Tag Archives: Week 6

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.

New Wave of China Power

Apple’s iPhone 5S and 5C officially went on sale on China Mobile, the world’s largest carrier. Even though it already has 1.2m pre-orders, something even more exciting is happening in China.

Xiaomi Inc., the startup that has rattled China’s smartphone market with its fast-selling handsets, is looking to tap its international fan base for help as it tries to expand abroad, according to its new American executive.

Last year, Xiaomi Global hired their Vice President Hugo Barra, the former Google Inc. official who joined the Chinese company in October, said the smartphone maker—which in recent months began selling phones in Hong Kong and Taiwan—will likely next begin sales in Southeast Asia, though he didn’t give a time frame.

Xiaomi plans to make use of its fans in other markets to popularize its phones and overcome language and border barriers, Mr. Barra said. “We have fans everywhere,” Mr. Barra said in an interview, his first with foreign media in China. “We’re on a mission. We want to have an impact in the world.”

Started in 2010 by Chinese entrepreneur Lei Jun, closely held Xiaomi sells high-end phones for prices close to cost. Its flagship Mi 3 phone costs $326, less than half the price of top models from Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Xiaomi, which is worth $10 billion according to its most recent round of fundraising, expects to sell about 20 million handsets in 2013.

It is fascinating to see another growing power in China. We’ll see how Hugo Barra could help this China-based technology company going global.

“The Revolution will be Tweeted”

SOSvenezuela

The days are unfolding and Venezuela’s situation becomes critical. As the government fights the students and opposition groups in the Latin American country’s main cities, resulting in 3 confirmed deaths and countless injured, the world is watching. Not through the traditional media, though, for it has been subjected to the upmost control by Nicolas Maduro’s special powers, granted to him by the National Assembly at the end of last year. In fact, a controversial decree has warned that any media outlet reporting on Venezuela’s economic crisis, its shortage of basic products, and its alarming standing as one of the world’s most dangerous cities in terms of homicides, will be harshly sanctioned for “instigating popular revolt” and “seeking to destabilize the government”, most likely with the endorsement of the CIA and the US, as well as popular scapegoat Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s ex–president. Making matters worse, when peaceful protests by Venezuelan students broke out last Wednesday, the government forced Colombian news outlet NTN24 to stop its coverage, and there have been reports of journalist’s equipment being destroyed or robbed. Maduro’s response to the protests has clearly further deteriorated an already worrisome situation for freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and it has exacerbated polarization.

So what is going on? Basically, Venezuela is awakening from months (if not years) of popular discontent with shortages, inflation, lack of freedom, and violence. The opposition wants a change. Some, under the guidance of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, whose arrest has been announced by the government, ask for “La Salida”– the ouster of President Maduro. But the prominent ex presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, has warned against this move, pleading with his compatriots that although peaceful protests are necessary to ask for change, the time is not right to ask Maduro to leave, much less force him out. Maduro, for his part, has already denounced the protests as an attempt at a Coup d’Etat. The result: an increase in violence and radicalization from both the opposition and the government.

How have citizens reacted? By taking to online media without hesitating. As all traditional information outlets were shut, Venezuelan netizens organized themselves to create the rapidly–caught on hashtags #PrayForVenezuela and #SOSVenezuela, calling on the nations of the world to react and pressure the government to stop the repression on its own people. They are trying to avoid a massacre, trying to avoid what their brothers and sisters lived, and are still living, at the outset of the Arab Spring. They are trying to appeal to our indifference, so that this time we might react in a timely manner, supporting freedom, peace, and respect for human rights. These hashtags have already mobilized thousands on Twitter and Facebook in a matter of days. One of the remarkable traits of this feat has been the outpouring support they have received from their compatriots and expatriates living abroad. From Paris to Rome to New York and DC, passing through cities in Latin America and beyond, Venezuelans and others who share their concern have posted messages decrying the government’s repression and calling for peace. They are living out their online revolution through a touching support system. Their actions have already garnered support from prominent leaders and regular citizens from neighboring countries. However, to date only two presidents from the region have issued direct statements condemning violence and asking both the opposition and the government to avoid confrontation and find a peaceful path to peace. It remains to be seen how this civil society initiative will ultimately influence leaders and netizens around the world to hold Maduro and his allies accountable for finding a peaceful solution and responding to the people’s fears and doubts, a fundamental human right in any democracy. Of course, Venezuela is no true democracy, and it has not been for a long time. Therefore, it is imperative to be alert and support this PD initiative stemming from a crucial moment in Venezuelan’s lives. How we choose to react to this will ultimately decide the course of events in a way that will have an impact upon the world, even if for no other reason than the fight for freedom and the triumph of peace and respect over violence and repression.

 

The “world’s best loved country?” South Korea: public diplomacy in the service of like-ability or national interests?

hallyu

Last week, during the beginning of our discussion on soft power, there was an interesting debate on the extents of the effectiveness of this power. Questions were raised about the uses of public diplomacy/cultural diplomacy: should their effectiveness be measured by their ability to further national interests? Or is the diffusion of a nation’s soft power internationally, even when it is not backed by a specific, strategic plan, always something good for that nation in and of itself? Although our discussion revolved around the disconnect between the “hard power” and “soft power” efforts of great powers like the United States, I found myself thinking about it again in the context of middle powers when reading the article for this week on the Korean/Hallyu Wave by Wu-Suk Cho.

Cho lauds his country, with good reason, for the sustainability and universality of its cultural exports (ranging from kpop to TV dramas to food to rising interest in the Korean language). Cho mentions the wide global spread of the Hallyu Wave: Korean dramas are particularly popular in Southeast Asia, India, China, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. In a Nippon.com article on a recent symposium on soft power in East Asia, Kwong Yongseok, a Korean professor teaching in Japan, claims that South Korea is “aiming, through its public diplomacy, to become the world’s best loved country.” (http://www.nippon.com/en/features/c00721/)

This raises a question: is being “liked” an adequate goal of public diplomacy? It seems interesting that in many of the  countries mentioned by Cho where Hallyu has become popular (besides China),  South Korea, as a middle power, seems to have less national interests at play (for example, in Latin American or Eastern European countries). On the other hand, Ogura Kazuo (former Japanese ambassador to France) believes that in Japan, a country with which South Korea has ongoing national security issues, the influence of South Korean pop culture has faded recently, as historical tensions have come to the fore. Kazuo believes that while cultural, knowledge, and material exchange has increased dramatically between South Korea, Japan, and China, favorable views of each other have not increased. He believes that an abundance of “national sentiment” and historical distrust (especially of China and South Korea vis-a-vis Japan) between the countries has neutralized some PD efforts, and created a domestic atmosphere that makes politicians unwilling to enter into “negotiations to improve relations.”

In an article on Korea’s PD efforts on the USC Center for Public Diplomacy blog, Philip Seib also advocates for a harder line use of PD in which “being ‘liked’ is secondary to goals grounded in global and regional realpolitik.” (http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/index.php/newswire/cpdblog_detail/korea_is_redefining_its_role_in_public_diplomacy/) He believes that South Korea would do well to present itself in contrast to China as a leader in the East Asian region by emphasizing the cultural, intellectual and political freedoms enjoyed by its citizens. He believes that the high visibility of Korean cultural products on social media such as YouTube can be used to point to this freedom, but that the quantity of these products means little “unless there is a strategy behind it.” At the end of his article, Cho makes a similar argument, calling for the intervention of government and diplomatic officials to make a “long-term strategic plan” for the Korean wave.

Finally, discussing the places where Korean PD has fallen short, Kwong bemoans the sometimes egocentrism of Korea’s efforts to promote its culture abroad. He believes that in the future, PD efforts should transition to “learning more about other cultures.” On this topic, it is interesting to note that a few days ago, a South Korean publisher,  RH Korea Inc, launched the first comprehensive Korean magazine on Japanese culture, called Boon. (http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0001010161, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/02/07/national/south-korean-publisher-defies-strains-issues-japanese-culture-magazine/#.UwJdS7R0p8s) The editorial team of the magazine insist that the magazine is even more necessary because of the recent bilateral tensions between the two countries, with the editor-in-chief, Oh Sok-chul, claiming that if people are steady in their enjoyment of another country’s culture, they will be less “shaken” by political problems with that country.