1. MATT POTTINGER, CHINA, AND “VACCINE DIPLOMACY”: Matt who? Although he is not a household name, the low-profile Pottinger probably had more influence on the Trump Administration’s “get tough on China” policy and strategic communications than anyone else. As NSC’s Asia Director and then the Deputy National Security Advisor from the very start of the Trump years, the Chinese-speaking, former China correspondent of the Wall Street Journal carefully crafted and cleared almost anything having to do with China. This included the controversial State Department Fact Sheet: Activity at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which contained previously undisclosed information and was released just a few days before the inauguration. Pottinger suddenly resigned right after the January 6, 2021 march on The Capitol, left town, and hasn’t been much heard of since. But on February 21, 2021, he surfaced in a rather remarkable interview with CBS “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan that focused on COVID-19 and China’s role.
Only a few excerpts were aired on the network’s Sunday talk show, but the full 46-minute interview has been posted at: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/
Pottinger’s remarks help focus attention on the challenges of so-called “vaccine nationalism” and “vaccine diplomacy,” including China’s efforts to gain geopolitical influence through distribution of its various COVID-19 vaccines (Sinovac, Sinopharm, and CanSino Biologics). For a timely analysis of The U.S.-China Global Vaccine Competition, see the new American Enterprise Institute (AEI) report with that title by AEI scholars Derek Scissors, Dan Blumenthal, and Linda Zhang at: https://www.aei.org/research-
“Vaccine diplomacy”– with players like Russia, China, and India — and the so-called “global vaccine race” will likely gain more attention as the vaccine gap between rich and poor nations increases. (Ghana has just become the first country to obtain vaccine through Covax, the multilateral effort through the WHO to assist developing nations. President Biden has pledged $4 billion.) American PD practitioners will be challenged to defend how the United States — with more than 500,000 COVID-related deaths — is managing the pandemic within its borders and at the same time is cooperating, once again, with WHO and other countries and public-private partners to extend effective vaccines globally.
Meanwhile, “It’s Up to You.” — a huge national public service education campaign — was launched February 25, 2021 by the Ad Council and COVID Collaboration. The $52 million, multimedia ad campaign is intended to win over distinct groups of Americans who are skeptical about the vaccine. A wide variety of leading brands, media companies, and social platforms and services are partnering pro bono with the CDC on the campaign, arguably the largest and most important in many years. It will be closely watched and studied within the United States and beyond. To learn more about this initiative, visit: https://www.adcouncil.org/
As America’s domestic vaccine efforts are implemented, the United States will be under more pressure from the non-governmental organization world to share its expertise and resources, including the actual vaccine. A non-partisan global movement like One Campaign will influence public opinion as it advocates for historic global health initiatives like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. For example, to learn about One Campaign’s view of the “wildly unfair” vaccine problem in Africa, go to https://www.one.org/
2. INVESTING IN “DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION” AT STATE: Few PD community members — or anyone else — could argue with one of new Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s remarks on his very first day in the Department. On January 27, 2021 he told his employees: “We have to invest significantly in building a diverse and inclusive State Department. We need the most talented people. We need the most creative workforce. We cannot do our job of advancing America’s interests, values and commitment to democracy without a State Department that is truly representative of the American people.”
Less than a month later, the Secretary showed he was serious about creating a more diverse, fairer workplace when on February 24, 2021 he announced the creation of a new Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CDIO) position in the Department. He also asked each bureau to designate an existing Deputy Assistant Secretary to support that bureau’s own D&I efforts and serve on a newly created D&I Leadership Council to achieve the goals of a soon-to-be-released Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan.
Before finalizing its report, the Department may wish to take a close look at another large, highly-visible institution’s just-released diversity report. Against the backdrop of what it called “a societal reckoning around race,” The New York Times eight months ago commissioned a frank study of the company’s culture and practices and interviewed 400 employees. In releasing A Call to Action: Building a Culture That Works for All of Us, its publisher, Chief Executive and Executive Editor concluded: “The report found that we have made progress in diversifying the company in recent years — and that work will continue. But its central finding is that The Times is too often a difficult place to work for people of all backgrounds — particularly colleagues of color, and especially Black and Latino colleagues. It calls for us to transform our culture.” The report includes numerous recommendations and an action plan. See the full report at: https://www.nytco.com/company/
Meanwhile, others closer to State have been speaking out on D&I concerns. Several think pieces have helped put the challenges of minority recruitment and retention and the value of cultural diversity into perspective. One, by Deneyse Antoinette Kirkpatrick, Public Affairs Officer, U.S Embassy in Luanda, explains why Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are “ideal PD partners to advance U.S. foreign policy”. See her February 23, 2021 USC Center on Public Diplomacy (CPD) blog at: https://uscpublicdiplomacy.
Another perspective comes from Julia Wilson, CEO and founder of Wilson Global Communications, a strategic international public affairs and marketing communications consultancy based in Washington, D.C., and a former Fulbright grantee and journalist. She writes generally about the need to partner with other countries, NGOs and organizations to “expand the horizons of young people of color and to help prepare them to serve in, and lead, America’s near-future foreign diplomatic corps.” She also discusses her experience with the HBCU-China Network study abroad program which has the goal of grooming students of color for foreign service and global leadership. See her CPD Blog, Why Inclusion Matters in Public Diplomacy, at https://uscpublicdiplomacy.
A third view is written from the perspective of an Asian-American intern with mixed experiences at both the State Department and USAID. Chloe Chang, now a senior associate at Chemonics International, a USAID contractor, explains that “the problem of retention and promotion of Asian Americans is acute in the State Department and USAID” and welcomes the senior Biden team’s vow to address the lack of diversity early. For her “Diplomatic Diary” piece, go to: https://diplomaticacademy.
3. UNDERSTANDING THE COUP IN MYANMAR: One of the more challenging U.S. foreign policy concerns of the moment is how to respond — through sanctions and in other ways — to the harsh February 1, 2021, military coup in Myanmar (the United States still officially calls it Burma), which abruptly ended that nation’s transition to democracy. The general U.S. position, according to Secretary of State Blinken, is “we stand with the people of Burma.” Also, the United States sees ASEAN as having an absolutely essential role in resolving the crisis.
Kudos to the East-West Center (EWC), which organized a moving February 23, 2021 live, virtual seminar. The event served to update an audience of nearly 500 which joined on-line to hear about rapidly evolving coup-related issues, such as the future of a free press, the role of China, and what the global community can do to support a return to democracy. (Due to the newly imposed Myanmar internet curfew, the event’s starting time had to be changed to an hour later at short notice.)
The credible panel included two courageous, veteran Burmese journalists and press freedom advocates, Soe Myint, Editor-in-Chief, Mizzima News, Yangon, and Aung Zaw, Editor-in-Chief, The Irrawaddy, Yangon. Soe joined the program from a safe, undisclosed place within his country. Aung participated from Chiang Mai, Thailand. They were joined by Kavi Chongkittavorn, ASEAN expert and senior columnist, Bangkok Post, from Bangkok; Prof. Christina Fink from the GWU Elliott School of International Affairs, Washington, and author of Living in Silence in Burma: Surviving Under Military Rule; moderator Ramy Inocencio, CBS News Asian correspondent, based in Beijing; and host Susan Kreifels, Media Programs Manager, East-West Center, Honolulu. All four journalists are alumni of various EWC exchange programs.
The 90-minute program, part of the “EWC Seminars Live” bi-monthly series, left viewers impressed by the bravery and skills of Burmese journalists and the activists and mass demonstrators out in the streets, but worried for their safety and the country’s uncertain future. The recorded webinar is accessible at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
4. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SAINT LUCIA: The tiny Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia recently celebrated its 42nd independence day. In accordance with diplomatic tradition, Secretary of State Blinken sent his congratulations via a February 22, 2021 Department press release. Besides offering the usual diplomatic generalities about “our strong bilateral relationship” and democracy and human rights in the hemisphere, the Secretary noted a very specific accomplishment: “This year we completed the Early Learners Program, through which more than 90 schools received reading materials and teacher training to improve literacy among primary students.”
The reference was to a “good news” story: Saint Lucia was part of a five-year, $8.9 million Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)/USAID initiative to improve the reading skills of primary grade children in the six independent OECS member States. It was encouraging to hear that the program has been completed and that the United States is still doing so-called “traditional” development assistance programs that actually assist people at the community level. To date, the reading enhancement and professional development program has helped more than 17,000 students and 1,500 grades K to 3 teachers.
For more information about the Early Learners Program, visit: https://pressroom.oecs.org/us-
5. KEEPING UP WITH “THE INFLUENCE GAME”: Every four years after a Presidential election, there is an increase in PR, consulting and lobbying efforts as foreign governments and interests groups try to influence the new administration, as well as Congress, media, and American public opinion. To understand who is trying to sway whom and on what “hot” issues, a weekly newsletter called Foreign Lobby Report, which bills itself as “your gateway to Washington’s $500 million-a-year foreign influence industry,” makes a good read. Launched in 2020, it offers a roundup of foreign lobbying news and insights, including new, renewed, and terminated contracts and “people on the move”.
PD practitioners will find the report a good way to stay up-to-date on what issues “foreign principals” — legally registered lobbyists for foreign governments, businesses, and individuals — are currently trying to influence. (As “foreign agents”, they are required to register with the U.S. Department of Justice under FARA — the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.) A recent issue, for example, reported how clients such as South Korea, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Ethiopia, Hungary, and Qatar are all using lobbyists. For information about the Report, which was founded by editor Julian Pecquet, go to: https://www.foreignlobby.com/
For a competing daily newsletter that helps explain the influence and power dynamics in Washington and around the world, check out Politico Influence at https://www.politico.com/
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.