The summit was surprisingly transparent and public. It was live-streamed — with few technical glitches — so that people literally around the world could watch how their leaders are trying to ramp up their climate efforts and how private and nongovernmental sectors, too, are engaging. The main news was the President’s announcement that the United States has put forward an ambitious target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 52% below 2005 levels by the year 2030.
At times, the event looked like a made-for-TV special, with Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry in the East Room of the White House seated, news anchor-like, at a horseshoe table before a large, Zoom-like screen which projected a steady stream of U.S. official participants, several dozen world leaders, and various expert speakers. Even adversaries like Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi Jinping showed up, and there were small “breakout sessions”. One of the “stars” of the event was a teenage climate activist, Xiye Bastida. Originally from Mexico and now living in New York, she was passionate about telling her story about starting a youth activism program.
As PD practitioners know so well, high-profile events like summit meetings “don’t just happen.” The planning, protocol, coordination, implementation, and follow-up are staggering. Such special events are complicated and — especially when virtual — always require special media arrangements and reliable communications technology.
Regardless of what one might think about Biden’s evolving climate change policy and the United States lead-up to “COP 26” to be held in Glasgow in November, the Administration deserves credit for taking risks and hosting such a major diplomatic event so quickly. Professionals behind-the-scenes in places like State’s Bureaus of Global Public Affairs, Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, and Energy Resources, and in our embassies deserve kudos for their invaluable support.
The White House and State prepared an avalanche of public materials to support the summit and explain U.S. policy. For examples, visit: www.state.gov/climatesummit. Also, video clips on the summit were quickly posted through the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS) at www.dvidshub.net/unit/USDOS.
2. REMEMBERING VEEP MONDALE AS AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN: Walter Mondale died in Minneapolis on April 19, 2021 at the age of 93. Most of the media coverage and tributes focused on his domestic political accomplishments as a liberal Senator from Minnesota and then Vice President under Jimmy Carter. Generally overlooked was his end-of-career service as President Clinton’s popular Ambassador to Japan from 1993-1996. The U.S. Embassy Tokyo moved quickly to post President Biden’s message expressing “great sadness” and “great gratitude” for “a dear friend and mentor,” and a virtual Book of Condolence. Messages were not posted publicly, but a selection will be passed on to the Mondale family.
As Ambassador, Mondale effectively managed U.S.-Japan relations during challenging times of numerous trade disputes, two Presidential visits, and the 1995 high-profile rape of an Okinawan school girl by three U.S. servicemen which led to negotiations to return land used by the Marines for Futenma Air Station on Okinawa. (Relocation of that base remains a highly controversial political issue for Okinawans and between Japan and the United States.)
Veteran public diplomacy officer Paul Blackburn, who was Tokyo Public Affairs Officer from 1992-1996, had fond memories of his former boss and Ambassador. In 2002 oral history interviews with the Association of Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST), Blackburn remembered Mondale: “In my view, he represents the highest standard of integrity and public service. Besides that, I found him to be good-hearted and on the right side of issues that I care about. The Japanese were delighted to have him there as our Ambassador. They love to have us send an ‘oo-mono’ — meaning a person of great prestige as well as substance, someone with the ear of the President, like a (Mike) Mansfield, Tom Foley, or Howard Baker. Mondale made an excellent public impression. He particularly enjoyed talking to bright and powerful younger people, the second echelon power structure, if you will. He wanted to get things done, while minimizing long discussions and formal exchange of platitudes that are so much a part of meetings with older Japanese.”
Blackburn also recalled the great contributions of the Ambassador’s spouse, who was well known as a patron of the arts and an artist (she enjoyed crafting pottery): “Joan Mondale was enthusiastic about being in Japan. She always seemed to be having a great time, was ever on the go, and made friends easily. Known during her Washington years as ‘Joan of Art,’ she had an activist agenda for promoting closer cultural ties between the United States. and Japan. Her pet project was promoting U.S.-style ‘public art’ in Japan, and in collaboration with CAO (Cultural Affairs Officer) Art Zegelbone developed an interesting talk on the subject that she presented at numerous venues.”
For ADST transcripts of separate interviews with both Mondale and Blackburn, go to: adst.org/oral-history-
For another retired PD officer’s take on working for Ambassador Mondale, see “an appreciation” in the April 21, 2021 edition of The Diplomat at https://thediplomat.com/2021/
3.“30@30” HIGHLIGHTS ENGLISH LANGUAGE PROGRAM EFFORTS: English teaching is an important part of State Department’s public diplomacy tool box, but it doesn’t often get much attention. Therefore, it was good to learn that the Specialist Program under the Office of English Language Programs in the Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs (ECA) throughout this year has been celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Since its inception in 1991, the English Language Specialist Program has sent more than 800 TESOL educators (frequently full professors) to more than 80 countries, where they “encouraged critical thought and erudition, celebrated their cultural diversity, and showcased their American values and civic engagement strategies to millions of educators and students.” (In 2020, due to the pandemic, the Specialist Program saw a 3,000% increase in its virtual programming.)
Each Specialist works on a project — in-country from 10 days to three months in duration, virtual, or a combination of both — that is unique and based on the needs of the host country. According to ECA, successful projects have included: Developing a national textbook in Uzbekistan with the Ministry of Education; consulting in the development and validation of the Vietnam Standardized Test of English Proficiency; establishing a consortium of writing centers in Russia; training teachers in instructional technology and materials development in Venezuela; developing and publishing training materials for English Access Microscholarship Program teachers in South Africa; developing a TESOL certificate course in Egypt; and developing and facilitating a TESOL methodology course for trainers of teachers in Afghanistan.
To mark the 30th anniversary, the program has been honoring a select group of 30 Specialists — called “30@30” — who have made a lasting impact on the TESOL field. To read their profiles, go to: https://elprograms.org/30th-
4. “THE VACCINE AGAINST DISINFORMATION” — IT’S BEING BLOCKED: The latest report showing that press freedom is endangered around the world has just been released by the nongovernmental Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Its “World Press Freedom Index 2021” shows that “journalism, the main vaccine against disinformation, is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries ranked by the organization.”
RFS Secretary-General Christophe Deloire explained that the Index data reflect a dramatic deterioration in people’s access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage: “Journalism is the best vaccine against disinformation. Unfortunately, its production and distribution are too often blocked by political, economic, technological and, sometimes, even cultural factors. In response to the virality of disinformation across borders, on digital platforms and via social media, journalism provides the most effective means of ensuring that public debate is based on a diverse range of established facts.”
The new findings on the current media freedom situation show that the three countries most effective at upholding press freedom are Norway (still #1), Finland (still #2), and Sweden (up 1 at #3). The least effective three countries are: Turkmenistan (up 1 at 178th), North Korea (up 1 at 179th), and Eritrea (down 2 at 180th). China (177th), which “continues to take Internet censorship, surveillance and propaganda to unprecedented levels,” remains firmly among the worst countries. The country that fell the most in 2021 was Malaysia (down 18 to 119th), where “the problems include a recent ‘anti-fake news’ decree allowing the government to impose its own version of the truth.”
The United States (down 1 at 44th) was still classified as “fairly good” “despite the fact that Donald Trump’s final year in the White House was marked by a record number of assaults against journalists (around 400) and arrests of members of the media (130), according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, of which RSF is a partner.”
Published every year since 2002, the Index is an important “point of reference” that journalists, diplomats and international organizations, like the World Bank and the UN, cite. The criteria used are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information. For the full findings, go to https://rsf.org/en.
5. SECRETARY BLINKEN VISITS “THE BAY”: Secretaries of State don’t often have time to get out of Washington and engage with domestic audiences, and — when they do — it doesn’t always get much attention. This was the case with Secretary Antony Blinken’s April 19, 2021 visit to Annapolis, MD to the headquarters of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).
His speech topic was “Tackling the Crisis and Seizing the Opportunity: America’s Global Climate Leadership,” and the venue was CBF’s Philip Merrill Environmental Center, reportedly “the first building in the world to be certified LEED Platinum.” The site could not have been more appropriate — right on the beautiful shores of the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay, whose 63,000-mile watershed is often cited as a model for environmental restoration.
Timed just before both Earth Day and President Biden’s big Leaders Summit on Climate, the visit was important because it provided an ideal venue for the Secretary to make the case for how a foreign policy crisis, like climate, has direct relevance to local issues and concerns back home. As the Secretary noted, “warming temperatures caused by human activity are transforming the Bay.” The trip gave the Secretary an opportunity to highlight the important work that a nongovernmental organization such as the CBF — with more than 300,000 members — does with its commitment to save the Bay, whose watershed is where more than 18 million Americans live.
For the text and video of the Secretary’s CBF speech, go to https://www.state.gov/
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.