All posts by brooke1mcdonald

Historical Diplomacy: “It’s hard out here for a Hessian”

With this week’s readings focused on China, part of my country profile topic, it was hard not to respond solely to that subject. However, I had an unanticipated encounter today with a stranger that inspired me to write about something entirely different. (and possibly more domestically centered?) Anyways, I was walking down Wisconsin Ave, when I spot this guy:photoNo one else seemed to notice or stop and ask him what he was doing, thus being the kind of individual I am, I approached him. After I was unable to identify what army he belonged to he informed me he was dressed as  Hessian soldier and had been visiting schools to teach children about the Revolutionary War. Why a Hessian? and not an American solider? He specifically wanted to “undo the ‘scary/sleepy hollow’ image of the Hessians’ and show the positive aspects and contributions in the role this particular military group played in our nation’s history so long ago. I said to him that this reminded me a lot about what we had learned in class about cultural diplomacy, but perhaps on a very small and isolated scale. He agreed entirely, stating that it was important to reintroduce the history of a culture through different lenses in order to see the true spirit of a nation. He made this argument using the example of  how the Holocaust has, does, and will continue to impact the overall national image of Germany, usually overriding all the other major contributions of German scientists, philosophers, etc. throughout history.

This chance meeting inspired me to consider further the role national history plays in culture and the perception of a nation and its people by foreign powers. I rarely think of how non-Americans interpret our national history and the characteristics they assign to us because of our past. We’ve spoken in class of cultural diplomacy, which I feel has present and future time-oriented contest and goal, although based on longstanding traditions and values. I loved this idea, of taking back history in a way that allows outsiders and insiders both to rethink historical events, past organizations, and social groups. I’m not saying it’s the best idea to send a bunch of dressed up Abraham Lincolns abroad to roam the streets and schools…but I appreciate the sentiment that various perceptions of a nation’s history do exist, and if addressed properly through cultural diplomacy, could be effective in enriching a national reputation.

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.

“Who run the world?….GIRLS!”

Most of you probably get the Beyonce reference in my blog post title, if not, all that needs to be said in order to make sense is that it is also the lyric in a song about progressive women being at the center of civilization. Moving forward, my blog this week focuses on a recent interview in Women of China with Sun Ping, Exec.Director at Renmin University Opera Center on the Chinese woman’s innately dominant role in Chinese public diplomacy. Although (according to Hofstede), China consists of a predominantly “masculine” culture with large power distances in societal hierarchies, Sun Ping’s sentiments help to reframe these sweeping cultural generalizations and unveil the contributions Chinese women provide in both the social and political infrastructure of the country. In a collectivist society like China’s, the importance of family and honor for one’s family takes immense precedence in their culture. Sun Ping places women at the core of this basic societal foundation: “If woman can endeavor in promoting morality and civilization of family, serious incidents will reduce in the society because a woman’s role is IRREPLACEABLE.” I believe the female tendency to have polychronic time orientation as well as greater realistic empathy have time and again shown how these predisposition can aid relationships building cross-culturally.  Sun Ping’s interview concluded with her emphasis on making family as well as work, equally important priorities. The family unit social structure, high levels of collectivism and power distance, have been weaknesses in creating cultural synergy with cultures beyond China’s borders. However, the Chinese government as well as its many fine academic institutions are making large advances towards public diplomacy education AND implementation.

It was as recent as last week that Renmin University began a research institute on public diplomacy that brings together the university’s Schools of Communication, International Studies, Journalism, and the Peking Opera. This development reflects the country’s growing interest in enhancing not only their national image, but international diplomatic literacy as well. Sun Ping reiterates this growing interest and importance, but additionally, her emphasis on gender roles, I believe, is reminiscent of the continuity of strong cultural values which once kept women subservient to now be seen as a unique advantage.

Article link:


Cultural Strategies in Korea and Kenya

Understanding Soft Power, Social Power, Culture, and Public Diplomacy

3. Van Hamm describes the social powers within popular culture with examples that show how throughout recent history American policymakers during and even after times of “conflict” leverage the attraction of American pop culture as a means of perpetuating the dominant American WASP culture and values of individualism and liberalism. The popularization of American culture provided a consumerable form of political influence that “stokes the American ego” and spreads beyond our borders. A “media and information war” as Van Hamm describes it, would not be labeled a form of soft power, more specifically, within news and entertainment media and their ability to be more effective in producing American social power. Van Hamm references the role of “Hollywood” in social power during and after the Cold War.

In the case presented by Wu-Sok Cho, a similar situation has emerged where the marriage of pop culture and social power, known as the “Korean Wave,” has used the attraction of entertainment media to enrich their national image at home and abroad. As a result, South Korea has emerged from its state of penurious helplessness post-WWII as a “middle power.” Cho cites the recent incidents (such as “Gangnam Style” in pop music) as forms of the continuing explosion and exportation of Korean culture as allowing it to become a shareholder in many industries. What’s special about this cultural wave in Korea is the ability for it to communicate the resilience of Korean nationality, a country that has suffered and changed dramatically within the last half century.

Strategic Influence and Strategic Communication

2. Chris Paul outlines suggestions for improving strategic communication, particularly between government command and their military. In light of these suggestions, the actions and evidence of clear confusion and misconduct of Kenyan law enforcement during the Westgate Mall attacks was abysmal. Al-Shabaab had actively used it’s Twitter account (micro-blogging) as a way of propagating and communicating not only to their followers, but on a public forum, not only their intentions, but specific details on the ongoing attacks. Had Kenyan command had made better use/had higher awareness of the effectiveness of this communication tool for al-Shabaab, it could have decreased the initial confusion that lead to disastrous attempts to end the attack.

Paul identifies the importance of law enforcement commanders to “embrace and prioritize inform, influence, and persuade efforts.” He describes this as forming a “communication mindset” that includes everyone: commanders, decision makers, and subordinates alike. Al-Shabaab had successfully built a “communication mindset” amongst it’s militant group with their virtual followers. Along with forming this mindset, a “creation of credibility” in the government is an equally important strategic step in raising efficiency. By increasing communication links and credible interdependency between Kenyan PD and law enforcement would allow greater probability to identify al-Shabaab’s “set of planned actions,” which had been transmitted and signaled via Twitter.

China’s Cultural Power

chinese new year in londonLast week, I briefly addressed my Country Profile topic in our discussion by including an article that describes one of China’s public diplomacy programs known as the China-Africa Think Tank Forum. This past week, China has made the news once more for the notable increase of diplomacy, or more specifically “soft power,” that is popularizing Chinese language and culture all over the world. In China, the meaning of “soft power” not only carries diplomatic and economic objectives, but a consistent spread and revival of culture takes an unprecedented precedent. Pamment discusses the “diplomatic strategy for exerting influence” as a means of “developing relationships” through different channels, i.e. key media sources in order to reach large publics. He then adds, conveniently enough, a Chinese Proverb which basically says involving others is the best form of perpetuating mutual understanding. At the end of chapter 3, he addresses the topic of “cultural diplomacy.” He describes this area of PD as a way to use culture as a communication tool. China is in many ways capitalizing on its increased ability to promote its culture through not only the media, but the diaspora populations of Chinese people throughout the world also perpetuate the growth of a foreign understanding of Chinese influence.

As China’s economic power continues to grow, this emphasis on culture and language as a means of influencing both foreign and domestic perspectives is China’s way of making itself a more attractive nation. This is important in order to substantiate the increasing number of Chinese public diplomacy programs around the world. For example, there are now more than 50 Confucius Institutes in Africa alone. One of the elemental ways this is down is through the spread of Chinese language. Popularizing the use of Simplified Mandarin not only corroborates public interest in Chinese culture and history, but more predominantly makes China “valuable” in the world’s flow of information. Undoubtedly, these establishments such as the Confucius Institutes are meant to aid relationship-building between the countries; but for China, this is an equally economic endeavor (I’ll get into this further is my following posts on my Country Profile). My blog today was inspired by this article:


New P.D. and the Restructuring of “Traditional” Communication Models

As a communication masters student, I bet it comes as no surprise that studying and analyzing communication systems theory is a large interest of mine. Thus, this week’s reading of the conclusion in Pammet’s Introduction chapter inspired an internal debate on how developing technologies, and their effects of international diplomatic involvement, has entirely reshaped what we know of as traditional communication models.  In face-to-face communicaiton, the senders and encoders are synonymous, and that is also true of the decoders/receivers. In what Pammet describes as “old PD,” international actors had already begun to divide these traditional communication roles in that the encoding and decoding responsibilities more often than not take place within media outlets and other public forums that allowed political leaders to expand the reach of their message as well as their potential audience. Today, as social media and digital communication narrow the geographic and intellectual gaps between governments and citizens, the traditional roles of encoding and decoding take on entirely different, multinational structures which allow instantaneous feedback. The beauty and curse of these development is where culture, or perceptions of reality, are the last step in transmitting messages from one institution to another, regardless of size. Thus, with a new interactive and interconnected forms of communication systems, how is it possible to predict what encoding and decoding channels our public diplomacy and foreign policy initiatives will either aid or detract from the overall message and strategy? How powerful can the use of “soft power” be when as number of mediums through which the messages must pass in order to effectively influence the hearts and minds of those from entirely different cultures grows exponentially? is it possible to be that culturally pluralistic? Or must we need to accept what my mother has been trying to tell me since middle school that “you can’t make everyone happy”? I digress…I’ve attached the link to a really great article discussing the evolving role of soft power, specifically in regards to the developing transnational BRICs community. It carries similar sentiments and questions that I previously proposed about how we should approach obstacles in public diplomacy:  “a more constructive approach to this dilemma of expanding BRICS influence through soft power means should not lie in adopting new concepts to project their power but rather to focus on building intra-group trust between the BRICS.” The article emphasizes soft power as a necessary and increasingly important topic in supporting the growth of the BRICs, but so far their efforts and means of adjusting it’s diplomatic goals through communication and media systems has shown that internal restructuring or an introspective approach is equally elemental in successfully and effectively implementing international “new PD.”