Domestic agendas, international consequences: Coverage of U.S. politics in the media abroad

Comparative popularity of the United States and China. Source: http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/07/18/americas-global-image-remains-more-positive-than-chinas/
Comparative popularity of the United States and China. Source: http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/07/18/americas-global-image-remains-more-positive-than-chinas/

This entry is a follow-up to a point I made in class about international attention to the domestic politics of the United States,

and what the soft power ramifications of this might be. Here is an example of how even state-level politics gets covered in other countries:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-26/arizona-bill-gay-discrimination-fears/5285554

One of the concerning tendencies of international coverage of U.S. politics that I have observed is disproportionate coverage of dysfunction or agendas considered unpalatable by most audiences abroad. Examples of this include debt ceilings, government shutdowns, birtherism and most recently, discrimination laws in states like Arizona. I don’t think this is the result of a deliberate media bias, but rather the natural incentive to present the audience with sensational stories.

I think the consequences of media depiction of an hyper-adversarial U.S. political system are mixed. On one side, it tends to give disproportionate attention to the more extreme elements of the domestic political environment at the expense of the far larger moderate demographics (although this criticism is perhaps also applicable to domestic U.S. media). This kind of portrayal gives more oxygen to the “stupid American” stereotype held by many abroad.

On the other side, showing the political divisions of the United States does contradict the erroneous perception of the U.S. government as a monolithic entity. It’s hard to paint pictures of grand U.S. conspiracies when it is evident that both the government and public are themselves divided on matters of foreign policy, such as Syria.

Offering Direct Legal Benefits to a Country’s Citizens as a New PD Strategy?

Is it possible that some governments came to a conclusion that granting citizens of other countries special benefits is a good technique for winning hearts and minds? It sure looks like it in two news pieces that drew my attention this week- Germany and Russia.

This week Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived with an official visit to Israel. The biggest headline of this visit was a signing of two very progressive agreements- one gaining young Israeli citizens an automatic provision of temporary working permits when visiting Germany and the other offering Israeli citizens consular services through German embassies in countries with which Israel doesn’t have diplomatic relations (unfortunately there are quite a few). Though officially marketed as a mutual progressive agreement between the two governments, to me it looks much more as a “Forget all the bad we did and come and like us!” call for young talented Israelis with potential to contribute to German economy, who might still have their doubt due to historic residues.

Second somewhat similar act appeared on the website of one of the largest Russian News agencies (unfortunately I can’t seem to find a source in English for now): Russian Parliament is  considering a bill granting automatic citizenship to every Ukrainian citizen who chooses to claim one. Here it seems like an even more brutal act of reaching out directly to citizens and trying to attract them to the country. Of course the long shared history of these states and the predominant nature of Russia in this history explain the case.

So could this become a phenomenon? I think that this is actually a genius technique of reaching out to people directly even if it’s done by signing agreements between governments.  As opposed to other PD techniques we explored that usually target specific audiences within a nation, here we are witnessing acts that reach out to the whole population creating potential for a more significant and direct impact.

And here are the articles:

http://itar-tass.com/politika/1004761

http://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/politics/2014/02/24/German-consulates-assist-Israelis-worldwide_10134193.html

Sports Diplomacy Program Evaluation

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In class we have discussed the State Department’s inability to produce program evaluation reports because of a lack of access to scholars to review programs. I have expressed my disagreement with this notion, and recently received a Department Notice in my inbox that backed up my stance on this matter.

Per this Notice, “The Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (ECA) completed an evaluation of the SportsUnited Division’s three sports diplomacy programs: Sports Envoy, Sports Visitor, and Sports Grants. The study, commissioned by ECA’s Evaluation Division and covering the years 2002 to 2009, incorporates international participant survey data and field work including interviews with coaches, alumni, and embassy staff in China and South Africa.”[1]

Before I delve into some details of this Sports Diplomacy Evaluation—which is quite interesting—I would like to provide some insight to the evaluation process conducted through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the Department of State. ECA is a Bureau nestled under R, and this Bureau has staff who conduct large scale evaluations to assess “outcome achievement and long-term impacts, with respect to overall State Department, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and program goals.”[2] These evaluations usually take a year and a half to two years to complete and are retrospective in nature, utilizing standard IR research and evaluation methods. More information of existing and ongoing evaluation reports can be found here: http://eca.state.gov/impact/evaluation-eca/evaluation-initiative/completed-evaluations.

I provide this information to follow up on a point I made in class, that perhaps the State Department does not need to lessen security and open its doors with a blanket invitation to private sector researchers and scholars, because they have civil service staff, on-site, who are tasked with evaluating their programs. I personally believe that using these on-site staff members is more efficient/economical, as well as more appropriate, for many reasons. Some of these include the fact that DoS employees have the correct clearances to know what can be made public and what cannot, and furthermore, I believe that individuals who have been present during the planning and implementation stages are better suited to evaluate said programs.

Now on to a more exciting topic—Sports Diplomacy! This report covered three programs spanning the years 2002-2009 which seem to have been quite a success. The programs were initiated with the supposition that sports are a good way to foster cross-cultural understanding based off a universal passion for athletics. Through sports, individuals can bond regardless of language proficiencies and differences in culture and social status, merely because they are participating in the same activity and working as a team. A particularly interesting finding from the report was the fact that participants in the programs learned from their mentors how these activities can help the problems of youth in society, and took these programs home with them to implement for underserved groups in their communities.[3]

I’ll conclude with some stats from the report that show some findings from the evaluation and highlight the success of the programs:

  • 92% of respondents report an improved view of Americans.
  • 87% of respondents shared their experience from the exchange with others back home.
  • 81% of respondents rated their knowledge of free speech and freedom of the press as moderate or extensive after the program.
  • 69% of the coaches and program administrators surveyed indicate they organized new activities or assumed a leadership role in their community[4]

As Murray notes at the end of his essay on the successes of Sports Diplomacy,  “Done correctly, sports diplomacy can ease international tension with a game of cricket. It can overcome imperial sterotypes and bring old enemies together… Through sport and mega-events, billions of public perceptions can be altered, ping-pong can create alternate pathways and, more often than by war and violence, sport does move people and nations beyond the negotiation table, uniting so-called strangers through a love of the game—of sport” (Murray 195). I believe that in the case of these programs run through ECA, we indeed see evidence that Sports Diplomacy helps unite people that might traditionally not get along and move them towards mutual understanding and respect, that we would hope translates on a national level.


[1] http://mmsweb.a.state.gov/asp/notices/dn_temp.asp?Notice_ID=20752

[2] http://eca.state.gov/impact/evaluation-eca/evaluation-initiative/completed-evaluations

[3] http://eca.state.gov/highlight/sportsunited-evaluation/?utm_source=eDeptNotice&utm_medium=Link&utm_content=SportsEvaluationHighlight&utm_campaign=SportsEvaluation

[4] http://mmsweb.a.state.gov/asp/notices/dn_temp.asp?Notice_ID=20752

A New Public Diplomacy Initiative From Taiwan

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Recently I discovered an opportunity for millennials to have a three-week, all-expenses paid trip to Taiwan through what’s known as the Mosaic Taiwan Fellowship. This was an unexpected find, as I had never heard about this program until a few weeks ago, and as such I expect this is the first year it has operated. I felt it was relevant to bring up in a blog post following our discussion last week concerning the similar program run by the Israeli government (though Mosaic Taiwan is not as overtly politicized).

Although I am ambivalent about a few features of the program (particularly the marketing strategy), overall I think it’s a great step for Taiwan to expand its presence as an entity separate from China within the consciousness of the international community. Honestly I’m surprised it even took this long to get a program of this magnitude running, but regardless this is a positive public diplomacy initiative taken by Taiwan.

There are numerous issues I can address concerning the program, including suggestions and complaints, but I’ll just focus on a couple of them. First and foremost, for this program to succeed (which clearly is a subjective metric, but I define success as recipients thoroughly enjoying themselves within the program while also leaving with an enhanced understanding of Taiwan’s unique position within the fabric of East Asian and international political relations), there needs to be a clear, up-front awareness of who is funding and organizing the project. From what I can surmise, it is a government-funded program, but I do not know who is in charge of the itinerary. Knowing this information is extremely important, as too much intervention by a government whose ideas do not wholly reflect those of the population could severely undermine the credibility of Mosaic Taiwan. The program would benefit from taking a page of America’s IVLP (International Visitors Leadership Program – which Mosaic Taiwan appears to be based on, and of which I have experience with due to my current internship at Global Ties U.S., a non-profit in charge of implementing the program), which is 100% funded by the DOS but operated by non-state actors (Global Ties U.S. works with the DOS and non-profit organizations scattered throughout the U.S. to take care of the itinerary of participants in the program). The Taiwanese government should fund this program, but then step out of the way and allow non-state actors to run it for them.

Furthermore, I’m not too keen on some of the wording used in the program’s brochure (I believe it should be highlighting more of the Taiwanese aspect of Taiwan and not the Chinese component, most apparent in the proclamation of Taiwan as the “standard-bearer of Chinese culture”), as well as the tagline of “A Land of Happy Diversity.” It comes across as rather cumbersome and clumsy, and brings to mind the difficult issue of name-branding faced by Asian countries that was raised by Keith Dinnie in one of our recommended readings a few weeks ago. How does one reduce the history, culture, and identity of a country into a few words? I do not envy the people who are responsible for that task. With this being said though, I do appreciate how the program does highlight the diversity of Taiwan, and I find the usage of the word harmonious (within the title “a diverse yet harmonious Taiwan”) an amusing choice by the Taiwanese to describe their society.

Unfortunately the deadline for the program was last week, and so I apologize that I did not inform everyone as soon as I could. For those interested, though, this is certainly something to look into for next year.

Un Certain Regard Cannes Festival Prize winner “Omar”

Lately I’ve been becoming more and more aware of the power of competitions. Especially thinking about it in the context of digitalization and globalization, where some see potential for democratic rule, others see popularity rule, resulting in trends which increasingly follow the lowest common denominators (of violence and sex, or kittens); and increasingly simplify information made visually appealing. In an increasingly competitive context where time is perceived as less available in order to succeed/survive, the power of simplification and instant gratification is obvious.

While the media and the market bank on that, it that does not mean we’re all stupid. This is where international competitions come in and divert market forces (channeling Chopard, L’Oréal, HP, Renault, and Akamai, for example, in the case of Cannes), to bring to our attention what they would have otherwise likely kept obscured. This being said, I had never paid much attention to the festival myself, but I do recognize their logo and have found their sub-prizes selection quite reliable so far. One of these sub-prizes is “Un Certain Regard” (A certain look/outlook), which promotes relatively young directors who present daring narratives. An opinion piece on Aljazeera English was written about it by Richard Falk, (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/02/uncovering-occupied-palestine-20142136833212442.html), whether he would have seen it himself anyway, as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, is another question, but the fact that he is writing about a movie that won a Cannes Festival prize and not just a random movie he likes gives his op-ed legitimacy.

I think that this puts an optimistic twist to our discussions about the relation between social power’s link with economic power, which often circle back to the Hollywood quasi-monopoly, despite authors like Van Ham periodically reminding us about the growing importance of Nollywood and Bollywood. 

U.S. – Canada ‘Loser Keeps Bieber’

"Loser Keeps Biber" Billboard in Chicago
It was a sad day for Team USA. The Canadian men’s ice hockey team has defeated the United States 1-0 in the semifinals. Looks like the U.S. lost the ‘bet.’

While Barack Obama and Stephen Harper were busy betting a case of beer on the U.S.-Canada men’s Olympics hockey semifinal game on last Friday, one Chicago billboard company was making the gutsiest bet of all time with Canada.

According to CBS news, the billboard, owned by Skokie-based freight broker Command Transportation, said that the loser of the highly anticipated contest “keeps (Justin) Bieber.” The pop star was born in Canada but resides in the States. After America’s loss on Friday, the company quickly admitted to making the “worst bet ever,” and put a photo of a bald eagle with a “Belieber” gold chain around its neck for good measure.

However, even though the Team USA lost the game and President Obama owes two cases of beer to Canada PM Harper, the two country connects even tighter through the fast-reacting media, especially social media like Twitter, and I am sure the Team USA would do a better job if knew the bet earlier.

Play nice, America and Japan

sandboxOne of my colleagues recently posted a blog about the danger in words and how they can amplify tensions between nations if used carelessly. This post loosely reminded me of an article published in the New York Times last week about the recent strain on Japan-U.S. relations. The Japanese have been discontent with their treatment by the Obama Administration since last year. They feel as though they’ve been kept at arms length and are that the U.S. riding the fence about their dispute with China over the control of islands in the East China Sea.

The article can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/20/world/asia/nationalistic-remarks-from-japan-lead-to-warnings-of-chill-with-us.html?ref=japan&_r=0

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked in a Youtube video, “Why doesn’t America treat Japan better?,” before quickly taking it down.  The video was in response to the Obama Administration expressing disappointment with the Prime Minister’s visit to a shrine honoring war criminals. Instances like this and others are putting stress on relations between the two countries–who have been allies for many years now, despite their turbulent past. Japan feels isolated from the U.S. while the United States views recent actions by the Japanese as being too nationalistic.

Words have undeniable power. Prime Minister Abe made a strong statement about the United States in his Youtube video. While it may have been made more out of frustration than anything, it has caused a big debate and now people are questioning just how stable relations are between the two countries. I’m sure that more can be done on both sides to appease hurt feelings. The article is also a testament to the fact that even amicable nations suffer public diplomacy stumbling blocks. What do you think about the “sticks and stones” spat between Japan and the United States?

Evoking Godwin’s Law: War of Words in Asia

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For those of us who use the internet often,  Godwin’s Law is all too familiar in social media. For those unfamiliar with the so-called law, it simply states that  by comparing someone to Hitler or something to Nazism, it  shuts down the discussion completely.

While Godwin’s law tends to refer to internet discussions, it, unfortunately, seems to be applicable to real diplomatic efforts ( and  frankly, failures) between countries. President Aquino of the Philippines has recently been criticized for basically comparing China to Nazi Germany. When rallying support against “China’s claims to its nearby seas” he stated: “At what point do you say: ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it. Remember that the Sudetenland [ Czechoslovakia] was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II.”

Read the full story here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-26048500

We mentioned a few times in class that really image is everything. But what about words? What politicians say  ( in addition to what they do) unfortunately can really undermine one’s credibility., especially in an age of information, ( why do you think people get so upset over the usage of “your” and “you’re” on Facebook? Kidding aside there is a danger to name calling and extreme comparisons).  President Aquino’s statement may only serve to alienate the Philippines further from potential diplomatic ties with China. Whatever side of the issue one may stand on, for the President to release this kind of statement  is  dangerous in a PR standpoint and strategically will likely hurts its position in the region. By evoking such a comparison in cyberspace and the real world, the action tends to ignore  real concerns  and issues that have nothing to do with Nazi Germany.   I am sure President  Aquino has valid concerns  regarding China’s claim to the islands. However comparing this dispute to that of Nazi Germany and France and Great Britain undermines the reality what WWII was.

Additionally, the statement may only serve to create an ever widening gulf between potential diplomatic relations in the region.  There are better ways of addressing these territorial issues, but until people can move away from eliciting certain events that have historical and emotional context completely separate from current situations, there will never be real discourse. Words have power, particularly in this day in age where certain statements stand out more than others, for better or worse.

 

“Qatar is off the message”… And so is FIFA

world-cup-logo

This post builds off as a reply to Alona’s insightful comment on Qatar’s PD with respect to labor related deaths in construction of the 2018 World Cup stadiums. I have created a separate post as I extend the analysis into the realm of FIFA and the World Cup itself.

Qatar’s disastrous management of the labour–related deaths scandal, besides raising concerns of blatant human rights violations, profoundly shatters confidence in and support for one of the world’s most popular sports and its most widely watched event. Certainly, it destroys enthusiasm for the next World Cup, at least to the extent to which it appeals to the conscience of billions of fans worldwide, torn between the love for the sport and the demands for respect of human rights. Thus, it is very ironic to analyze this phenomenon, in so far as sports have been identified as a potential vehicle for positive public diplomacy amongst nations.

The World Cup, besides being a thrilling event of passionate matches and displays of genius from the planet’s new and old show offs, is as much an opportunity for nations to come together in “fair play”, not merely showing but exemplifying the values of respect, camaraderie, fraternity, and sportsmanship. Soccer players become ambassadors for their countries at the prelude and during the games. So do their fans, ranging from recognized personalities such as heads of state to outstanding fans that charmed their way into the media, becoming symbols of their respective country’s exoticism. (Paraguay’s Larissa Riquelme, from South Africa’s 2010 World Cup, is a case in point.) One has only to remember the songs that have been recorded for the tournaments throughout the years (the most recent ones being “The Love Generation” and Shakira’s “Waka Waka”), to agree, at least to some extent, that these were songs that spoke of happiness, of forging lasting friendships, of peace, of hope for a better world. It is no coincidence that the song for the upcoming 2014 World Cup is called “We Are One.” (Cultural diplomacy in the World Cup is also played out through music– it’s all about forging global bonds that converge in mutual passions.)

This is what makes the deaths by forced labor in Qatar extra despicable, to say the least. However, Qatar’s compliance notwithstanding, it is important to point out that a big component of abuses committed in preparation for the World Cup can be traced to FIFA’s own power management. FIFA is a very powerful organization, led by a very powerful leader. Joseph Blatter often employs a hard soft power, (building on the notion that soft power is not soft as it involves coercion) shrewdly used to impose his interests and those of his acolytes. The fact that soccer is such a beloved sport for millions throughout the globe makes it an ideal space for the contradictions of power to flourish. However, it also offers a unique opportunity for grassroots movements– the new actors with the potential to transform the PD arena in fundamental ways– to advocate for absolute compliance with and defense for human rights.

Qatar is Off the Message

 

FBL-WC2014-QAT-FIFA-TROPHY

As I start my research on Qatar’s public diplomacy strategy, I was surprised by this week’s reports following the death of an Indian worker in the 2022 World Cup host preparations. What surprised me was not the fact of the death or the subsequent statistics revealing high death rates and a range of abuses against migrant workers in Qatar, but rather the hesitant and unsatisfying reactions by Qatari officials.

Scholarly literature that I had reviewed so far  (Azran, 2013; Barakat, 2012; Peterson, 2006) suggests that Qatar has skilfully adopted some of the main principles of public diplomacy and soft power. Qatar makes smart use of PD techniques, frames its messages and avoids contradictions between domestic communication and mediated diplomacy, a technique suggested as especially important by Enthman (2008). However with the case of the Indian worker, it seems that Qatar has lost its grip of clever PD. It started by denying the reports, moved on to claiming the death figures to be ‘normal’ and continued with making completely unconvincing statements to reason the numbers such as: “Indians make up the largest community in Qatar… twice the number of Qatari nationals” (Ali Bin Sumaikh al-Marri, the Head of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee).

My personal thoughts on this are that Qatar, as many other states including the US, forgets that public image is a sum of various variables. While it’s important to focus on specific issues where a state possesses competitive advantage (Qatar focuses strongly on mediation), other issues should not be overlooked. In case of Qatar there is definitely not enough focus on addressing and framing its questionable human rights practices inside the country.

To read the story:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-26260765