Monday, February 28, 2011

Tools and tactics and tweets, oh my!

Last week in class Chris Dufor (or Professor Hayden? Sorry my notes aren't clear on this) said social media is a "tool" for Public Diplomacy and not a "tactic." Therefore social media isn't a PD strategy in and of itself, but it can be part of an overall PD strategy. I completely agree with this statement, social media on its own won't make other countries listen to you or like you any more, but they can be used in order to connect with people and try to send messages to a wider audience than was previously possible. As we discussed in class, having many people in the State Department and other government agencies tweet and/or blog, just to get them on social media, won't help to enhance US PD efforts, and, also as we discussed, could even serve to complicate or confuse messages.

Social media also can't be the only tool used because so far we aren't really sure what makes some social media campaigns successful while other similar ones are not. Some of it depends on the context of the particular situation, for example in Egypt, social media helped to bring together and publicize the revolution that toppled Mubarak (but was not the only factor). Social media was also widely used during the 2009 and more recent protests in Iran and did help to organize and publicize the message, but as we know those protests have not toppled the Iranian government. The difference in outcomes here seems to be closely tied to the governments' willingness to use force against its own people and control of the military and other resources. In Egypt, the army and other security forces did little to intervene (although police are said to have been part of the pro-Mubarak rallies/clashes) and therefore the protests were able to continue and grow. In Iran however, it is clear that Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard have no qualms about using force on protesters and making sure dissidents are silenced. Libya has been somewhere in the middle, with Gaddafi using force against the opposition, but unable to put down the revolt as he does not have complete loyalty within the weak military structure he (ironically) created to prevent a military coup. These examples show that while social media can clearly play a role in social movements, it alone can not overthrow a government. The same would hold true for a public diplomacy strategy.

In addition, it seems that many governments and companies are hoping on the social media bandwagon because they think it will bring them instant results. However, as we've talked about PD isn't just something that can be done with quick fixes and short-term solutions. There has to be something to sustain the message and relationship that it builds. Unfortunately, in large part due to the internet, officials, managers and consumers expect and want instant results for everything, often overlooking the long-term consequences of doing so. I feel that I see this all too often in US government, at home and abroad. It would cost a lot of money in the short-term to fix the problems with our nations roads and bridges, so no one wants to authorize it for fear of raising spending. However, the costs of the consequences of not doing so could be far far higher in terms of human and economics costs. Case in point, the 2007 Minneapolis, MN bridge collapse. Short-term results are needed too, but shouldn't be done at the cost of long-term effectiveness.

There is also the question of how to measure the "results," as we saw in the case study of the US Digital Outreach Team. The team did seem to be effective in reaching audiences, but there wasn't much evidence that they were actually changing their attitudes and opinions toward the US. In addition, there is no way to determine if those who "lurk" in these forums are being affected by the message and the posts are written only by those who have very strong opinions on the subject. They are reaching many more people than those who engage with them online, but it is helping? Does it even matter that those people are reading the DOT's posts? Is the number of page hits indicative of a successful campaign? (short answer, no) Maybe the government will get a million people to watch a YouTube video about America's positive attributes, but does that change anything? Millions of people have also watched videos of a sleep walking dog running into a wall and babies eating lemons and that doesn't change anything about society (other than the fact that we can now procrastinate and waste time by watching videos on Youtube). Many many people also joined groups on Facebook to "Save Darfur," but did that do anything to help the people there (who don't have Facebook, so they won't see it as some kind of solidarity stance). Social media is only part of the strategy, there needs to be a more personal way to interact and have people take action in order to change minds.

Fresh Faces

Hearing Chris Dufour speak was interesting. Interesting in the sense that it was entertaining and educational at the same time. Compared to John Brown's words of wisdom, Dufour was a fresh-face to public diplomacy.

I like how Dufour acknowledged the discrepancies in the definition of pubic diplomacy, and broke it down into its basic elements, influence and communication. He stresses the fact that our government agencies need to improve their engagement with one another, something Hillary Clinton also emphasizes in the QDDR. He further emphasizes ICT's and social media as tools for change, not change themselves or means to an end. This obviously (and maybe not so obviously for some, ahem, the US) means that culture and values matter. People want to hear what they care about.

Chris Dufour believes that there is a place for 2.0 in modern public diplomacy and I agree. With ICT technology and globalization its silly not to use these tools to their full potential. Dufour's speech left a positive impression, that the potential for positive change is possible, we just have to make it happen.

Actions Speak Louder than Tweets

It took me a while to find my Twain quote for the week. I wanted to reflect a bit on the hype (and here I include the counter-hype, rehyping, and überhype) surrounding social media and changing the way to view and/or act in social movements. The issue, cut to the root, seems to be the difference between media revolutionizing the way we revolutionize, or just the way we are made aware of said revolutions*. What does Mr. Clemens have to say about media and social change? Nothing too positive, which does not surprise me, and seems to outline the inevitable collapse of this new form of communication. Nothing that The Poet disapproves of could ever create long-lasting positive change in society, and I am sire that if he were alive today, he would be just as skeptical, if not morsel, as many of us our today.

“Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the media, for they will steal your HONOR. That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse.”
— Mark Twain

Applied to modern issues, this commentary can be interpreted in many ways. Firstly, on the theme of social uprisings against unjust regimes, it inspires hope and determination in people organizing to fight for liberty, justice, and other pre-approved democratic hypotheses. Second, it damns the people that fancy themselves to be social commentators, pedestrian philosophers, PD scholars, newspapermen, talking heads, critics, and basically anyone else who dares come between individual humans and the horrible events that we create around ourselves. Third, it foreshadows the eventual collapse of blog celebrities, Twitter empires, and the five seconds of fame phenomenon, just as traditional journalism has faded into distant memory.

I am firmly planted in the camp that acknowledges these media as a new form of expression, but I refuse to accept the idea that our postmodern hyperconnectedness is actually creating impetus for social action that did not exist before. While our methods may evolve, our simmering desire for healthy democratic structures our a constant throughout human history. I do not care how many celebrity delegations Jared Cohen leads to foreign nations in the name of social diplomacy, or how many bored liberal Americans join the "Ted will chug ten gallons of Pabst if the rebels can other throw Gaddafi**" group on Facebook, we have been using whatever technology had been available to us to overthrow tyrannical regimes since the carrier pigeon, and that will continue until we reach a singularity.

Cultural diplomacy, exchange programs, and International broadcasting, on the other hand, are tools that I can proudly stand behind. Rick Steves, a journalist-cum-travel activist of sorts, Recently wrote an op-ed for USA Today in defense of PBS and NPR, which are meant for a domestic audience, yes, but are dogged by many of the same criticisms as public diplomacy projects. We need to wholeheartedly support our programs, domestically and abroad in order for them to function properly. They strengthen groups that are positively inclined toward America, and weaken those that see our strengths as weaknesses. While this benefit may be more nuanced than simply keeping tabs on the number of listeners, it is no less important. Mark Twain saw that overintrusive media was a problem, not a solution, and I think that we will be better off when we do as well.


*That was a more comlex sentence than I wanted it to be.
**As far as I know, this group does not actually exist, but it might.

Russia Today, US Tomorrow

Only a few days until spring break! But until then, there are blogs to write. And I've got a fun topic this week - Matt Armstrong's piece on Russia Today broadcasting in the US. My first thought is - great, this airs in the DC area, I should find out what channel. But that'll have to wait, as I a) have a blog post to write, and b) have NO idea where my latest channel guide from Comcast is.

Approximately 42.6% of Russia Today's viewers in New York and Washington DC "appreciate RT's critical take on news of the day, as well as its different stance from the mainstream media, and see it as a reliable alternative." While I find it unsurprising that 87% of viewers consider "mainstream" channels like CNN to be partisan, I'm more interested in the segment of RT viewership that doesn't see it as such merely because it is an alternative news source. Is it a different perspective? Yes. But just because a media outlet offers a different perspective than the one that consumers are used to doesn't mean it lacks aims and bias, especially when broadcast overseas. I suppose that's more of a media literacy issue, but it's also a way of sending PD messages, even to an audience that thinks they are being quite critical by their choice of news consumption.

This isn't the issue of concern to Matt Armstrong. That Americans can view foreign broadcasts in the country, but not what the US airs overseas is, in accordance with the Smith-Mundt Act. He notes that material once considered propaganda is available to American the implicit question seems to be, what is the US broadcasting that is so farfetched or so full of embellishment that we can't see? What harm would come from Americans hearing what the government has to say about their own country - especially if the portrayal is positive? Even if that's what he was inferring, it's a question I'm asking. A question that the average person would ask is, "Why would we need to? We know what life is like." But that's not the point. We should have the right to know what images are being broadcast by our government's PD team. After all...they're not trying to sell us on anything. According to its critics, that's what our "mainstream media" already allegedly does.

We're not the customers of the United States's public diplomacy. We are, however implicitly, part of the production team. And we should know what our government is selling us as.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Public Diplomacy or Bombs Away?

To start off, I'm looking forward to seeing how events in Libya play out, particularly in the PD sphere (not looking forward to seeing how they play out when I have to put gas in my car, but that's a whole other story).

But I'm not going to talk about that in this post, I think that may be something for next week. This week I'm going to take a look at some public diplomacy developments in the United Kingdom, as this article in the Guardian caught my eye. I've previously spent quite a bit of time and research on the UK's foreign policy under the Blair and Brown governments, so I was immediately intrigued by this piece. To summarize the article, shadow defense secretary Jim Murphy (Labour) has called for increased "responsibility beyond the UK's borders," which fell into question after the Iraq War. He notes that while Iraq inspired a great deal of anger and controversy, the UK under Labour has successfully intervened militarily in other campaigns, such as Kosovo. How does this relate to public diplomacy? Murphy is presenting a speech next week at the Royal United Services Institute in which he will "emphasize the need for greater public diplomacy ahead of interventions abroad."

At first this seems like a bit of a contradiction, military action vs. public diplomacy. What I think Murphy is trying to accomplish is to promote the concept that sometimes hard power is necessary, but that the UK has a responsibility to utilize its soft power as much as possible, in hopes of gaining enough influence to avoid military entanglements.

Murphy actually used the phrase "public diplomacy," which I think is rather refreshing coming directly from a politician, especially one in his position. I worry whether that part of his message will go unheeded next week, and be overshadowed by the use of force aspect. But maybe it won't be. I'll be looking forward to keeping an eye on what David Cameron's government decides to do about increasing the country's soft power abroad through public diplomacy efforts.

Dictator Media Fail

In this week's Social Power reading, "Media and Globalization," van Ham says media can be used to create social power in two ways. The first is governments attempting to manage their own information space and the second is the media's ability to shape policy discussions and affect other actors' media space.

We have seen this occur quite often in the past few weeks. In the uprisings in Egypt, Bahrain, Iran and Libya, the governments attempted to shut off communication with the outside world by turning off the internet, television and cell phone services. They also attempted to reshape the discussion in their favor through state broadcasts reasserting their power and/or blaming outside actors for the uprisings. In the past this may have been successful as the avenues for communication were much fewer than they are now, radio, land line phones and television. However with the telecommunications explosion it has been nearly impossible to do this. In the case of Egypt and Bahrain foreign journalists were able to broadcast from those countries and therefore provided a counter voice to the governments' messages. These sources, such as CNN, the BBC and others were particularly influential as they have established credibility, which van Ham says is vital for building social power. In countries journalists have had a difficult time gaining entry into, people have still managed to find ways to get to the dissenters. Al Jazeera has been calling protesters in Libya on their land lines and asking them to give reports of what is happening around them. These reports are posted online and shared by millions around the world.

In addition, the governments themselves, or rather the autocratic rulers in particular, did themselves no favors with their messages. Mubarak's much anticipated speech on February 10, was deemed "The Worst Speech Ever," by Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch (aka abu aardvark). Mubarak had been expected to announce his resignation and when he did not, offering only self-praise and vague promises of change, it further ignited protesters' anger and led to his eventual ouster.

Unfortunately, it seems Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, may have staked a new claim on "worst speech ever," when on Monday he warned that his father's government would "fight to the last minute, until the last bullet," and said that if protests did not stop the country would descend into civil war and "rivers of blood will run through Libya." Gaddafi himself, appeared on state TV for a whole 24 seconds to refute claims that he had fled for Venezuela, insisting he was still in Tripoli, but could not address the protesters in person due to rain (right....).

While these leaders have been trying to shape the international discussion regarding the protests, their efforts have clearly failed. They have lost all credibility, in part due to years of reports of their brutal rules and now strengthened by the serious conflicting stories told by the protesters. Egypt and Libya's dictators have not kept up with the technological revolution and public diplomacy practices, which could have (before the abuses, torture and massacres of their own people) reshaped the public discourse in their favor.

China on the other hand, seems to be doing a great job in its technological and public diplomacy campaigns. It has managed to block potentially "dangerous" sites like Facebook and YouTube, shut down dissenters' networks and re-frame it self in a more favorable light. How this is, I'm not sure, as they prevented Liu Xiaobo from receiving his Nobel Peace Prize in person, continue to forcefully occupy Tibet, still won't acknowledge the massacre of possibly thousands of protesters in Tiananmen Square and abuse human rights in general. Of course there are many who are openly critical of China throughout the world, however, China's leadership scarcely seems to come under they same kind of scrutiny in the public eye as similar regimes elsewhere in the world. So what is the secret to China's success and what can other autocratic governments learn from them (this sentence sounds much more sarcastic in my head)?

Enlisting Madison Avenue... and bloggers?

In reading RAND’s 2007 report, “Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation,” I was surprised to see such an emphasis on blogging in the suggestion to “harness the power of influencers.” I agree with the authors that using word-of-mouth approaches to shaping efforts would be beneficial and that it is important to cultivate relationships with influential people in the local community/target audience. It is also crucial to avoid over-manipulating the message, which reduces credibility. In addition, use of the internet should be a part of strategic communication, along with more traditional mediums. However, I disagree with some of the specifics outlined in this section of the paper:

  • The report explains that important influencers in a community can include academics, researchers, celebrities, authors, and tribal, religious, and civic leaders—people who enjoy a large amount of respect and visibility. Yet it is suggested that some of the most important influencers are “indigenous government employees and security forces” who can be asked to write blogs. However, these people may not be the most influential in all situations, especially if they are not considered trustworthy or credible to begin with (i.e. government officials in Afghanistan). If a credible person is not delivering the message, the message itself will not be seen as credible.

  •  RAND proposes that these influencers be asked to blog about their views on coalition forces and the local government. Blogging may not be the most effective form of strategic communication: we have discussed in class how it is often more useful to operate within already popular channels of communication. Of course blogging does offer many advantages, including opportunity for ordinary people to express their opinions (relatively) anonymously. But unless blogging already plays a role in public discourse, it is quite possible that this initiative would fail. The medium must be seen as credible and the public must also have access to it. Depending on the situation, it may be better to use radio, print, or television to reach a wider audience. (Earlier in the paper, RAND does acknowledge that internet penetration must be evaluated prior to starting such an initiative.)

  •  Providing wi-fi-capable laptops and sponsoring wi-fi clouds to increase internet access is a nice idea, however I am not convinced that this is the most strategically worthwhile method of communication. While reading this in the “Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations,” I thought it sounded like the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative… and in going back to the actual section, I see that this RAND suggestion was directly influenced by OLPC. This is a problem in that the authors do not explain that any technology initiative must be accompanied with adequate training in order to be effective—one criticism of OLPC.

(Granted, I only read the excerpts assigned for class, plus the section where harnessing the power of influencers was discussed more in depth. So please point out if I am missing something here!)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

All that Jazz

At the fulcrum of John Brown's visit to our Public Diplomacy class, the philosophical musings of Mark Twain, and my personal fixation on musical expression lies one revolutionary tool, which will doubtless become the new buzzword in PD. Honestly, I would not be surprised if it became the basis for US foreign policy as a whole, or the foundation of a new world order. That thing, dear readers, is:


How did we not name this revelation sooner? We have employed it in the past, and impressed the world with the American gift of improvisation, syncopation, rhythm, blues, and distillation of the most compelling elements of three continents of music, but where is it now?Iin 1956 we sent renowned trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie and his band around the world promoting the US, using music to express what words could not, and having a profound effect on local audiences. The Cold War ended, we came out on top, and yet jazz got next to no credit and has faded into a world of vague nostalgia or worse, disdain. Why have we forgotten the music?

We have all learned that collaboration is the best form of diplomacy, but that broadcasting and dialogue serve a special purpose as well. Music can encompass all three, as performance, discussion, and group improvisational projects (jamming?) can easily win the hearts and minds of everyone involved, and create lasting bonds between people from any country.

Due to a cruel trick of history, jazz as we know it did not exist in the lifetime of Mark Twain, but he saw "the power of music, that magician of magician, who lifts his wand and says his mysterious word and all things real pass away and the phantoms of your mind walk before you clothed in flesh." Who could deny that music is the most emotionally exhilarating form of culture, and therefore the most potent form of cultural diplomacy? Furthermore, to briefly touch on this week's theme of the importance of credibility, who would dare to say that a jazz musician was insincere? John Brown has highlighted again and again our need for more attention to the presentation of high forms of American culture abroad, and I agree wholeheartedly and thus recommend a new American jazz tour, showcasing the freshest experimental artists from a new generation of jazz or jazz-inspired music.

Just a few days ago on Mountain Runner, Candace Burnham wrote a scathing condemnation of the use of jazz as a way to promote American values during the Cold War and today, but I would beg to differ. In fact, the State Department's Rhythm Road musician exchange program attempts to show the world some of the most dynamic and American musical genres, including gospel, bluegrass, and jazz, which otherwise might not be exported. The problem is that we Americans do not respect programs like these enough. I personally am relieved to know that these unique American styles are getting a chance to be appreciated abroad alongside the more marketable but less compelling Lady Gagas of our musically prolific nation.

What I would like to see is more respect and publicity for musicians that embody the American ideas that we so desperately seek to promote- I can think of little else that could help our image more than modern musicians presenting authentic and varied musical styles to the world and opening up a dialogue between cultures. We will end up with not only more appreciation and good will, but probably some amazing fusion music styles as well.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wikileaks, Venezuela, and Public Diplomacy

This blog entry caught my eye since our group is discussing Venezuelan public diplomacy for our group paper/presentation. While the post concerns US public diplomacy efforts in Venezuela, it's an opportunity to keep up with developments there - and honestly, since there's no way that I could make my way through all the cables on Wikileaks, probably wouldn't have found out otherwise. Robin Brown's post notes that the United States's PD campaign in Venezuela seems to be a little too broad-based, in that it targets the entire Venezuelan population instead of a more specific audience. As a lack of focus can be detrimental to any public diplomacy I'm going to take a closer look at the cable and see just what the US's plan is.

America's aim is to counter the negative image that Hugo Chavez's government has impressed upon its people, noting that positive opinion of the US is at a historic low of 31% among the Venezuelan populace. The Wikileaks cable notes three themes that the US plans to emphasize in its campaign:
  • the US and Venezuela share common interests
  • regional problems (i.e. drug trafficking, organized crime) require the cooperation of all neighbors in the area
  • historical and cultural ties
Just looking at those aims, I think that the plan's too ambitious. It would seem like a better idea to focus on an audience, pick one thread and go with it. For example, historians and artists are more likely to care about the cultural ties between Venezuela and the United States than lawyers and others involved in criminal justice, who may care more about solving the drug trafficking problem.

As far as implementing the public diplomacy campaign - the cable mentions newspaper ads, television spots, billboards, and radio. Given Venezuela's political climate I can't really imagine those plans working out - I find the odds that they'd be allowed time/space in any government media highly unlikely. Not to mention that this sounds suspiciously like any old advertising campaign for jewelry or or kitchen cleaner...or well, any commercial product. While I can't be certain that no research has been done regarding the best method of getting the message across...I'd guess not. And the plans for evaluating the campaign's success? Surveys. The concept of using surveys to determine the success of a PD campaign - and after only 90 to 120 days - seems absurd. The success could be measured in other ways, such as travel, investment, immigration, academic exchange and research, to name a few. And just as public diplomacy plans need to involve longer-term investment (financial and otherwise), the results are not going to appear overnight.

Monday, February 14, 2011

American Cultural Dreams

As John Brown discussed in class last week, America does a very poor job of promoting its cultural highlights abroad. The US is very good at exporting heaps of its cultural goods, like movies, TV, music and the like. However, much of this is, as we all know, not very good and not representative of American culture and life (I know my time in high school wasn't anything like The OC or even Dawson's Creek). This tends to give the rest of the world a (very) negatively skewed idea of American culture, even if the rest of the world feeds demand for these poor exports (I'm looking at you Germany and your inexplicable love of David Hasslehoff's music).

The main reason that America is bad at promoting it's cultural affairs, is that it largely ignores them. So why is a country that is such an avid advertiser of its ideals of freedom and democracy, so lacking in cultural promotion? I think a large part of it comes from the ingrained, but false, belief that America doesn't have a culture, general or high culture. While the US may not have the same long-standing traditions as many other countries, as Kristin points out in her latest blog post, this is largely because the US is much younger than most other countries and was founded to break from many of the practices of Europe. However, every society and group has a culture. The US culture (as I'm sure many of us have learned in Cross-Cultural Communication) is low-context, monochronic and stresses individualism. These characteristics in and of themselves lead to a less cohesive and more fragmented view of the "American culture," which is furthered by the mix of other traditions and beliefs brought to the US by immigrants over the past 200+ years. So not only do we not have a clear concept of our own culture, but we tend to think much more individually than Russia, which values the common bond of a single Russian cultural identity, according to Brown.

I also agree with Krisitn that the US does have a "high culture" as evidenced by well-respected American literature, music (not pop, but classical and jazz artists and composers), theater and sometimes, even movies, if you look beyond the typical Hollywood garbage. However, I don't believe these arts are valued enough, at home or abroad. Americans' general emphasis on economic achievement tends to devalue the arts, which are usually more economically precarious. Although the conscious decision to not establish a ministry or department of culture in the US may have been to prevent government involvement in cultural creation and assessment (which is a fair concern), it has meant that the country only has business to promote its cultural products. Unfortunately these companies tend to think of profits over the American image (of itself or abroad). This means that we have hundreds of iterations of reality shows (I can't even keep track of how many versions of The Real Housewives of... there are), which are cheap to make and draw big audiences. 

Therefore, in order to better promote American cultural achievement, I think we need to start at home by cultivating a better appreciation and understanding of American culture. This would mean better arts education in schools, more emphasis on the practices of and influences on American culture in history classes and more government funding for arts and culture projects. Not only would this give Americans a better understanding of themselves and their society, it would also promote critical evaluations of that culture and society, something I feel is sorely lacking here. In turn, a better understanding of these concepts and increase in the belief of the value of American culture would help us realize what good cultural products we do have to offer the world.  This knowledge can then be included in the State Departments' diplomatic functions to spread this message (not to "Americanize" countries, but simply to share it). However, it seems that there need to be some major changes to society, education and the government before any of these things happen, so right now, we're stuck with Baywatch and the Jersey Shore as the spokespeople for American culture. If that's not an incentive to change, I don't know what is.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chinese [Public] Diplomacy

Something on John Brown's blog caught my eye yesterday, probably because of our class discussion about Chinese public diplomacy last week. He posted an item about public diplomacy's role in improving China's image, and the article takes note of the promotion - which almost seemed more like an advertisement - in Times Square. Also mentioned is the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Austria's diplomatic relations with China, which will include "an array of rich cultural both China and Austria, including jointly held concerts, exhbitions, lectures, and plays." Both China and Austria will likely benefit from such cultural diplomacy, but China will probably be more represented in Austria, which is referring to 2011 as "Austria's Year of China." The same article takes note of the first Chinese Film Festival in Paris, which will also be represented in other French cities. China seems to be taking the notion of public diplomacy quite seriously, even if not always going about it in the best ways (i.e. the Times Square promotion). I think that Chinese public diplomacy officers need to take their audience into account when formulating their plans, but if their aim is to increase cultural understanding and exchange, I think China's taken steps in the right direction. After the bad publicity surrounding China's attitudes towards Tibet circa the 2008 Olympics, and the state's overall problematic human rights record, it would be absurd for PD officers to try and portray such things as irrelevant. Emphasizing China's unique history and culture is a better way to get people more curious about the "positive" vs. "negative" aspects of modern China...and maybe even serve as a distraction.

Spider Power

"A diplomat of full age ought surely to know this pair of simple things! that a country's laws are written upon paper, and that its customs are engraved upon brass. One may play with the one, but not with the other. It is less risky for a stranger to dance upon our Constitution in the public square than to affront one of our solidified customs. The one is merely eminently respectable, the other is sacred."

Mark Twain may as well have written a textbook on social power and public diplomacy, but luckily he did not, so I am now afforded the opportunity to construe his wise social commentary in any way at I see fit. It remains to be seen if Volume Two of his autobiography will include an unfinished manuscript entitled My Life as a Public Diplomat, but until then this niche of (mis)appropriation is populated by myself and myself only.

In reading Van Ham's chapter on social power, I was struck by his categorization of popular culture, customs, and norms as a co-optive form of hegemony. This form, being so pervasive and almost impossible to quantify, makes it more powerful than the coercive, harder form of hegemony employed in centuries past. Twain saw this as obvious fact over 100 years ago, and it remains true today. In the case of the United States, and the rest of globalized society, consuming has become the most standard norm; what you buy essentially defines your culture. Furthermore, what you want to buy is what you are shown: on TV, online, on the streets. This idea seems rather terrifying, but also undeniable, and applies not only to domestic populations but to international relations. The Marilyn Monroe doctrine applies not only to millions of Americans, but all of the earthlings in our sphere of influence, being sprayed with a glittery mist of our soft power. The idea of our global society being defined by typical bastions of American pop culture like Coca-Cola and Hollywood seems to move social power from the realm of soft and sticky power (which just makes me think of caramels or other friendly sweet confections) to something more insidious.

Slippery power?

Psychic power?

Spider power?

Yes, I shall call it spider power. Not Spiderman power, which is intellectual property that I am not licensed to use in this blog, but spider power, with long legs and a tough exoskeleton and the ability to spin huge shiny webs in which to trap its prey. Geertz said that culture is the web of significance that man himself has spun, and it is a very powerful, fiercely protected, and at times nearly invisible web indeed.

Battle Hymn of Tiger...Diplomacy?

In continuation of our conversation on Chinese public diplomacy efforts, there is another recent example I think is worth mentioning. It's one I'm sure most of our net savvy class has probably already seen, but brings some interesting public diplomacy concerns. On January 23 CCTV (China's state broadcaster) showed a clip of a Chinese air force training drill, in which a Chinese fighter plane destroys an enemy plane with a missile. Unfortunately for China, internet viewers realized the footage looked suspiciously familiar and accused the government of misappropriating footage from that 80's classic Top Gun.

You can see it broken down in this video from the Wall Street Journal:

The author of the accompanying article, Josh Chin, writes that China has, ironically, been trying to clamp down on journalists who doctor their stories.

While it seems as though this story was meant to boost Chinese national pride in its military capabilities (although I'm sure it wouldn't have bothered them if the rest of the world saw the "might" of the Chinese air force), it became something of a public diplomacy scandal. As we discussed in class, trust is an important factor in gaining social power and an end of creating social power in and of itself. Plagiarizing a (very) well-known American movie, only hurts China's credibility in the international arena. It first reinforces the belief that China cannot be trusted to comply with intellectual property laws and that countries and companies should be wary of allowing China access to and IP material. It could also cause other countries to doubt any information that comes from the Chinese government (although many of them may already do this). If they are fabricating this type of story, what else are they lying about?

Another public diplomacy issue China dealt with recently was its refusal to allow jailed democracy advocate Liu Xiaobao, or any of his relatives, to attend the ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize, which the committee awarded to Liu late last year. Liu was represented by an empty chair at the ceremony. This was the first time since 1936 that the award was not conferred in person to either the recipient or a representative.* In 1936 winner, Carl von Ossietzky, was also prevented from attending by the government he campaigned against, the Nazis. While China likely did this to protest what it believes as a slight against its sovereignty and international reputation, it seems to have unwittingly done so at the expense having its own state controls likened to Nazi oppression. Obviously a damning and unwanted comparison. In addition China used its hard power to coerce other countries to boycott the ceremony as well. China warned of diplomatic "consequences" for countries that sent representatives to the ceremony (46 countries did send representatives and so far no outward consequences have occurred). The country was successful in convincing 15 countries, including the oppressive regime du jour, Egypt, not to attend. In addition China also cut off trade negotiations with Norway as punishment.

Unfortunately for China, its recent attempts at damage control and self-promotion have ended in dismal failures. Even its intended positive ad campaign in Time Square, which we discussed in class, seems to have had little effect on improving Americans' image of the country. For a while China seemed to be riding high on the public diplomacy and social power boost it received from the 2008 Olympics, but now it appears the shine has worn off of that spectacle and China may need to address real issues, like intellectual property rights, trade agreements, militarization and human rights, in order to improve its international image in the long-run.

* According to the Washington Post, in 1991 Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, was not allowed to attend the ceremony by the ruling junta. However, her children accepted the prize in person for her.

A little TOO carried away

Last class we watched news clips of the Chinese ad promoting the Chinese president's visit to the United States. With an apparent "go big or go home" mentality, the the ad was put in Times Square, NYC, and slated to run some 300 times a day for three days straight. Seems pretty impressive....until you see the video. The video shows what China believed to be international celebrities (who?) standing still while their names were superimposed on the screen (Good, because I sure didn't know who the heck they were).

This ad seems to be a failed attempt of China to use soft power. The term soft power, coined by Joseph Nye in the early 1990's, is basically the ability to make others want what you want, achieved by using intangible resources like culture, ideologies and institutions (Zahran and Ramos). China tried to identify with the American public by showing figures they thought held some relevance and credibility for Americans. This seemed to fail as I'm pretty sure not many Americans could name some of the people depicted if you paid them. What the ad DID show was sticky power, meaning economic power. The ad showed that China can afford to obnoxiously stream a bunch of jumbo-trons in Times Square 24/7, and by that I am impressed.