Yesterday, I took a walk near the tidal basin to enjoy the sight of the blooming cherry blossoms. The history of the trees reminded me of this week’s readings about Japanese soft power and public diplomacy. Not only does the blossoming represent the start of spring in DC, but also the lasting relationship between Japan and the United States.
This diplomatic initiative began before the first trees were planted. Through much opposition and several setbacks, the initiative began to bloom. Over 100 years ago, in March 1912, the mayor of Tokyo gifted the United States capitol a thousand Japanese cherry trees, where they remain today. A sign along the tidal basin path describes the goodwill nature of both countries. Forty years after the first trees were planted, the U.S. shipped budwood back to Japan to help restore the original cherry blossom grove. Japan shipped more trees back shortly after to help expand the capital’s current trees.
Every year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place to foster “a growing understanding and appreciation of each nation’s culture.” Japanese and American artists present their work and perform for the festival. Tourists from around the world come to DC to visit these iconic trees and partake in the celebrations. Its success blends Japanese culture with American history and the joint public diplomacy is truly inspiring.
When I was little, I used to watch the winter Olympics and dance around the house, pretending to be an ice skater. Although I was never as graceful, I grew to love the sport and had many idols like Tara Lipinski, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Sarah Hughes. So one can imagine my delight when I came across an article discussing Olympic ice skater, Michelle Kwan, and her current diplomatic efforts.
In the next week, Kwan will be speaking at the University of Tennessee to promote a program focused on sports diplomacy. The Empowering Women and Girls Through Sports Initiative is run through the U.S. Department of State, where Kwan is a senior adviser. The initiative brings together 24 women from 6 different countries from around the world to promote cultural diplomacy through sports.
“When women and girls can walk on the playing field, they are more likely to step into the classroom, the boardroom, and step out as leaders in society.” This quote stuck out at me from the U.S. State Department’s website. Not only is this initiative a great instance of cultural diplomacy, but it is also giving opportunity to women who are less privileged. By helping these women and girls succeed in sports, they will be more inclined to succeed in other aspects of their lives and other’s. Seeing Michelle Kwan use her Olympic status to promote awareness to help other women is not only a great example of cultural diplomacy, but celebrity diplomacy as well.
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.
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.
President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to abandon closer ties with the EU in favor of Russia sparked anti-government demonstrations in Ukraine, dubbed EuroMaidan.
When a bill was passed by the Ukrainian parliament on January 16th limiting the right to demonstrate, the protests took a violent turn. During the past week of unrest, three protesters have died in Kiev with over 300 injured.
Several German government officials have publicly voiced their opinions on the matter. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated that he understood the views of the opposition, adding that “violence is not a solution, and we can say that to both sides.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed. Merkel spoke with President Yanukovych recently to persuade him to revoke the recent bill. She urged Yanukovych to lead a real dialogue with the opposition to discuss political reform. Other officials from the EU and the US have made similar statements in favor of the anti-government protesters.
On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the EU for what could be interpreted as “political interference”. According to Putin, the trips made by EU and US officials have only furthered the crisis in Ukraine. At an EU-Russia summit in Brussels on Tuesday, he stated “I can imagine the reaction of our European partners if, in the midst of a crisis in Greece or any other country, our foreign minister would come to an anti-European rally and would urge people to do something.”
From a public diplomacy standpoint, the EU and US officials have played a large role for the Ukrainian protesters. The protests have not ceased and could be fueled by these Western officials publicly voicing their support for the opposition. But this raises some interesting questions in regards to PD. Are the actions taken by the EU and the US considered “political interference”, or is it public diplomacy? How thin is the line between interference and PD? What is the difference between the two?
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.