introducing-the-worldpost_b_4637990.html 

FYI: New Clingendael Report on Peacebuilding and Other Possible Resources

Hello, All.

One of the PD Links along the left side of the blog home page is to Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.  This link — http://www.clingendael.nl/publication/internal-and-external-dilemmas-peacebuilding-africa — is to a new report that some may find of interest, and here’s a more general link: http://www.clingendael.nl/page/news

-Debbie Trent

A Different Side of China

The Economist this week featured an article about Chinese consumer spending titled “Doing it Their Way”. The article is a response to the release  of the documentary film “Tiny Times” by Guo Jingming.  The film follows the lives of China’s  young elite.  The film shows a the high life of China; a side rarely shown. The Economist article focuses on “China’s rush towards consumerism” and its global implications.

However after reading the article I  brought up questions in regards to what this revelation means for China’s public diplomacy efforts. China a country hyper-aware of its global image now has to deal with the burden of being perceived as an rich and powerful country.   China, a country that has an ambivalent  stance, markets its self to the worlds as both developed and developing may no longer be able to fake the ladder. China’s  has contributed more than any other country to the growth in global consumption between 2011-2013. (Economist).  Even some of its poorest cities are quickly increasing  consumer spending.

China  is indeed a developed country and  people are beginning to take notice.  From a public diplomacy stand point that could challenge China’s public diplomacy efforts and outreach to the worlds poorer countries.   When China courts potential developing countries to make  trade deals and lure medical practitioners , China will have less of a case that it is any “different” from the Western world.  Evidence of this trend has already begun to appear on social media sites where many people have took to different platforms to criticize the lifestyle and materialism of China’s elite as documented in Guo’s film.

Is Economy the New (Old) Game in Town?

This week I find it relevant to discuss the concept of economy as the new (or renewed) focus of public diplomacy initiatives. It is hard to forget Clinton’s famous ‘It’s the Economy, Stupid’ campaign slogan. Recently financial issues became particularly central to states’ rhetoric once again. Economy as public diplomacy strategy is broadly discussed in the course readings and in the media this week.

The first big economy and development headline this week was Bill Gates discussing his annual letter in interviews across media outlets. Gates focused on the importance of foreign aid and the great progress he sees the humanity making towards abolishing poverty and enhancing economic self-sufficiency.

Simultaneously big debates on economy are happening at the Annual World Economic Forum in Davos. One article at the Foreign Policy Magazine this week (http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/01/22/at_davos_developing_countries_advertise_themselves_more_than_companies_do) discusses few particularly interesting examples of how developing countries are trying to advertise themselves focusing on the economic opportunities they have to offer.

Finally Heng (2009) discusses the focus on economy and development as a leading public diplomacy strategy for Japan: “Japan sees its’ economic influence reflecting attractive values…Tokyo, in May 2008, doubled its aid targets to Africa by 2012.” (p. 290). China and Japan, along with many other states work to strengthen relations with developing countries and use strategic communication to portray themselves as trustworthy economic powers.

And so as the world remains affected by the financial turmoil, issues of economy seem to be a great prescription for effective public diplomacy strategy.

And if you haven’t seen Bill Gates promoting his letter virally, here it is:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ye_W7ZsRYM&feature=youtu.be]

Is the concept of national interest outdated?

Nicholas J. Cull points out that “Successful foreign policy increasingly requires partnerships. Some nations ― most prominently the United Kingdom ― now include “partnership” within their core definition of public diplomacy”[1].

Arguably that’s not so new, foreign policy has consisted of alliances for a good number of decades, hasn’t it? He goes on: “By defining foreign policy objectives around issues of mutual concern to a range of actors rather than narrow national agendas it is possible to enlist those actors and the networks that consider them credible into a common action.”[2]

Now here I do see some change. Change that could redefine more than foreign policy: change that could redefine the concept of national interest.

Couldn’t we say that most of the biggest issues we are facing today are of mutual concern, even more so than in the past? Think of climate change, the processes fueling terrorism/freedom fighting, or even if you want to think in economic terms: recent years especially have shown that economic concerns for one country never stay economic concern for just that one country.

Can you tell me an issue of concern in your country that is an issue of concern for your country only? Even if the issue itself appears to affect your country only, can you tell me than no other country in the world is facing a similar issue? If not, then wouldn’t pooling your research resources increase the likelihood of you both resolving that issue more quickly?

Another thought: take the issue of terrorism/freedom fighting. Have the aggressive military strategies, which resulted from thinking in terms of national interests, been productive or counterproductive in your opinion?

We can take a step back.

What is your country’s national interest?

From what I have gathered so far, the goal of public diplomacy is communication of an international actor’s policies to foreign publics with the ultimate goal of influencing them in such a way that it becomes easier for these policies’ aims to be achieved.

It thus seems to me that if you can’t answer the above question precisely, it is a bit difficult to strategize, let alone carry out, a comprehensive public diplomacy strategy. Yet I don’t think many people can come up with a very clear answer. Even if they did, I’m not sure if they’d all agree on it.

For example, a lot of government officials from all over the world seem to be employed with the ultimate goal of maximizing their country’s GDP, Gross National Product. Bhutan, however, has taken the decision to put their efforts into maximizing their GDH instead, Gross National Happiness. I am a citizen of one of the first countries that called themselves a democracy, and I don’t recall being given the choice between the two.

In fact, I don’t recall anyone thinking about the possibility of asking for a choice between the two. But if someone thought of asking for that choice, would the answer necessarily be so obvious as to make it an irrelevant question? I definitely don’t think so.

The point is that we have been thinking about issues very narrowly. Is the concept of national interest really that relevant?

One of the strategies of diplomacy has been exchange diplomacy. I have been an international student most of my life, and never thought before this program that I was part of a grander strategy designed to facilitate my host countries’ foreign policies, to carry out their national interests. Would that make you feel a little awkward? I guess it depends on how you answer this question: are these countries’ interests really different?


[1] Nicholas Cull, (2012), “Listening for the hoof beats: Implications of the rise of soft power and public diplomacy,” http://www.globalasia.org/V7N3_Fall_2012/Nicholas_J_Cull.html

[2] Ibid.

Pitfalls of Public Diplomacy Through the Media

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http://www.zimbio.com/Afghanistan/articles/tcNI-RXSAAl/Troop+downsize+Afghanistan+2014+under+consideration

A recent NPR radio piece detailed the difficulties that the U.S. has had in brokering an agreement for troops staying in Afghanistan after the 2014 deadline. The two governments have been at odds with each other about the way forward for GIRoA. Karzai is making decisions in a black hole while getting terrible advice from his inner circle. He hasn’t been on the same page as the White House for quite some time and doesn’t believe that the U.S. will leave Afghanistan despite its constant threat. However, the biggest factor compounding the problem has been the White House using the media to conduct public diplomacy.

Instead of closed-door meetings and one-on-one diplomatic efforts, the back-and-forth threats have been playing out in the public sphere of the media. That is no way to conduct diplomacy. Governments shoot themselves in the foot each time they let their enemies or allies know of their intentions through the media. That’s like hearing about a friend that’s been lying to you from the playground gossip queen. It always feels like a low blow and can never amount to any positive reconciliation on each entities behalf.

Karzai hasn’t been making the right decisions, but he is being publicly criticized in the media by the White House. That further distances himself from reaching an agreement. The NPR piece mentioned that the “two governments don’t understand each other’s politics and don’t know how to talk to each other.” However, it is a more deep-rooted problem in public diplomacy today. Governments are not using the media to their advantage. Instead, the push for 24/7 instantaneous coverage has been a detriment to building strong, lasting state-to-state bonds. Throughout the semester, this is probably going to have a lasting impact on different state-to-state relations. However, the immediacy of the media can have huge positive impacts on state-to-non-state relations. For example, the White House can reach the people of Afghanistan in their homes through the media. The question is: Does this ability to reach the people help or hurt the White House’s ability to close a deal with GIRoA?

Only time will tell and the clock is ticking…

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An Afghan boy, who fell a few days ago, is held by his father as U.S. Army Pfc. Jonathan V. Bachtel, a forward observer from Burleson, Texas, assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Raider, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Bronco provides security during a patrol in Rodat District in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province, July 18. The boy is related to a wood worker who just received news that his business will receive a small business grant to help stimulate the economy and provide for his family. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell, 210th MPAD)
NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An Afghan boy, who fell a few days ago, is held by his father as U.S. Army Pfc. Jonathan V. Bachtel, a forward observer from Burleson, Texas, assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, Task Force Raider, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Bronco provides security during a patrol in Rodat District in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, July 18. The boy is related to a wood worker who just received news that his business will receive a small business grant to help stimulate the economy and provide for his family. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell, 210th MPAD)

The United States’ Public Diplomacy Leaks

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Edward Snowden’s disclosure of top-secret National Security Agency (NSA) documents to the media earlier this year highlighted the United States’ surveillance programs and metadata practices as a serious U.S. public diplomacy concern for the United States. During a recent overseas trip, I personally witnessed the United States’ damaged reputation in New Zealand as locals quickly expressed their alarm over the United States’ monitoring of friendly government leaders and foreign citizens. (Review this interactive map, which shows 29 countries where the NSA reportedly spied)

This article reveals the swift impact the leaks had on the German public. 49% of Germans trusted the U.S. government in July and now just 35% of Germans trust the U.S. government. In this article, Brazilian columnist Vanessa Barbara discusses how her Brazilian community expresses their frustration by writing notes to the NSA at the bottom of emails, sending illogical emails, and crafting serious emails about silly topics in an attempt to raise an NSA agent’s eyebrow. As National Public Radio reporter Tom Gjelten summed it up,”it is safe to say [people overseas] are angry.”

Since the damage is already done, I am curious how great of an impact the NSA’s actions will have on the U.S.’s public diplomacy efforts going forward and if it will negatively impact the work of non-state diplomatic efforts such as educational exchanges or business partnerships. As Nicholas Cull pointed out in this week’s reading, it is difficult to go at it alone, which is why I believe that President Obama, in his attempts to soothe frustrated allies, emphasized stronger intelligence partnerships. His address last Friday announcing his administration’s plan to curb the NSA’s capabilities reemphasized this promise, but naturally, many allies and friends abroad will remain skeptical.

“Basketball Diplomacy” and the Media

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In what was an attempt at a “goodwill mission,” Dennis Rodman and his squad of former NBA players competed with a North Korean team for Kim Jong Un’s 31st birthday. Although some have asserted that the game had positive effects for U.S./North Korean relations, many more have decried this instance of “Basketball Diplomacy” as an embarrassment. 

Rodman (who, as of Sunday, was recently checked into an alcohol-rehabilitation center) may have not been the optimal ambassador for this instance of sports diplomacy in North Korea, but who would have been a better candidate? Should the game have even taken place? The media seems to think not.

Professor Rhonda Zaharna wrote an interesting take on the controversial event in Pyongyang, discussing the media’s role as a public diplomacy player (http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/index.php/newswire/cpdblog_detail/culture_post_basketball_diplomacy_in_cnns_court/).  She states that the U.S. team had apolitical motives for the trip, which were taken advantage of by the media. At the end of a politically charged interview with CNN news anchor Chris Cuomo, Rodman had an emotional outburst, which has been continually replayed and broadcast on many news outlets. Turning a seemingly innocent, apolitical game into controversy defeats the original purpose of “bringing people together through basketball.”

How much can the media affect the public’s perception on current events? How can it affect the public’s opinion of a foreign country? Without getting into whether the recent game was right or wrong, it is still important to consider the media’s role in public diplomacy.

 

Photo Credit: (Jason Mojica/VICE Media/AP)

Taiwanese PD efforts

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Here is a link to a blog article a friend of mine wrote recently for CSIS:

http://cogitasia.com/mandopop-huayu-fake-food-taiwans-soft-power-opportunities-and-challenges/

Now naturally, Taiwan is pretty unique in that it has international recognition of its existence as a state as a key foreign policy objective. Nonetheless, I think it’s useful to explore how Taiwan uses PD to work towards that goal and exactly how far it can go.

Perhaps the baseline goal of PD is to at least have other publics around the world know who you are and how you are different from the nearly 200 other countries. A friend of mine visited a congressional testimony on the internal conflict in South Sudan, where a congressman had no clue what the country’s predominant religion/s were, what language is spoken there and what the fighting was about. For the busy foreign policy community, it seems that the agendas of many countries are ignored simply because people know little about them.

Back to Taiwan. The ROC government is smart in investing into tourism, media and cultural exchange as a way of promoting national identity. While there is next to no chance of major powers like the United States changing their official stance on China/Taiwan, improved rapport with global publics—especially in the Asia-Pacific region—is likely to increase support for its existence as an independent de-facto state. Especially so if Taiwan can clearly communicate how it is different from China, other than the fact that it is capitalist and democratic.

Creating Mandarin education centers around the world serves as a good competitor to mainland China’s Confucius Institutes, which give out fairly generous scholarships for people to learn the language and/or live in China. The fact that Taiwan is an open, democratic country gives it an advantage; some scholars may be put off by restrictions on what they can and can’t write while studying in China.

Summing up, I think that good PD can create favorable attitudes both among the public in other countries and within the policy community. This alone can at least put certain issues on the agenda.

See you all Wednesday, if the polar vortex doesn’t get us first.

Confucius Institutes and China’s Soft Power

As a part of an on-going public diplomacy, I am very interested in how China’s Confucius Institutes sanitizing China’s image abroad, promoting its “soft power” globally.

According to the official announcement, Confucius Institutes are described as non-profit public institutions aligned with the government of the People’s Republic of China whose purpose is to promote Chinese language and culture, as well as facilitate cultural exchanges. This seemingly benign purpose leaves out a number of purposes both salient and sinister, namely, sanitizing China’s image abroad, promoting its “soft power” globally, and creating a new generation of China watchers who well-disposed towards the Communist dictatorship.

Other countries like France’s Alliance Francaises, Spain’s Instituto Cervantes, or Germany’s Goethe Institut also promoting their soft power in this way, by maintain their presence within established universities and exercise of control on the class curriculum. However, the mainstream media has been paying close attention to this controversy over the past two years, remarkably right after the U.S. State Department complicated visa extension for Confucius Institute teachers in 2012.

While the Confucius Institutes are sometimes compared to France’s Alliance Francaise and Germany’s Goethe-Institut, this is misleading. Unlike the other two, Confucius Institutes are neither independent from their government, nor are do they occupy their own interests. Instead, they are located within well-established universities and colleges around the world, and are directed and funded by the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), based in Beijing, which answers in turn to the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China and, chiefly, to the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party. In fact, the Chairman of the Confucius Institute is none other than Liu Yandong, who served as the head of the United Front Work Department from 2002 to 2007.

The United Front Work Department is aimed of subversion, cooption and control. During the Communist revolution, it subverted and coopted a number of other political parties, such as the Chinese Socialist Party, into serving the interests of the Communist Party. After the establishment of the PRC, it continued to control these parties, which were allowed to exist on sufferance, albeit as hollow shells, to create the illusion of “democracy” in China. That it has de facto control over the Hanban suggests, more strongly than anything else, what one of the chief purposes of the Confucius Institutes are, namely, to subvert, coopt, and ultimately control Western academic discourse on matters pertaining to China.

Objections to particular Confucius Institutes have also emerged. For example, in 2010, 174 University of Chicago faculty members signed a letter that, among other things, objected to the establishment of a Confucius Institute in absence of Faculty Senate approval. The letter described the institute as “an academically and politically ambiguous initiative sponsored by the government of the People’s Republic of China,” and asserted that, “Proceeding without due care to ensure the institute’s academic integrity, [the administration] has risked having the university’s reputation legitimate the spread of such Confucius Institutes in this country and beyond.”