1. HATE CRIMES — ANOTHER PUBLIC DIPLOMACY CHALLENGE: Our ambassadors and PD officers suddenly have a new challenge: explaining what President Biden has called a “skyrocketing spike” of harassment and violence against Asian Americans and the need for the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to pass Congress. On several occasions since taking office, President Biden has clearly spoken out against anti-Asian xenophobia and hate. The terrible killings of eight people, including six Asian American women in Georgia on March 16 prompted him and Vice President Harris, the first woman and the first person of South Asian descent to hold that office, to meet with Asian American community leaders in Atlanta.
Gender-based and anti-Asian violence in the United States is not new, but it suddenly has become a huge concern exacerbated during the pandemic by use of phrases like “China virus”. In their Atlanta remarks, the two leaders emphasized that words have consequences and can spread hate. The correct term, the President said, is “coronavirus”. For the President’s March 19, 2021 White House statement, see: https://www.whitehouse.gov/
The grief and outrage over the treatment of Asian Americans has impacted the State Department, where the Asian American Foreign Affairs Association has spoken out about concerns such as security clearance discrimination and assignment restrictions based on ethnicity. A former diplomat who is now a Congressman, Andy Kim, has even gone public to charge that while serving at State he was restricted from working on anything related to the Korean Peninsula. For a report, see Ryan Heath’s March 18, 2021 POLITICO article, “Foreigners in Their Own Country: Asian Americans at State Department Confront Discrimination” at: https://www.politico.com/news/
Another sign of serious anti-Asian racism is a new open letter signed by numerous Asian American and Pacific Islander national security and diplomacy professionals. In their “National Security Statement on Anti-Hate and Discriminatory Practices,” the signers expressed their concerns and emphasized “we are proud Americans, and we love what America stands for: democracy and freedom.” See the statement at: https://pg-intel.com/defense/
PD practitioners who see the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes as a “teachable moment” might want to review the history of Asia immigration to the United States. They need to understand that Asian Americans are not a monolithic group and be able to address myths and stereotypes, such as Asian Americans as a “model minority”. Constance Grady of Vox reached out to experts in Asian American studies for a reading list. Their suggestions of books to read are at: https://www.vox.com/culture/
2. CHILLY CHINA-U.S. TALKS UP IN ALASKA: The March 17-18, 2021 meetings in Anchorage between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and their assertive counterparts, Wang Yi, State Councilor and Foreign Minister, and Yang Jiechi, director of the Central Affairs Commission Office, were significant in several ways. First, they were surprisingly testy and combative. Many of the normal diplomatic protocols shown in high-level meetings seemed to give way to theatrics and rather open and lengthy confrontations. Both sides raised many issues in a surprisingly direct way, and China seemed very confident on the world stage.
The talks clearly showed that the two competing powers have very real, fundamental differences — including over Xinxiang, Hong Kong, Tibet, Taiwan, cyber, economic coercion toward our allies, etc. — and are not afraid to highlight them in public. The United States side called the talks “very candid” and “tough and direct”, and said the meetings gave both sides the opportunity to very clearly layout policies, priorities, and worldview. The United States made very clear that it has been extensively consulting with its allies and partners over the past two months, and that its concerns are shared by the broader international community. China made it clear that it doesn’t like the United States meddling in its internal affairs or its “condescending” approach to the talks.
No joint agreement or statement was issued by the two parties at the conclusion of their meetings. For a few texts and background on the Anchorage talks, go to: https://www.state.gov/
Of special interest to PD practitioners, of course, is the question of whether the new competition between China and the United States will somehow turn into another Cold War-like battle of ideas. Writer Robert D. Kaplan of the Foreign Policy Research Institute tackles that concern in “The One-Sided War of Ideas with China,” a March 2, 2021 Foreign Policy analysis. For his view that all that matters to China are the construction and maintenance of trade routes, see his article at: https://foreignpolicy.com/
3. JAPAN ATTRACTS ATTENTION: Former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Japan from 1977-1989, always liked to say the U.S.-Japan relationship was “the most important relationship in the world, bar none.” China watchers may disagree, but they would not deny that the U.S.-Japan partnership is unusually robust. A few examples follow.
On March 11, 2021, the world joined Japan in observing the tenth anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdowns. The combined disasters, which killed 20,000 people, gave the United States a unique opportunity to show its friendship and provide search, rescue, and recovery efforts and relief assistance through Operation Tomodachi. As a reminder how Japan and the United States have always been there for each other when it matters most, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo produced a tenth-anniversary video message of support and remembrance from Charge’ d’Affaires Joe Young and former Ambassadors John Roos, Caroline Kennedy, and William Hagerty. To view the video, go to: https://jp.usembassy.gov/
Attention on Japan continued with the historic March 12, 2021 virtual summit meeting of “The Quad,” the loose coalition of four democracies — Japan, Australia, India, and the United States — broadly committed to the vision of “a free and open Indo-Pacific”. The four leaders — Yoshihide Suga, Scott Morrison, Narendra Modi, and Joe Biden — explained their commitment to The Quad in a joint op-ed in the March 14, 2021 Washington Post. Their byliner, which amazingly never mentions China by name, can be accessed at: https://www.washingtonpost.
Still more focus on the Japan-U.S. alliance came with the March 16-17, 2021 in-person visit to Tokyo by Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin for the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee (“2×2”) meeting. As Blinken explained: “It is no accident that we chose Japan for the first Cabinet-level overseas travel of the Biden-Harris administration. For more than 50 years, . . . our alliance has been a cornerstone for our peace, security and prosperity — not only for our two countries, but for the region, and indeed for the world.” Also, it was announced that Prime Minister Suga would be the first foreign leader to visit Biden in Washington in the first half of April.
Finally, in Washington, as the famous pink cherry blossoms pop out, the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, March 20-April 11, 2021, will focus on the “unshakable friendship” that the trees have symbolized for 109 years. Due to the pandemic, the Festival this spring is a hybrid of virtual and personal experiences, but still it will celebrate the deep people-to-people ties between the two partners. For details about the history of the cherry trees and the growth of the Festival, visit: https://
4.“TRANSFORMING STATE” — YET ANOTHER BLUEPRINT: A new study is out that makes recommendations on how to change the State Department with much-needed reforms to help it look more like diverse America and manage a foreign policy that delivers for all Americans. Some of the recommendations in Transforming State: Pathways to a More Just, Equitable, and Innovative Institution, a task force report from the nonprofit Truman Center for National Policy, will sound familiar because they endorse much of what others have already proposed. These include empowerment of the Department’s newly created position of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer; creation of a mid-career Foreign Service specialist entry program; and strengthening equity and transparency in promotions and assignments.
Two recommendations might be of special interest to public diplomacy. One is the establishment of an “office of state and local diplomacy” to expand diplomatic engagement across America by serving “as the connective tissue between state and local officials, urban and rural communities, and foreign policy leaders at the federal level.” The other is the establishment of an “office of innovation diplomacy “to “connect decentralized innovation hubs across the country and serve as a resource for State Department bureaus looking to connect overseas visitors to technology counterparts in those hubs.”
The task force was led by co-chairs Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, Congressman Joaquin Castro, and Senator Chris Murphy. Read the full report at: http://trumancenter.org/ideas/
5. DECLASSIFYING INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY (IC) ASSESSMENTS: It may not yet be a flood or even a trend, but there seems evidence that the work of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is increasingly being declassified and made public, thereby generating media and public reaction and affecting both policy and public opinion at home and abroad. Notable examples of newly declassified DNI reports include the March 1, 2021 assessment of “an elevated threat to the Homeland in 2021” posed by domestic violent extremists who are motivated by a range of ideologies and galvanized by recent political and societal events in the United States; the March 10, 2021 assessment of foreign actors, especially Russia, in attempting to influence the 2020 U.S. election; and the February 11, 2021 report concluding that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Each DNI assessment made headlines around the world and was generally welcomed. Each created some transparency to help the public better understand IC work and how it helps policymakers deal with complicated, sensitive issues, such as “foreign malign influence” on our democracy. For the text of Domestic Violent Extremism Poses Heightened Threat in 2021, go to https://www.dhs.gov/sites/
Meanwhile, respected retired diplomat and former Ambassador to Russia William J. Burns, by unanimous Senate consent, has been confirmed as the first career diplomat to serve as CIA director. Given his non-partisan public service record and knowledge of diplomacy and the media, he seems well prepared for the challenges of the new position. In his confirmation hearing, he said: “I learned that good intelligence, delivered with honesty and integrity, is America’s first line of defense. I learned that intelligence professionals have to tell policymakers what they need to hear, even if they don’t want to hear it. And I learned that politics must stop where intelligence work begins. That is exactly what President Biden expects of CIA.”
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.