1.UNITED STATES REJECTS CHINA’S SOUTH CHINA SEA CLAIMS: Amidst the increasingly public escalation of charges and name-calling between the United States and China over a long — and growing — list of bilateral concerns, the United States issued very tough guidance on the long-simmering maritime disputes over South China Sea water and seabed rights.
On July 13, 2020, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced a major shift in how the United States views China’s “might-makes-right” claims in the South China Sea. He bluntly stated: “We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.” For the Secretary’s press statement, go to state.gov/u-s-position-on-maritime-claims-in-the-south-china-sea/.
The issue remains complicated and involves not only “freedom of navigation” and UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) concerns but also competing claims among the coastal states of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. The new policy, however, makes clear that the United States believes specific Chinese maritime claims are illegal and that the United States stands with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and international law.
The CSIS think tank has been giving the highly contentious issue considerable attention. For example, Gregory S. Poling, CSIS Senior Fellow and Director, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, has analyzed the policy shift in a helpful July 14, 2020 CSIS article, “How Significant Is the New U.S. South China Sea Policy? He concluded:
“The statement marks a significant clarification of prior U.S. positions but not a radical break from past policy. It makes explicit things that had been implied by previous administrations. And in that, it sets the stage for more effective diplomatic messaging and stronger responses to China’s harassment of its neighbors.”
For his text, go to: csis.org/analysis/how-significant-new-us-south-china-sea-policy.
For a broader view of China’s “unprecedented diplomatic offensive on virtually every foreign policy front,” see a thought-provoking July 15, 2020 Foreign Affairs piece, “China Is Done Biding Its Time – The End of Beijing’s Foreign Policy Restraint?,” by former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Mira Rapp-Hooper. Arguing that “the world may be getting a first sense of what a truly assertive Chinese foreign policy looks like,” they concluded:
“By leaving a power vacuum in the world’s darkest hour, the United States has bequeathed China ample room to overreach – and to demonstrate that it is unqualified for a position of sole global leadership. If Washington does not return soon, however, it may not much matter how the world views China’s bumptious diplomacy – left with no alternative, strident excess will fill the void.”
For their text, go to: https://foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2020-07-15/china-done-biding-its-time.
2. MOVING U.S.-MEXICO RELATIONS FORWARD: U.S.-Mexico relations are complex, strong, vital, intimate, interdependent, and contentious, and few would deny that they are not important, as the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which came into force on July 1, demonstrates. But a timely Wilson Center-U.S.-Mexico Foundation study, Convocation: A Vision for a Stronger U.S.- Mexico Partnership, admits “we still struggle to understand one another fully.”
Based on intensive discussions between six U.S. ambassadors to Mexico and six Mexican ambassadors to the United States, the July report’s wide-ranging findings wisely give some attention to public diplomacy. The importance of cultural issues, public opinion and soft power are all considered. One key finding is: “At both national and local levels, the United States and Mexico must work to sustain public support for positive bilateral relations. People-to-people connections, especially through student and research exchanges, are critical to fostering mutual interest and understanding among U.S. and Mexican citizens.” More specifically, the report recommends that joint public diplomacy efforts should be undertaken to take advantage of the Mexico-U.S.-Canada 2026 World Cup “as a powerful symbol of regional community.” The full report is at: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/convocation-vision-stronger-us-mexico-partnership
3. A FULBRIGHT ALUMNA UNDER FIRE IN MANILA: One of the joys of PD and exchange work is seeing how successful many grantees become once they have had a scholarship. A classic example of a truly accomplished Fulbright alumna is Maria Ressa, arguably the most famous journalist and torch-bearer for press freedom in the world. The international award-winning Filipino-American journalist, after graduating from Princeton, received a 1986 Fulbright to study journalism at the University of the Philippines in Manila. The rest, as they say, is history. Deciding to remain in the Philippines and go into journalism, she went on to run CNN bureaus in Manila and Jakarta, work in Philippine TV news, and in 2011 co-found Rappler, the influential online news website based in Manila. In 2018, TIME named her one of its “Persons of the Year”.
Ressa’s independent media and press freedom advocacy work have subjected her to sustained state harassment and online violence and disinformation. On June 15, 2020, she and a colleague were convicted of “cyber-libel,” a criminal charge that could send her to Philippine prison for up to six years. Her case has drawn international attention. Some 60 press freedom and civil society groups, journalism institutions, filmmakers and other supporters have launched the #HoldTheLine campaign in support of Ressa and independent media under attack in the Philippines. Coalition members include the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Center for Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, the International Press Institute, and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. For information about the campaign, go to: cpj.org/2020/07/holdtheline-campaign-launched-in-support-of-maria-ressa-and-independent-media-in-the-philippines/. To view a lively July 14, 2020 East-West Center video seminar on press freedom featuring Ressa from her Manila office, go to: https://www.eastwestcenter.org/professional-development/seminars-journalism-programs/ewc-seminars-live.
4. A PLUG FOR KIDS, CAREERS AND CULTURAL ATTACHES: In today’s public diplomacy work, one rarely hears much about the once-prestigious occupation of “U.S. cultural attache.” In the so-called “good, old days”, U.S. Embassies like London, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, and New Delhi all had much-prized cultural attache positions. Today it seems most U.S. embassies no longer even use the title. But The New York Times, in a fun July 10, 2020 feature spread for kids — headlined “What Should You Be When You Grow Up?” – gave the diplomatic position some much-needed attention and glamour.
A full, two-page chart of “great jobs out there to choose from” described the job of a cultural attache: “Are you interested in living overseas? Do you love American arts and music? Then becoming a cultural attache might be the perfect job for you. Cultural attaches are State Department public diplomacy officers who introduce American culture to the world. They do things like coordinating exchange programs and helping American musicians travel to other countries to work with local musicians. They also help foreign countries protect and hold on to landmarks and antiquities, like castles, tombs and pyramids.” The feature says other jobs for people who love to travel are spy, travel writer, flight attendant, international aid worker, train engineer, location scout, and astronaut! Hopefully, The Times’ coverage will stimulate more young people to consider a career in public diplomacy. To see how the State Department currently markets the PD career track for Foreign Service Officers (management of cultural programs is barely mentioned), go to: careers.state.gov/work/foreign-service/officer/career-tracks/.
5. YOUNG PEOPLE SEE THE WORLD POSITIVELY: A July 8, 2020 Pew Research Center survey has some interesting findings on how younger Americans often have more positive views of foreign countries and institutions, like the UN, European Union and NATO, than their elders. Pew research analyst Christine Huang and senior researcher Laura Silver concluded: “Results of a new analysis indicate that even as they grow older, younger generations tend to be more internationally oriented, more favorably disposed to groups, leaders and countries beyond their border, and less likely to see the U.S. as exceptional.”
More specifically, they found:
- “opinion of China has fallen across most generations – but younger adults remain more positive than others”;
- “views of Russia are also down across generations but younger Americans remain somewhat more positive”;
- “younger generations tend to be more favorable toward international organizations”;
- “older generations of Americans are more likely to see their country as exceptional”;
- and “older generations are more likely to see the U.S. as the world’s leading economy”.
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.