UK-NEpal Relations: Humanitarian Assistance a form of public diplomacy?

Recently on April 25, Nepal was devastated by an earthquake. As Nepal’s ally, UK has been quick to supply humanitarian assistance. According to News Hour (see link here), UK government’s humanitarian response now stands at £22.8 million. Although providing humanitarian aid is a philanthropic move to help those that are in need, from public diplomacy perspective, this is a strategy to strengthen ties with another country.

Thinking back to 2011, US also provided monetary and onsite assistance to Japan post Great East Japan Earthquake. For example through the Tomodachi Initiative, the US and Japan military cooperated, boosting relief efforts. This has resulted in re-establishing U.S.-Japan ties. Since then, the Tomodachi Initiative has been revamped to specifically build and strengthen mutual-understanding between the two countries via educational and business program exchanges for students and adults.

In general, UK-Nepal relations have been good and according to the Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “relations between the two countries have been characterized by friendship, mutual understanding and respect for each other’s national interest and aspirations” (see link here). And what is quite unique and interesting about UK is the British Army recruits their Gurkha soldiers from Nepal. Nepal is not a dependent territory of UK.

While Nepal has benefited from this bilateral relationship receiving support from UK in various activities–mostly in forms of development support and providing human resources–I am curious to learn what advantages this brings to UK. For example, what is it that UK gain by maintaining friendly relations with Nepal? After all, the ultimate goal of public diplomacy is to support a country’s foreign policy goals. Furthermore, a country does not simply give unless there is a strategic value in their investment. Hence, I think it will be interesting to see how UK-Nepal relations progress throughout time and see if any changes occur. And if changes do occur, what is the impetus for change?

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UK-NEpal Relations: Humanitarian Assistance a form of public diplomacy?

After the exchange

What happens after you’ve taken an interesting and active group of young leaders to a tour of your country? Goodbyes and promises to keep in touch are exchanged, some people share photos in Facebook, and the evaluation questionnaires come back with the expected positive comments. And then?

At the Embassy of Spain in Washington we had been doing a yearly trip to Spain for 30 promising young Hispanics leaders from all over the U.S. but after eight years there wasn’t much to show for it. Two colleagues had run the program and left DC for another posts, or had moved on to other assignments. Somewhere in the office were the CVs and the contact information of 240 people we had invested a lot of time and money in, but no one had set up the way to keep the connection alive.

Creating a network was the obvious choice. It wasn’t a very difficult thing to do, it just demanded some planning and clerical work… and someone to lead the task. Diplomats, like most bureaucrats, don’t have a lot of incentives to do a good job. Simply following the routines is often enough to get on with their jobs. It tells a good deal about the passivity of many practitioners that it took so long for a prestigious and coveted office like the Embassy in Washington to get the simple but tiresome task of building an alumni network done.

My colleague who did it in 2008 is today a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid and he will go on to greater things. His accomplishment in this matter is one of many, and not the most important. But I credit him specially for overcoming the institutional inertia and for putting his energy and enthusiasm to recover many neglected and valuable friends of Spain in the US.

So, what comes after the exchange? A lot of work to keep the connection alive and to feed the network with info, proposals and meaning.

The curious can click on http://www.lidereshispanos.org to see for themselves what’s this about. It takes little time to realize that the energy behind this efforts is lagging: their last event and news are two years old! I am afraid that, again, someone is missing behind the wheel.

After the exchange

Is PD Possible in North Korea?

North Korea is a nation notoriously shrouded in mystery, suspicion, and human rights violations. So how, if at all, does a country like this conduct public diplomacy? Does North Korea have public diplomacy initiatives? Can it wield soft power despite its reputation?

The Pyongyang Project appears to be an attempt at public diplomacy, though its legitimacy might be questionable. Founded in Canada in 2009, it claims to be “a self-sustaining local enterprise dedicated to building capacity-building initiatives in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” It emphasizes engagement with younger generations, through education, human development, knowledge exchange, and cultural tourism. It aims to integrate the DPRK into the global community and emphasizes person to person exchange. It is unclear exactly how this is accomplished.

Superficially, it looks a lot like exchange councils from other nations such as the Japan-US Council or the American Turkish Council, though it does not seem to actively engage in programs or outreach.

Personally I do not understand how a nation so suspicious of outsiders, and so purposefully self-contained could successfully or legitimately participate in public diplomacy. I suppose one example of this, though, could be Dennis Rodman’s infamous visit to North Korea, and his attempts to coordinate a basketball game there, as an effort of cultural/sports diplomacy, though it’s unclear if this could be a successful two-way communication.

The Pyongyang Project acknowledges that the impetus for many Westerner’s fascination with North Korea comes from its recognized status as a secluded global outlier. It seems to seek to mediate this by offering exchanges that change that perception. This is certainly a goal of public diplomacy, and could have to do with nation branding as well as attraction. Given that this particular organization is based in Canada, I wonder if there are any public diplomacy efforts coming from the North Korean government, or from organizations based in the country itself.

Is PD Possible in North Korea?

Evaluating PD for Diasporas and political engagement

The Washington Post of January 23 carried a full page advertisement paid by a Turkish American institution opposing that the US recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and calling for a demonstration before the US Congress.

There is no apparent connection to the Turkish Government or the Turkish Embassy in Washington but, even if official Turkish institutions are not behind this initiative, it helps them in their efforts to counter the extended idea that Turkey committed a genocide 100 years ago and can be considered an exercise in Public Diplomacy.

The campaign aims to block approval of the resolutions under consideration of the US Congress calling upon Turkey to fully acknowledge the Armenian genocide. This is a clear and measurable goal. The problem lies in the attribution. The campaign might produce the desired result or maybe simply contribute to produce the desired result.

That is hard to say so, absent a solid cause-effect analysis, I’m inclined to think that the campaign will be just one among different factors influencing the result. In general ethnic or diaspora political campaigns in the US do raise the profile of the issues and put some pressure on the White House or the US Congress. But the decisive factors are rather old-fashioned and non-Public Diplomacy matters like world-power politics, global and regional stability, supporting your friends and opposing your enemies… It’s a point that should be taken into account when planning an initiative, so as to set its goals with a dose of realism.

Evaluating PD for Diasporas and political engagement

Australian Digital Diplomacy Worse than US?

An interesting article appeared in my newsfeed this week about how bad the Australian government is at public diplomacy.  I was interested to see what the author had to say since we have talked a lot this semester about how the US is lacking in its digital public diplomacy efforts compared to others like Russia and ISIS.  But I wanted to see what they were saying about an ally who is also struggling with the concept.

It appears much of what Australia is facing, public diplomacy advocates are also facing here in the US.  The author states, “Our diplomats have developed an online passivity that is disconnected from the reality of Australian diplomacy. Given that Australia is located in the most digitally dynamic region of the world (45% of the world’s internet users live in Asia), and that our ability to reach and influence the populations that live in our region has diminished following the Government’s divestment in international broadcasting; Australia can no longer afford to remain ineffectual in this area.”

This seems similar to much of the criticism of US diplomats: from passive online presences only pushing out press releases, to budget cuts at VOA.  The author goes on to list six policy recommendations for improving Australia’s digital efforts which are worth a read: http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2015/04/24/Six-ideas-for-rescuing-Australian-digital-diplomacy.aspx?COLLCC=1916280048&

Australian Digital Diplomacy Worse than US?

Digital Diplomacy Within Global Media

As we heard in class this week, digital diplomacy continues to be a topic of interest in public diplomacy. I was interested to see that it will be a key panel subject at this year’s Global Media Forum, with speaker Taylor Owen discussing the subject.

In this class, we contextualize digital diplomacy within the broader field of public diplomacy, so still very focused on the diplomatic goals. It will be interesting to hear a take on it within an even more broad context of global media. As we know, digital technologies are changing diplomacy, even creating a new “public diplomacy 2.0.” What we haven’t really looked at is the broader media environment and how this part of it fits into the whole. For example, digital diplomacy must look very different in countries with different levels of media and communications freedoms, or even different laws regarding freedom of speech. What a government tweets or posts, in those cases, could potentially be even further from the overall feeling of its people than in more liberal democratic countries. It would be interesting to learn how and what forms of digital diplomacy are being used in stricter less democratic states, if any forms are used at all, and what it would reveal about the country in terms of say/do gap.

Owens points out that “many states try to misuse digital freedom for their own purposes,” rather than using it as a genuine PD tool of exchange and engagement. Instead, it gets used to control, monitor, and ultimately undermine the actions of other actors perceived as threats.

It sounds like this will be a fascinating panel, and I look forward to hearing more about it after it takes place in June!

Digital Diplomacy Within Global Media

The Balance Between PD and Propaganda

As we’ve discussed countless times in class, there is often a fine line between propaganda and public diplomacy. Even in its roots, public diplomacy is closely tied with the concept and activities of propaganda.

The line gets blurred further when the US claims to use its own public diplomacy to counter another country’s propaganda. The view from the other side of things could so easily flip it so the US is the one spewing propaganda. The recent readings and class discussion on Russia and it’s own version of soft power/PD, often construed as propaganda, highlighted the way the tables turn when viewed from another nation’s point of view. What the US views as news stories, Russia spins as US propaganda against Russia.

The New York Times published a piece this week about Voice of America, and how turmoil with the director of the agency, charged with conveying America’s message to the world, might hurt our country’s ability to “counter propaganda.”  This counter article from the Center for Research on Globalization takes a more critical look at the situation, wondering why when the US disseminates its message we call it Public Diplomacy, but we use that to counter other country’s messages which we call propaganda.

As we’ve discussed in class, I think there are several differences between PD and propaganda. One of those has to do with the content of the message – is it related to genuine exchange and outreach, or is it a one-sided statement? What is the messages purpose – to explain an opinion or stance on an issue, or to convert people’s thinking to a single mindset? As always, these lines are thin.

The Balance Between PD and Propaganda