1. U.S. CRACKS DOWN ON CONFUCIUS INSTITUTES: The days when China could quite freely sponsor Confucius Institutes (CIs) to promote Chinese language and culture on U.S. campuses are over. The State Department has decided to designate the Confucius Institute U.S. Center (CIUS), which is the Washington, DC-based de facto headquarters of the CI network, as “a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China.” According to a fact sheet released on August 13, 2020 by the Office of the Spokesperson, CIs “push out skewed Chinese language and cultural training for U.S. students as part of Beijing’s multifaced propaganda efforts.” There are currently 65 CIs active on U.S. campuses (including one at George Washington University) and 10 functioning as standalone organizations around the country.
The long-term impact of this new action on issues such as reciprocity and academic freedom, and on China’s PD activities in the United States or U.S. PD work in China is not clear. State has said the move will close neither the CIUS nor individual institutes, but “will ensure much needed transparency by requiring the CIUS to regularly provide information to the State Department about PRC citizen personnel, recruiting, funding, and operations in the United States.”
According to the Department, “The influence of the Chinese government and impact of Chinese Communist Party ideology on Confucius Institute programming has long been a cause for concern on U.S campuses, as has the governing arrangements of individual Confucius Institutes which often lack transparency.”
For the State fact sheet, go to: https://www.state.gov/confucius-institute-u-s-center-designation-as-a-foreign-mission/.
For the text of an August 13, 2020 briefing by Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell and Acting Director of the Office of Foreign Missions Clifton Seagroves on “actions taken to counter PRC influence operations,” go to: https://www.state.gov/briefing-with-assistant-secretary-for-east-asian-and-pacific-affairs-david-r-stilwell-and-acting-director-of-the-office-of-foreign-missions-clifton-c-seagroves-on-actions-taken-to-counter-prc-i/.
2. A DAMAGED “DEEP STATE DEPARTMENT”: Troubles within U.S. diplomacy continue to draw public attention and generate concern. Among the latest is an unusually long analysis in the August 15, 2020 edition of The Economist, the prestigious, independent international weekly published since 1843. Headlined America’s State Department: The Dereliction of Diplomacy, the article is a good, hard analysis of the many problems which have created a malaise in American diplomacy and “damaged and demoralized” the country’s Foreign Service. The theme is: “Donald Trump dismisses it as the ‘Deep State Department’. Yet America needs it more than ever.” According to the article, “three things have created a sense of urgency” and alarm over the state of the Department: “Covid-19, the kind of crisis where America is expected to take a lead but has faltered”; “the rise of China”; and “its undermining by its own government.”
A number of prominent former diplomats are quoted, and two particularly helpful graphs are included: “Mission Creep,” which shows how China now tops the United States in a number of diplomatic posts, and “A Sorry State,” which shows how the number of people taking the foreign service officer exam has been plummeting since 2010. The solution to the problems, according to reformers, is “America must make diplomacy a first resort” and that will require “more money, more manpower and far better management.”
For access to this important, fire-walled article, go to economist.com/international/2020/08/13/the-dereliction-of-american-diplomacy.
3. “RESCUING” U.S. FOREIGN POLICY?: Partisan politics and personalities aside, many PD professionals are closely following the Presidential campaign for clues as to how a Biden Administration might differ from the Trump Administration.
To understand how a President Joe Biden would deal with the world, I recommend the candidate’s recent Foreign Affairs article, Why America Must Lead Again: Rescuing U.S. Foreign Policy After Trump. It offers a comprehensive view of the immediate steps he would take “to renew U.S. democracy and alliances, protect the United States’ economic future and once more have America lead the world.” PD per se is not explicitly addressed, but about diplomacy generally, he writes:
“Diplomacy is not just a series of handshakes and photo ops. It is building and tending relationships and working to identify areas of common interest while managing points of conflict. It requires discipline, a coherent policymaking process, and a team of experienced and empowered professionals. As president, I will elevate diplomacy as the United States’ principal tool of foreign policy. I will reinvest in the diplomatic corps, which this administration has hollowed out, and put U.S. diplomacy back in the hands of genuine professionals.”
For the full text, go to https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-01-23/why-america-must-lead-again.
4. REDUCING “ZOOM FATIGUE”: The Public Diplomacy Council – like most other professional or civic organizations, universities, businesses and government agencies – has discovered that online video chat is a good way to stay in touch and do programs during this unprecedented pandemic time. A good example of an effective Zoom event was the August 3, 2020 First Monday DC/PDAA/USC “music diplomacy” salute to the legendary VOA jazz host Willis Conover. But the communications tool can also be virtually — and actually — exhausting. The BBC has interviewed two workplace experts on why video calls can be so tiring and how “Zoom fatigue” can be reduced. Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at INSEAD, and Marissa Shuffler, an associate professor at Clemson University, discuss what’s different compared to face-to-face communications and give some tips on how to alleviate fatigue and even go “old-school”.
Read “The Reason Zoom Calls Drain Your Energy” at: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200421-why-zoom-video-chats-are-so-exhausting
5. “STAMP DIPLOMACY” DURING THE COLD WAR: With the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service (USPS) getting so much political attention these days, PD professionals and Cold War historians may enjoy learning how U.S. postage stamps played a role during the Cold War. The U.S. Government has long realized that stamps can be used not only to educate but also influence people at home and even abroad.
During its heyday, the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) was represented on the original, seven-member Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee appointed by the Postmaster General in 1957 to consider and recommend stamp designs. Matin Modarressi, who has researched philately and foreign affairs, has written an interesting commentary, Stamps and Spies: The CIA’s Involvement in Postage Design, for War on the Rocks, a national security newsletter. He writes:
“Art, literature, and music were all means by which the United States tried to portray itself as more culturally refined than, and therefore superior to, the Soviet during the Cold War. While the CIA’s covert funding of cultural front organizations has received a lot of attention, U.S. government documents reveal that the designs of the ‘Champions of Liberty’ series and other Cold War-era stamps were similarly co-opted by the nation’s top intelligence and military officials.” (“Champions” was a popular stamp series between 1957-1961 which honored ten foreign leaders.)
According to Modarressi, the USIA director or his deputy at the time, Abbott Washburn, attended monthly stamp committee meetings and also meetings of the Operations Coordinating Board of the National Security Council. The use of stamps as a foreign policy tool and ideas for commemorative stamps sometimes came up at these meetings. Modarressi concludes: “As politicians debate the future of the U.S. Postal Service, history shows that the message inside the envelope is not the only one the stamp delivers.”
For his article, go to warontherocks.com/2020/07/stamps-and-spies-the-cias-involvement-in-postage-design/. For information on how today’s USPS chooses stamps to “celebrate the American experience,” go to about.usps.com/who/csac/.
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.