China’s “Panda Diplomacy” and China-EU relations

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Just in time for our week of readings focusing on Chinese Public diplomacy efforts comes the first visit of a Chinese leader, President Xi Jingping, to European Union institutions in Brussels! Originally for this blog post, I wanted to focus on the Melisson and Cross piece for the Clingendael Institute about how the EU can address its own PD dilemma, but I’ll have to save that for later, because I ran across this priceless article that I think perfectly illustrates China’s “charm offensive” approach to Public Diplomacy: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20140331/world/China-s-panda-diplomacy-to-ease-EU-talks.512925

Two pandas (Xing Hui and Hao Hao) are being used as official envoys for China; they were sent to visit a Belgian zoo a month ahead of Xi’s visit, partly in order to send a message to the EU that China is willing to take a less confrontational stance on trade issues and ready to resolve trade disputes. One of the top items of President Xi’s agenda in Europe is pushing the EU to consider a massive free-trade deal with China. Interestingly, the visit of the two furry ambassadors has had some unintended diplomatic consequences; it has irritated long standing regional rivalries in Belgium. The pandas are being housed in a zoo in the French-speaking region of Wallonia (hometown of Belgian PM Elio di Rupo), which has angered the largest zoo in the country, located in Dutch-speaking Flanders, and caused separatist Flanders politician Bart de Waver to show up on a TV talk show dressed as a panda! http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/china-s-xi-seeks-win-win/1054644.html

It remains to be seen whether Xi’s desire to show a softer, fuzzier side of China to the EU will have its intended effect: it’s being reported that most of the EU member states have resisted Chinese pressure to include references to a joint-trade pact in the joint statement that will be released after Xi’s visit with leaders in Brussels.

 

Follow-up to the Week 10 Session on the “Middle Powers”

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Hello, All.

As always, the student presentations on the readings yesterday were stimulating, and, just as predictably, there was so much deeper and wider we could have gone on the expansive space of the so-called “middle powers.” I wanted to share two more examples of PD where states in the “middle” space pursue national and ‘mutual diplomatic’ interests (as the Evan Potter reading points out). They are both in the broadcasting realm.

One is Radio Netherlands (http://www.rnw.nl/english ). Every time I hear one of their reports, I learn about a different perspective on one cultural or political slice of “news” and I always feel better informed, even though I understand that there is a connection to the Dutch government, which has its national interest, communication strategy, and this or that radio program as a tactic.
The other example comes out of the US-based programming of National Public Radio. It bears on last evening’s discussion of Mexico (Rivas, 2011) and place branding/identity. NPR’s Steve Inskeep is doing a series called “Borderland” (e.g., http://www.npr.org/2014/03/19/291475061/grito-the-longest-shout-youll-hear-today-with-a-history ). Some of the broadcasts are complimentary of Mexico and US-Mexican border cooperation, others not-so-much. Regardless, they get me thinking. ‘Remember a comment one student made last week (when we were discussing sub-state diplomacy) after traveling over spring break to one part of Mexico where security is not an issue? A retired diplomat/dear friend who served in Juarez about a decade ago and is also listening to this series mentioned that Juarez may still be experiencing a lot of crime and corruption but is doing much better these days.
So, I’ll keep lobbying my family to gather south of the border, sending them links to credible, well-evidenced reports. Perhaps they will at least reconsider what they are reading in the mass media. I welcome your thoughts on Radio Netherlands, Mexico, and other topics of a “middle power” nature 🙂 .

Cheers,

Debbie Trent

Skype Dinner Connects Culture – the Virtual Dinner Guest Project

One of the classes that I am taking is now doing the Virtual Dinner Guest Project with the founders in Cairo, Egypt. Unlike other formal or informal public diplomacy activities happens between the U.S and the Egypt, the Virtual Dinner Guest Project is definitely more provoking in terms of getting people from both countries to know each other.

The founder Eric Madoxx is hosting the virtual dinner between Egypt and the U.S.
The founder Eric Madoxx is hosting the virtual dinner between Egypt and the U.S.

Some ideas about this program:
“The Virtual Dinner Guest Project is an international multimedia initiative born from a simple premise: It is harder to ignore, vilify or harm those with whom we have broken bread.

The nuts and bolts of the project are straightforward. Imagine making a videoconference call from your dinner table while you and members of your community share a meal and a moderated discussion with people in another country. There is some strategy involved in the selection process, as countries that share less than amicable relations are actively sought out. Countries that suffer from overly facile media profiles of one another are also a point of focus.

The dinner table represents the world’s oldest and most universal social forum. The Virtual Dinner Guest project draws upon this notion and then extends the concept of the shared dining experience across borders and cultural divisions. Imagine dinner tables extending into the living room of a family in Cairo, the Yale University cafeteria or a rooftop Café in Tunis.

The Virtual Dinner Guest Project has actually realized all of the above scenarios. The project first launched from the US with a series of Virtual Dinners that connected Americans to participants in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, Kampala, Uganda and Karachi, Pakistan. The VDG Project ultimately intends to function as a platform for collaborative social entrepreneurship as well as a forum for international discourse.”

http://www.virtualdinnerguest.com/

“Check” The State Department Makes its Move

The New York Times article, How the Kremlin Harnesses the Internet, is a piece over how the Russian government stealthily patrols the internet, by not explicitly censoring, but rather, by “targeted so-called denial-of-service attacks, with most of the site’s visitors receiving a “page cannot be found” message in their browsers.”

The Kremlin has been a great player in working with the internet to accomplish its mission both in blocking communication and in disseminating information. The United States struggling to keep up, has recently decided to step up its game . Recently, the Broadcasting Board of Governors published a piece this week about the Department of State’s (DoS) use of social media to respond to Putin’s propaganda machine. While the article focused heavily on The Obama Administration’s lack of financial support to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) it was an interesting piece highlighting the change underway at the DoS.

An excerpt from the article reads, “BBG Watch has learned that the Obama Administration is taking about half a million dollars in emergency extra funding to the BBG. . . It is needed to effectively counter Putin’s propaganda through multimedia outreach.” The article goes on to state that, “The State Department and the National Security Council have surprised many observers by their quick response to the crisis in Ukraine” and that “Susan Rice and Richard Stengel deserve credit not only for realizing early on that President Putin was engaged in what Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt has called “a massive propaganda war,” but also for mobilizing the NSC and the State Department staff and resources to provide quick responses to false and misleading claims pushed by the Kremlin.

The BBG’s praise of recent State Department tactics, bring to mind public diplomacy scholar Pammant’s arguments for the usage of new media platforms as a way to “exert influence and develop resources.” Pammant states that if an If the State Department is able to use social media tools as a way to advance policy goals in a way that is authentic it will need a network of relevant actors as part of their communication effort.

It is a big leap for the State Department to become more responsive in providing news and information from the United States to Russia, Ukraine, and many other nations in the region. But this is just a first step, many more will need to follow in order to keep the Department of State a relevant player in the game.

The Ukraine Crisis in the informational ‘bazaar’

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In his 2008 article Music for a jilted generation, Ali Fisher talks about the transformation of the public diplomacy sphere into a bazaar, or marketplace of ideas, as opposed to a cathedral. Some of the U.S. State Departments communications regarding the Ukraine crisis seem to reinforce this notion.

Earlier this month, the department’s press office made a release called President Putin’s Fiction: 10 False Claims About Ukraine. While the release was clearly biased towards the U.S. point of view, the ‘fact sheet’ format is reflective of the kind of attitude needed to influence publics in the bazaar environment.

Taking the fact-checker approach to press releases recognizes that public diplomacy is no longer a direct line from governments to individuals. This information gets shared on social media, seized upon by blogs (sympathetic and antipathetic) and used by journalists as references. In the current informational war, publics are more likely to respond to resources they can use to make up their own minds as opposed to the more rhetorical approach Russia is taking. That being said, the United States and Russia may be playing different games in that the latter has little regard to what western audiences think.

From here, I think more can be done to allow state public diplomacy efforts become more influential and widely received. The fact-check style is effective, but there are other formats that could be used at the state level. Infographics and maps are highly consumable and have potential for re-sharing on social media. Mainstream news outlets like the Washington Post are taking advantage of this trend, and I see no reason why governments shouldn’t follow suit.

Canada’s ‘Environmentally Friendly’ Brand in Jeopardy?

http://www.desmog.ca/2014/01/14/harper-government-hires-international-firm-22-million-ad-campaign-promoting-oilsands

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In Evan Potter’s article on Canadian public diplomacy, he mentions that a large part of Canada’s “warm…fuzzy” international brand is its image of being “an environmentally friendly country”. According to the Canadian opposition party (NDP) House leader Nathan Cullen, this brand is being damaged under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and its various controversial energy projects, including tar oil sands and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to the United States. Perhaps in an effort to counter this damage, Harper’s government has rolledout a 22 billion dollar international ad campaign that blurs the line between public diplomacy and pure PR. The ads promote Canadian energy as an environmentally friendly, morally palatable alternative for the U.S. and Europe. These ads have been highly visible in DC metro stops since January. Although they tout Canada’s reputation of environmental friendliness, it seems doubtful that the campaign will do anything to dissuade the well-informed environmentalists who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline and the tar sands. I am not even sure if it will have any positive effect on the average American citizen who may know or care little about environmental issues. My own personal, immediate reaction was that the ads seemed propagandist and slightly desperate. In fact, they actually did a bit to damage my normally very positive image of Canada. There has to be a better way for Canadian PD to communicate and engage American publics about these sensitive but crucial issues, without, in the words of Nathan Cullen, engaging in “green-washing” about its damaged reputation as an environmentally conscious nation.

Rising Hard Power in the Pacific

As the U.S. is looking to trim the number of troops serving in the military, the Austrailian Defence Force is recruiting U.S. servicemembers join its ranks. Many troops, especially enlisted servicemembers, stand to make more money in the Australian military. DAVID BYRON/U.S. AIR FORCE

 

 

I came across an interesting article while some of my military friends were considering retirement. They were thinking about doing their time in the U.S. military, retiring and then joining the Australian military to continue serving while getting two pay checks and a new experience.

According to the article, the Australian “government plans to increase defense spending — estimated at $26.5 billion this year — to $50 billion by 2023.”

This means that they have increased recruiting efforts to include foreign troops, as the U.S. military is being cutback. However, there hasn’t been much media attention to the increase of hard power in Australia and the rest of the world seems OK with this. They generally view the Aussies as a decent nation. How did this come about?

While reading  Joe Johnson’s views on how Swedes promote their culture and Yul Sohn’s article about Korean soft power and networked power, nothing really comes to mind about the public diplomacy efforts of the Aussies.  Those middle countries used branding to increase their public image, but I don’t think Foster’s beer is making the same soft power strides as Ikea and Samsung.

The Australians have been close allies to the Brits and Americans, and have fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the Aussies haven’t been condemned as much for doing so as their allies. And now they are doubling their defense budget and recruiting foreign troops. So what’s the lesson to take away from this? Make sure you’re isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and you’ll seem harmless? Hardly. But I would be interested to hear anybody else’s opinion on how the Aussie’s have a better international image than their allies while continually increases their hard power stance.

Smart Power: China Plays Benefactor to African Nations

Yul Sohn in the “Middle Powers” article discusses network power as the ability to “utilize network position and convening capability to offset military and economic disadvantages.” The article provides the growing BRICS countries as an example of middle powers rise to prominence through their lateral networking. I bring this up as I intend to discuss particular relations between China and African nations, such as South Africa who has continued to invest in Chinese enterprises. Joseph Nye’s concept of “soft power” refers to the use of a nation’s culture, political values, and foreign policies as resources of expanding diplomatic influence. This type of influence for favorable foreign policy changes is highly evident across world regions today as technology allows diplomatic relations to be conducted across distances in real time, bringing about new international coalitions. Nicholas Cull, in “Bulging Ideas” suggests the synthesis approach of “smart power” wherein a “foreign policy integrates hard and soft power.” I believe these concepts from this week’s reading are both mutually inclusive and help to perpetuate one another. For example, network and soft power can be integral parts of a smart power strategy. As

A current and robust example of this strategic diplomacy is displayed by the continually increasingly Chinese FDI’s  in African economies, which has reached over 3.4 billion US dollars. According to the Tanzania Daily News, African countries see China’s growing economy as a “win-win trade operation” which has allowed countries such as Mali, Ethiopia, Uganda, and more to enjoy an “extended value chain” to offset the unfavorable conditions of these nations. Sino-African trade levels, based largely off increased “agro-goods” exports from Africa, continue to solidify China’s position as Africa’s greatest trade partner. Tourism has also been an important form of diplomacy. For example, Chinese FDI’s in Tanzania targeted at “manufacturing and processing sectors” aims to promote infrastructural changes in order to provide easier travel through better tourism facilities, such as direct flights. China’s efforts in Africa speak directly to the earlier discussion on smart power strategies and a synthesis of hard and soft powers in order to influence foreign policy. African countries such as South Africa and Nigeria are now increasingly making reciprocal investments in Chinese enterprises. China saw opportunity for economic and political influence in these African nations, and with the use of soft power initiatives that in turn bolster China’s national identity in Africa, these ties continue to strengthen.

http://allafrica.com/stories/201403250158.html?viewall=1

WWOOF: Cultural Diplomacy through Farming

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (better known as WWOOF) is an organization linking volunteers to organic farms in over 100 different countries across the globe. In exchange for food and housing, volunteers help around the farm as needed. Through this program, volunteers spend time with their host family while learning about farming, sustainability, and culture in that particular country.

In March 2011, I found myself “WWOOFing” on a sheep farm in rural Germany for a month. Shortly after, I was working with a German farmer in the middle of Tuscany. Growing up in the suburbs, I was never truly exposed to farming. My experience on these farms really opened my eyes to the hard work that goes into farming and showed me a seldom explored side of Germany.

Paulus Schäferei in Neudorf-Platendorf, Germany
Picture from my experience with WWOOF at Paulus Schäferei in Neudorf-Platendorf, Germany.

This cultural exchange allows for exposure to foreign communities at a very low cost. WWOOF is a form of cultural diplomacy, which can be mutually beneficial to both the volunteers and the hosts. The volunteers act as ambassadors from their home countries, while the hosts share not only their home, but their insight and culture.

There is no strict definition to cultural diplomacy. As we heard through Aimee Fullman’s presentation and read in our March 5th readings, there are many different facets of cultural diplomacy. In the passage by Jessica Gienow-Hecht, “Searching for a Cultural Diplomacy”, she states cultural diplomacy is “a tool and a way of interacting with the outside world” (2010, p. 11). Although it is not a typical mode of cultural diplomacy, WWOOF is a tool that may be used to interact diplomatically with others from foreign countries.