Mai’a Davis Cross’ Op-Ed titled “EU leaders should change tone when talking to rest of the world” indirectly raised an interesting point: when she mentions “The ultramodern African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, funded and build by China”. While China is known for its eagerness in providing visible infrastructure, the African Union’s organizational structure obviously resonates more with the EU’s than with China’s.
Today, the fourth EU-Africa Summit opened in Brussels. (While it seems to be referred to as such and not the EU-AU summit, leaders from both the EU and AU institutions are present). Various publications reflect interestingly on the PD aspect of it. On the one hand, an article republished on AllAfrica.com from The Inquirer (Monrovia) comments on the press release issued by the European Union Delegation to Liberia, which seems to be a rather thoughtful PD move: phrases such as “Leaders from Africa and the European Union are to discuss as equal partners”, “the everyday concerns of our citizens”; “improve the quality of hope of our population” are repeated throughout (http://allafrica.com/stories/201404021045.html?viewall=1). On the other hand there is a buzz about Mugabe’s boycott due to the EU’s refusal to issue his wife a visa (http://www.news24.com/Africa/Zimbabwe/EU-AU-summit-Mugabes-wife-not-invited-20140325) and Jacob Zuma’s boycott due to the perceived “cherry-picking” of African leaders eligible to attend (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/eu-and-africa-hold-summit-to-boost-ties/2014/04/02/390c56ce-ba4b-11e3-80de-2ff8801f27af_story.html) , reflecting not-so-equal partner relations.
Back to Cross’ Op-Ed, I think that beyond the content aspects (increasing political cooperation and economic strategies), it would make sense for the AU and EU to reflect on and learn from each other’s successes and failures in terms of organizational processes. It would not only be constructive for both, but if done transparently and wisely it could be a smarter PD move as well than just letting disgruntled actors vent on international media.
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:No 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.
I found this article by Seiichi Kondo, the former Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan, about his view about cultural diplomacy.
He was the first diplomat who turned into the commissioner, and had also worked as the first Director-General at Department of Public Diplomacy in Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Kondo states that the government should “create an environment that enables and encourages the free development of culture, while removing obstacles to the exchange with other cultures” but “should not intervene in cultural affairs nor set conditions for cultural exchange.” He also says “Cultural activities take on diplomatic meaning in consequence as they spread; no culture is and should be designed for diplomacy from the beginning” and that “it is a good thing that culture results in promoting national interests, and there is no problem in the government encouraging this.”
This resonates with Gienow-Hecht’s view about the characteristic of successful cultural diplomacy: distance between the agent of a cultural diplomacy program and a political agenda.
Yet, Kondo believes “the most effective way to disseminate Japanese culture is to invite talented artists rather than sending art works and artists abroad.”
In fact, the Agency is now providing a grant for international artists-in-residence program in Japan. Its guideline specifies that it should be used to cover the cost for foreign artists to stay in Japanese arts residencies but not for that of Japanese artists.
The foreign artists would have opportunities to interact with Japanese people during their stay and it is mutually beneficial. Still, I think this is rather one-way and more about telling than listening.
As Deos, and many other authors of our reading says, successful diplomacy requires two-way or “bi-directional communication of listening.”
I think the grant should fund the cost for Japanese artists as well.
For our discussion this week on China’s PD toward Japan, here’s some recent reporting: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304680904579364802711547872 . It includes a quote by Prof. Craig Hayden 🙂