All posts by brittmercadante

Crossing the cultural bridge

Japanese cultural diplomacy, as seen by Kazuo Ogoura in his Global Asia article “From Ikebana to Manga and Beyond”, generally operates as a temporal response to international events and trends, whether to counter post-WW2 international perception of Japan as an overtly-militarized nation bent on conquest in Asia or American fear of a Japanese economic take-over during the 80s and early 90’s. Japan’s current cultural diplomacy strategies thus serve, I believe, to balance against rising anti-Japanese sentiment in a nationalistic China as well as introduce a new generation (Millennials) to the ‘content industry’ created and fostered in Japan. One of these initiatives through which Japan hopes to accomplish these goals is the newly-created Kakehashi Project (Kakehashi is Japanese for ‘bridge’), an exchange program where Japanese Millennials will have the opportunity to explore America for two weeks while their American counterparts will have the chance to visit Tokyo plus one other Japanese city over a ten-day period.

Through my work with Dr. Quansheng Zhao and the Center for Asian Studies at AU, I had the chance to be selected into a group of AU students who will be traveling to Tokyo this summer as part of the Kakehashi Project(we have not confirmed yet what the second city will be). I am very excited about the prospect of participating in this new cultural diplomacy initiative. Although our programming is still in its early stages, we will have the chance to visit government officials and leading academics as well as discuss relevant and current themes with Japanese students. I look forward to the opportunity to observe how Japan is positioning itself in the new world order emerging in East Asia, particularly viz a viz China (and to a lesser, yet no less extremely important extent, Taiwan), through the use of soft/smart power strategies.

Achieving China’s Goals of a Peaceful Rise Through PD

After weeks spent defining, discussing, and debating concepts and notions of public diplomacy, we come to one of the most pressing issues facing the international order today – how China utilizes PD strategies to couch its emergence as a global stakeholder in ways amenable to the interests of the international order (through its so-called ‘charm offensive), at least to the point where China is not viewed as a rising aggressor (particularly viz a viz its relationship to the United States) but as a peaceful power. And although Russia is dominating current headlines as fears are stoked of a new cold war, the success of China’s charm offensive will significantly affect the terrain of the international system.

In Ingrid d’Hooghe’s article assigned for reading this week (of which I will present in class today), d’Hooghe stresses that China is fully embracing public diplomacy and soft power to advance its interests and promote its image as a peaceful emerging power. The strength of d’Hooghe’s article lies in the culminating section of her article, where she highlights (through the words of Cai Mingzhao, the Director of the SCIO) the idea of sub-national public diplomacy carried out by provincial and city governments and its counterparts in the rest of the world as a way to make foreign audiences “more open-minded towards China’s ideas and messages.”

I wholeheartedly endorse this strategy by China to accomplish its state goals, for the increasingly burgeoning presence of non-state actors like the Tai Initiative and recognition of the power of non-state diplomacy will allow China to actually realize a return on the immense amount of resources it is pouring into PD strategies. Accounts vary, but it is generally recognized that other countries’ perceptions of China has trended negatively in the past decade or so, suggesting that the charm offensive has failed (at least in the short-term). What’s more, the most visible product of its PD strategy, the Confucius Institutes, has been fraught with controversy. By encouraging more interaction and integration between NSAs like provincial/city governments and NGOs, China can find a way to alter other countries’ perception of its peaceful rise.

Can Transformative PD Practitioners Tackle Environmental Issues?

I felt compelled to respond to Copeland’s article, as I believe Copeland is spot on when describing the rise of importance in public diplomacy (a theme that has popped up virtually every week) as a viable alternative to other means of conflict-resolution. Furthermore, I agree with his assessment that diplomacy has become, if not in vogue, at least an area worthy of scholarship and attention, and that PD practitioners need to update their skills within the context of transformational diplomacy to be better able at “assisting with broad-based development, supporting democracy and human rights, and building bridges to civil society.”

Where I diverge from Copeland stems from his analysis of the engine that drives this necessary transformation. According to Copeland, globalization is completely re-shaping the landscape (literally and metaphorically), especially in the political realm, thus necessitating this embrace of transformational diplomacy. Of course I do not disagree with this observation; I do contest the idea, though, that public diplomats have the ability to effect environmental change on a global level.

Copeland perhaps overstates the ability of public diplomats to tackle the major issues facing humanity today. There are areas where diplomats can be highly effective (he mentions the issue of an “international educational deficit”), and then there are others where PD practitioners are simply too limited as representatives of their states (and thus limited by their state’s interests) to be able to make a meaningful difference. I specifically refer to environmental issues like water shortage and climate change, where states, motivated mainly by economic interests, cannot make the necessary sacrifices in order to reach compromises on these significant issues of today. One need only look at the charades of these world conferences (Copenhagen, Rio) where nothing meaningful materializes to understand that we cannot rely on states, and thus PD practitioners acting within a state role, to tackle these environmental issues which are more effectively handled by non-state actors (NGOs) and community-based organizations acting in grass-roots campaigns.

Copeland does a great job in stressing that PD practitioners are definitely needed in today’s ever-evolving political landscape, and thus should update their skills to take advantage of the rise in importance in diplomacy. But he oversteps in his analysis when he fails to recognize that areas do exist, particularly within environmental issues, where public diplomats are restricted by the state they represent to effect meaningful change.

Global Ties U.S.


For my contribution this week, I will take to heart Dr. Trent’s appeal to incorporate more personal experiences into the blog by introducing the organization with which I currently intern. This will hopefully constitute a series of blog posts, as there is a lot of content for which I can discuss. This week I wish merely to briefly introduce Global Ties U.S. and the IVLP.

Known as Global Ties U.S., it is a non-profit, privately-sector organization that is responsible for managing the International Visitor Leadership Program. The IVLP is the flagship program funded by the Department of State which brings in international professionals and government leaders, nominated by the respective U.S. embassies in their countries, for short visits to the United States to learn best practices from their counterparts. The IVLP is a successful program for its participants because of this collaboration between the public and private sectors. The Department of State selects the participants and provides the funding for the program (which is dispersed throughout organizations within the network run by Global Ties U.S.), and private-sector organizations, either National Program Agencies (those with a national scope i.e. IIE, World Learning, Cultural Vistas) or Community-Based Organizations (local in scope i.e. WorldChicago, International Visitors Council of Los Angeles), take care of the programs for participants while they are in America. Global Ties U.S. acts as the liaison, in essence, between the DOS and the private-sector organizations.

The program is successful because the public sector provides the monetary capital to ensure the program is operational, but the private sector, whose interests may or may not align with those of the government, is in control of what the participants do, see, and experience whilst in the States. This prevents the government from enacting a program that is pro-state at the expense of domestic reality. This increases the amount of credibility and cache of the program (an idea constantly addressed by Joseph Nye in some of the earlier readings we had this semester), which ultimately benefits the participants in allowing them to achieve their goal of learning best practices from counterparts in the states while gaining a more comprehensive and complete picture of what America really is.

A New Public Diplomacy Initiative From Taiwan


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.

Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations

With this week’s readings focusing heavily on the role and impact of culture on public diplomacy, there were a few times that writers referenced Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis. This is not surprising, as Huntington’s seminal work on the issue arose at a time when many were scrambling to make sense of the world of international relations following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many theories at that time were submitted concerning how the new world order would unfold, and Huntington’s ideas received significant attention by academics practitioners alike. Though this is not a typical subject for a blog entry, I thought it important enough to address within the broader framework of understanding the importance of culture within international relations.

In the interest of space, I will attempt to briefly rehash Huntington’s thesis into a few sentences. Huntington utilized the notion that conflict driven by ideology formed the foundation of international relations from post-World War II until 1990, as the world was essentially split between the Western capitalistic champions of free market on one side against the communist, command-economy states led by the USSR on the other. With the victory of the West over the USSR, Huntington argued that the role of ideology as the main instigator of conflict within international relations would diminish and be replaced by culture and religion. Furthermore, the concept of nation-states would be subsumed into seven distinct civilizations (Western, Latin American, Slavic-Orthodox, Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, and Hindu), and that future wars would occur between these civilizations.

As one who places great emphasis on cultural identity, I strongly disagree with Huntington’s crude reductionist arguments that attempt to partition the world into these monolithic unions. Although he was correct in predicting that culture and religion would once again play an important role in international relations, he completely missed the mark by incompetently bunching up countries and regions that only superficially share similarities. Huntington failed to acknowledge the nuances and complexities that exist within regions that ostensibly share a culture, and which would prevent them from becoming unified into a Huntington-esque ‘civilization’. Van Ham’s article this week highlights this flaw, as Huntington’s concept of the Western Civilization, which would comprise the US, Canada, and Western Europe, contains fragmented states which have no interest in uniting on a cultural level. States within the EU, in particular, are extremely resistant to the pervading influence of America’s ‘low’ culture. There are numerous examples that can be brandished here (grouping all Muslims into one category is one that stands out), but suffice to say Huntington’s vision of the future will not be occurring anytime soon.

With this being said, though, an interesting topic that comes to mind whilst analyzing Huntington is the relationship between state and culture. This relationship engenders numerous paths of discussion concerning how a state defines its culture, whether a state recognizes multiple variations within its boundaries, how tolerant it is to these variants, how states identify external cultures, etc., which then provides a solid foundation to build upon discussing how a state manufactures its public diplomacy and calibrates it for foreign consumption.

The Peril of Ignoring Domestic Audiences

Whilst scouring the web for intriguing articles concerning public diplomacy, I came across this blog, which is run by the U.N. In this article, the author synthesizes material learned from a conference titled “Digital Diplomacy + Social Good”, which was jointly led by the United Nations Foundation and the Digital Diplomacy Coalition, into eight salient tips for practitioners to better engage their audiences in this new age of technology.

I found that this article addressed several of the major themes of this class, with the first illustrating the evolution that public diplomacy is currently experiencing. Gone are the days where there existed a wide chasm between practitioner and audience as well as the monopolization of the entire process of public diplomacy by political elites. In its stead we observe a more inclusive definition of who a public diplomat is (we all are! All of the suggestions from the blog author can be used by top diplomats as well as common lay people to help influence others) while also recognizing the need for a stronger, more active engagement between practitioner and audience.

Furthermore, I thought this piece, when viewed from a domestic lens, dovetailed quite well with Huijgh’s article about the domestic dimension of public diplomacy. I feel we sometimes can get caught up with how we project ourselves to an international audience to the point we take for granted our domestic audience. This can lead to issues later on, especially since domestic members are potential diplomats in their own right. One need not look far to recognize that the U.S. government, with its series of major missteps including WikiLeaks, the Snowden Incident, and increasingly bitter, unproductive political catfights i.e. 2013 shutdown, is in very much need of damage control with its own citizens. All of the suggestions detailed in the article can be very much utilized by the government to help repair its image with its own citizens. Failure to do so will lead to issues within the international scene, which is best encapsulated by Huijgh’s prescient declaration that “internal legitimacy remains a precondition for international respect.”

Analyzing China’s Struggles With Its Soft Power Initiatives

Last week I submitted a comment briefly centering on Taiwan’s complicated history and how it affects its current PD strategies, and this week I’ll focus on the efficacy of China’s current public diplomacy attempts (yes, yet another blog piece about China). I hope not to pigeonhole myself into writing solely about these two interconnected though distinct nations, but comparing and contrasting the nature of their PD strategies offer salient points for understanding the core values of public diplomacy.

Recently it was through reading this article as well as having a few conversations with other like-minded individuals that enlightened me to recognizing another face of public diplomacy. Last week we discussed sparingly about the differences, if any, between public diplomacy and propaganda. Although I still stand by my assertion that they are essentially one and the same in their basic goal of disseminating information with the goal of influencing decision-making processes, I also recognized the similarities between public diplomacy and marketing strategies. Both attempt to sell an image or brand to be consumed by target audiences.

As the article I linked to mentioned, understanding PD from this interpretation can explain why China constantly experiences failures with its soft power initiatives. China has attempted in recent years to convincing the world, especially the West, that it is committed to peacefully integrating itself into the current world order as it rises in economic power and political clout. But every soft power effort is undermined by aggressive tactics like naval confrontations in the South China Sea / Senkaku Islands and the recent ADIZ announcement (not to mention petty actions including their paltry aid contributions to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan as punishment for South China Sea conflicts). Thus consumers have a difficult time separating the image of China as an aggressive, authoritarian state from that portrayed in their soft power efforts as a peaceful nation, which is why consumers are so reluctant to embrace this peaceful image of China. As the article also mentions, China does not help itself through its heavy censuring and control of any information released internationally as well as inability to target its core audience (Millenials) due to blocking of integral social media sites like Facebook.

Although I do apologize for contributing yet another piece about China, it really should attract a good majority of our focus as students of public diplomacy because both it and Taiwan offer strong, relevant case studies in how countries struggle with separating their hard power images from their public diplomacy efforts, how public diplomacy strategies are evolving in this Age of Technology, and what constitutes the basic core of each nation’s public diplomacy (hint: cultural identity).