1.TURMOIL IN THE STATE DEPARTMENT? “Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the State Department,” a Democratic staff report prepared for the use of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, was released July 28, 2020. The highly critical document’s chapter titles indicate the report’s concerns: “Vacant Posts and Frequent Turnover: An America Less Present and Less Effective”; “The Trump Administration’s Record on Diplomatic Nominees: Repeated Vetting Failures, Poor Judgment”; “A Culture of Fear and Mistrust: Attacks on Career Employees”; and “A Crisis of Morale”.
The report does not focus on public diplomacy, but it does make relevant, PD-related comments from time to time. For example, it points out that the important position of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs has been vacant since March 2018, with no nominee.
Concluding on a positive note, the report says that institutional deficiencies can be addressed:
“This report calls for a strong response to the chaos and mismanagement of the Department by the Trump Administration. Congress must take action to leave the Department’s dedicated employees better protected and more effective – and, in so doing, further, safeguard America’s national security.”
For the text of the 46-page report and Ranking Member Senator Robert Menendez’s remarks, go to: https://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/ranking-member-menendez-publishes-new-report-documenting-trump-administrations-decimation-of-the-state-department
Secretary Pompeo addressed some of the issues raised in the report during his July 30, 2020 Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony on the FY 2021 State budget request. For the text and video of his remarks, go to foreign.senate.gov/hearings/review-of-the-fy-2021-state-department-budget-request-073020.
2. NBA, SOCIAL JUSTICE MESSAGING, AND SPORTS DIPLOMACY: The National Basketball Association, with its increasingly globalized marketing, social platforms, and star appeal – resumed regular season play on July 30, 2020 in an unprecedented situation – inside a neutral, made-for-television “bubble” set in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The restart was unusual and attracted international attention because there were no live fans in attendance and – significantly – the players for the first time had the option of wearing jerseys with one of 29 different social messages on the back.
The messages, selected by various players, included Black Lives Matter, Vote, I Can’t Breathe, Listen to Us, Respect Us, Education Reform, Peace, Freedom, Equality, Justice for Now, Liberation, How Many More, Power to the People and Mentor. They appeared in English and eight other languages. Also, written prominently on the basketball court floor were the words “Black Lives Matter”.
These efforts were all part of the NBA family’s global community and social engagement campaign to support, engage, educate and inspire youth, fans and families. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver explained the league’s new activism:
“The league and the players are uniquely positioned to have a direct impact on combating systemic racism in our country, and we are committed to collective action to build a more equal and just society. A shared goal of our season restart will be to use our platform in Orlando to bring attention to these important issues of social justice.”
For more about the NBA social messages, which cannot help but draw global attention to America’s social, racial and political concerns, go to: https://www.nba.com/article/2020/07/03/nba-union-approve-social-justice-messages-jerseys
One State Department office following NBA developments closely is the Sports Diplomacy Division, Office of Citizen Exchanges, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). The office uses Sports Envoys, including NBA representatives, and Sports Visitors for various exchange programs and special initiatives to increase dialogue and cultural understanding and establish links with U.S. sports professionals and peers. For example, since 2005, 343 professional American athletes, including a number of NBA (and WNBA and Harlem Globetrotters) players, have been to 83 countries on Sports Envoy programs. Probably the best-known participants over recent years have been Hall of Fame baseball players Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ken Griffey, Jr.; NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal; and world champion figure skater Michelle Kwan.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Sports Diplomacy projects and plans have been placed on hold (including some around the new Basketball Africa League collaboration between the NBA and the FIBA – Federation International Basketball Association). But the use of sports for effective public diplomacy will hopefully resume at levels similar to those of 2019 as soon as it is safe to do so. Data for 2019 show that ECA sent out 66 Sports Envoys, hosted about 256 Sports Visitors, and included more than 450 American and foreign youth, coaches, and sports administrators in its International Sports Programming Initiative (ISPI) sports exchanges. For a summary of Sports Diplomacy, go to: https://eca.state.gov/programs-initiatives/initiatives/sports-diplomacy
3. IMAGE OF U.S. LEADERSHIP REMAINS WEAK: In its last global survey of U.S. leadership approval before the November U.S. elections, Gallup has released a report, “U.S. Leadership Remains Unpopular Worldwide,” which should not surprise PD professionals. It concluded:
“In the third year of Donald Trump’s presidency, a new Gallup report shows that despite marginal gains, the image of U.S. leadership started the new decade in a weaker position globally than at most points under the past two presidents. After tumbling to a record-low 30% during the first year of Trump’s presidency, the image of U.S. leadership was not much better in the third year of his term. The median global approval rating for U.S. leadership across 135 countries and areas edged up to 33% in 2019. This rating is slightly higher than the previous low under Trump, but it is still one percentage point lower than the previous low of 34% under former President George W. Bush in 2008.”
According to the findings, “The image of U.S. leadership fared worst in Europe, where people remain as disenchanted with U.S. leadership as they were in 2017,” and Germany remained the “top-rated global power” for the third straight year. For details, go to: https://news.gallup.com/poll/316133/leadership-remains-unpopukar-worldwide.aspx
4. THE FLAGGING OF DISINFORMATION: New on-line products of interest to PD professionals continue to pop up all over the place. One of the summers best is a very useful, readable one on the “hot” topic of disinformation and how to counter it that has started coming out of the Wilson Center. Called “Flagged,” the free, weekly newsletter on “disinformation news, distilled” is produced by the Center‘s Science and Technology Innovation Program and curated by Disinformation Fellow Nina Jankowicz.
According to the Center, “Information flows are incessant; news fatigue is real. In addressing these issues, nothing matters more than the laws and policies that govern our information space. Amid the COVID-19 ‘infodemic,’ the choices our legislatures and social media platforms make could have repercussions for years to come. And we’ll be tracking and making sense of them for you.”
Jankowicz is a former Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellow who helped advise the Ukrainian foreign ministry on strategic communications. An analyst of the intersection of technology and disinformation in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond, she is the author of a new book titled, “How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News and the Future of Conflict”. For a preview of the newsletter, go to: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/flagged-will-facebooks-labels-help-counter-state-sponsored-propaganda
5. CHINA’S TARGETING OF UNSUSPECTING AMERICANS: Tensions between the U.S. and China continue to rise, as the closures of China’s consulate in San Francisco and America’s consulate in Chengdu recently showed. One U.S. Department of Justice announcement put the over-all rocky relationship into very specific, human terms and in the context of theft of U.S. technology and sensitive government information. A July 24, 2020, Justice press release announced that a Singaporean, Jun Wei Yeo, also known as Dickson Yeo, has entered a plea of guilty in federal court in Washington, DC to one count of acting in the U.S. as an illegal agent of Chinese intelligence.
According to the release, “The Chinese Government uses an array of duplicity to obtain sensitive information from unsuspecting Americans. Yeo was central to one such scheme, using career networking sites and a false consulting firm to lure Americans who might be of interest to the Chinese government. This is yet another example of the Chinese government’s exploitation of the openness of American society.”
The investigation into this matter was conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). According to The Straits Times of Singapore reports, Yeo was recruited by Chinese intelligence operatives in 2015 during a visit to Beijing. Yeo was a Ph.D. student in the well-known Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, where he was researching China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The School has reportedly terminated his Ph.D. candidature. Overall, the case is a good reminder to Americans about national security concerns and how vulnerable individuals with access to valuable information can be targeted through deceptive practices such as a fake consulting firm and use of professional networking social media sites with implausible career opportunities. For details, go to the Justice press release at: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/singaporean-national-pleads-guilty-acting-united-states-illegal-agent-chinese-intelligence
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.