Share America- Can it gain significant traction?

Since we have discussed Share America in class a few times, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at this public diplomacy effort led by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.On the IIP’s website, Macon Phillips notes that the bureau’s mission is to “engage audiences around the world to work with the United States on shared interests.” More specifically the IPP website notes that Share America as a “digital platform optimized so content can flow seamlessly across social media networks with easy access form mobile devices.”

With this in mind, the website’s layout and structure appears to fulfill this goal. The website looks exactly like Upworthy, a social media website designed to highlight things that matter on the internet and “pass em on,” as each of Share America’s post includes a “Tweet This” and “Share This.” The days stories are easy to access, and from what is being discussed, it is easy to decipher what  values the United States is promoting as they are listed under the search feature “themes.” The first few include democracy, diversity, civil society, and education. Therefore, there is a consistent and clear narrative. And as a reviews noted on Facebook, the simplicity of the website with its shorter stories is good for English beginners, which if helpful for students looking to study in the U.S. or citizens around the world looking to immigrate the the U.S.

However, as a one stop digital platform for sharing America, something about Share America seems a bit off. As a millennial who has long utilized digital platforms as a means to gather news, I am not sure if this website would be a place I would go, but to test these suspicions, I emailed my four cousins in New Zealand and simply sent them the website and asked them their thoughts. Two were suspicious of the .gov address and the explanation that the website was an effort by the State Department. One asked if this was news or propaganda. The third cousin said she appreciated the optimistic tone of the website noting that it reflected the optimistic nature of the American people, and the fourth cousin simply noted that it was easy to use, but the headlines were not “real news.” Although this is a narrow sample, I thought there feedback matched my suspicions, and upon further investigation of the website’s Facebook and Twitter, Share America does have a Twitter following of almost 50,000 people, but overall engagement on both Facebook and Twitter appear to be low. This is interesting since one of the goals of the website is to stimulate conversation and encourage a flow of information across digital platforms, yet the shares and comments are low on most stories.

Overall, I think it will be difficult for Share America to gain the significant traction that the website is designed to have because of factors such as the crowded media environment on the internet, the narrow focus on youth readers and social media, and the question of whether such a website is real news or just propaganda. Regardless, it will be interesting continue to watch this website to see what impact, if any, this website will have on American diplomacy efforts in the digital age.

Russia Today > Putin today

rt-logoFor the most part, I would not depict Russia or its President Putin of possessing optimal skills in public diplomacy.  Propaganda, maybe – not public diplomacy.  However, despite this, Russia has propelled one of its public diplomacy efforts world wide and with relatively high standards and respect.  RT, which stands for Russia Today, is a broadcasting effort that “provides an alternative perspective on major global events, and acquaints an international audience with the Russian viewpoint.”

I love this description particularly because it honestly portrays itself as an effort to disseminate the Russian viewpoint.  In my opinion, this statement is excellent and creates all the difference in terms of my respect for this organization.  Namely, because unlike Fox News, which claims to be “Fair and Balanced“, RT accepts the fact that their position as a news organization is biased, thus allowing its audience to take that into consideration upon absorbing its information.  Knowing that every news organization in the world is biased to some extent, I sincerely respect RT for acknowledging its own bias especially when the majority of news organizations place an enormous amount of effort and capital on ensuring audiences of their complete neutrality.

In addition to their forthright self-portrayal, RT has made a number of accomplishments including reaching an audience of “over 700 million people in 100+ countries” in four languages.   Part of this success is undoubtedly due to RT’s outstanding presence on YouTube.  RT was actually the first TV news channel to reach one BILLION views on YouTube.  RT’s YouTube presence alone shows its owners’ immense foresight into the best media platforms to reach young, emerging audiences.

RT has represented itself honestly, disseminated itself wisely and promoted itself under the purposeful slogan, “Question More“.  I see RT as an excellent example of public diplomacy in the way that it promotes and portrays world news stories through the Russian lens.  I appreciate that it does this strategically and honestly.

However – while I, personally, respect RT – as an effort to make global audiences like Russia and its people more, I guesstimate that RT is not the taking the best approach.  I say this because – while I am quite blunt and unapologetic and appreciate this characteristic in others – I recognize that a lot of people do not appreciate those qualities.  While looking at RT’s “USA” page, I am even quite annoyed at the way RT has taken every opportunity to portray the United States government as evil and incompetent.  However, that being said, when I see this I remember that RT has already acknowledged its own bias, and that makes me less mad.  I also appreciate it because while RT is quite harsh towards the United States, perhaps it does provide, to some extent, a view of the U.S. and the rest of the world that Americans should consider.  Much like how the U.S. tends to demonize Russia, perhaps we, as Americans, should take a closer look at ourselves through that hypercritical lens, and make an effort to address some of those critiques that we can’t bring ourselves to admit.

Or, on the other hand, perhaps RT just effectively implemented soft power on Russia’s behalf – persuading me (and others) to think just the way they hoped.


The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is one of many public diplomacy programs funded by the U.S. Department of State.  This particular initiative is a professional exchange directed towards current and emerging international leaders to enrich their knowledge of American history, culture and society.  To provide some background on the program’s implementation, in 1940, Nelson Rockefeller was designated Coordinator of Commercial and Cultural Affairs and invited 130 Latin American Journalists to the the United States.  This exchanged continued through several administrations and was eventually realized as the IVLP.  There are several aspects of this public diplomacy program that I admire.

For one, the IVLP has dedicated itself to the cultural exchange of foreign leaders into the American way of life.  Visitors have the opportunity travel to different cities, experience the the classroom setting and converse with their counterpart leaders.  They are also able to share their own cultural experiences and perspectives with us.  The website provides plenty of anecdotal evidence that the program expands the horizon of both the visitor and the host.  This is important, because as a communicative concept, culture can either represent a barrier or a pathway to a fruitful relationship.  Public diplomacy is meant to arm the positive aspects of any country’s public image and the IVLP represents just that.   It breaks down the cultural barriers between the host and visitor and provides an avenue to a mutual learning experience.  Ashraf Gamal of Egypt had this to say:

“I came to the conclusion that I come from a different culture from yours, but through food and culinary arts we can cooperate and understand each other.  I have a dream to fight hunger and poverty…..And we can work together to protect the planet and feed future generations.” – See more at:

International Visitor Leadership Program

The International Visitor Leadership Program first started in 1940 when Nelson Rockefeller, the Coordinator of Commercial and Cultural Affairs, invited Latin American journalists the US. This  cultural exchange would later become the IVLP and since it’s inception it has hosted around 5,000 visitors annually. A wide variety of former and current leaders have gone through the program, which is typically three weeks, and involves meetings, dinners, and cultural events that pair the foreign officer’s interests with similar ones held by Americans. For example, people interested in free speech have been partnered with NPR and other news outlets, while those interested in journalism would be placed with a news agency. The program, from all the information I could find, seems to be a way to bring rising leaders to the United States who otherwise might lack a solid comprehension of our culture. How this plays into how favorably these people view the United States is up for debate; however, the end goal of the program is to raise awareness of our culture, politics, and people. The part I liked about the program was the ability of citizens to become “citizen diplomats” through hosting the visiting leaders either socially or professionally. If properly implemented, this part of the program could provide visiting leaders with exposure to “normal” Americans who may have a different agenda than higher ranked leaders who are wholly committed to maintaining a perfect image of the US (which arguably we lack anyway).

By all accounts, the program seems to work well for providing an initial exposure for foreign leaders to the US “way”. I like that the foreign leaders are nominated by worldwide US embassies to come the United States, and I REALLY like that for certain countries this could be the first exposure to conversations with normal Americans who work in jobs the visitors would like the in the future. The projects that the foreign visitors are engaged with vary from women’s rights, to education, to energy security. I think that the program on it’s face looks very beneficial for both the US and the foreign visitor as a method for exposure and in many cases, the US professional becomes acquainted with a person who, in many cases, becomes their counterpart. Measurement of success of the program isn’t really tangible from the sources I could find; rather, the program provides a small foundation to United States society.


Rich, yes; Beautiful, maybe; And then what else

David Shambaugh argues in his recent book “China Goes Global: The Partial Power” that China is absolutely not a cultural power and not yet a diplomatic power in the world today. His assertion may sound that he underestimate China’s power since many view China as the “rising power” or “to-be super power” of 21st Century. However, I personally agree with his argument that China is still a partial power in the world today, and missing piece of China’s power is greatly due to its not yet successful public diplomacy. Yes, the Chinese government has poured large amount of money into public diplomacy. However, I am suspicious of the effect of such investment.

One public diplomacy program I want to talk about today is the promotion video of China that was played in New York’s Times Square. This 60 seconds video was shown in six big screens on the center of New York’s Times Square in order to promote China as a “beautiful country with many faces.” The idea behind is to show various faces of Chinese people—the famous and the ordinary—to give Western audience a more direct visualization of mysterious “China”. This video was played in the center of Times Square and the use of six big screens can certainly tell us this is not a small amount of advertisement fee for the Chinese government. Despite the big investment in this program, the promotion video lacks a focus or a clear central motif which makes it another “nice but not very helpful” branding for China. Though it does show many different faces of Chinese people, the message of this video is unclear. Furthermore, the abstract and seemingly classy showcase of China as “beauty” only reinforce the idea that China is a distant oriental nation. No ground breaking. And no agenda can be really achieved, so as many other public diplomacy programs implemented by the Chinese government so far. China is still a somehow distant concept for many people in the other half of the earth. As David Shambaugh argues in his book that the most intuitive way to know China’s cultural power is that ask ourselves or our friends that how many Chinese songs or Chinese movies that they can name. The answer for many Americans will be “none.” It is a clear sign of failure of public and cultural diplomacy since China is a country to be remembered for its GDP or population, and anything else are largely abstract and distant for non-Chinese people.

Small, but Mighty! The New Zealand National Narrative

In 1840, New Zealand signed the treaty of Waitangi to become apart of the British empire, and for roughly the next one hundred and thirty years, New Zealand followed the foreign policy of the British Empire. It supported Britain in World War I and World War II, and it supported the United States during the Cold War. New Zealand also supported nuclear testing in the Pacific ocean because the small nation felt believed that supporting large western powers was essential to its security and diplomatic power. This kind of thinking led to the signing of the ANZUS treaty in 1951, which established a military alliance between New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, which in essence, stated that if one of the nations were attached, it was the same as an attack on the other two nations. Yet, as Western powers continued to test nuclear bombs in the Pacific, New Zealand became weary with concerns that the testing was harming their environment and population.

This concern turned to the public outcry through petitions and protests. Then in response to its concerns, New Zealand and Australian approached the World Court in 1973 to protest nuclear testing in the Pacific. This only forced all testing underwater to which the World Court believed was a sufficient response to New Zealand’s concerns. This only fueled New Zealand’s frustrations, and protests continued as opposition to nuclear ships carrying nuclear arms rose from 32% to 72% between 1972 and 1983. But, as a part of the ANZUS treaty, New Zealand had to allow U.S. ships to port in New Zealand. In an effort to at least establish transparency, New Zealand asked the United States to clarify which ships carried nuclear weapons and which ships did not, but the United States refused and merely noted that it could neither confirm nor deny which ships carried nuclear weapons. New Zealand did not accept this answer, and after attempting to negotiate with the U.S., it declared New Zealand a nuclear free zone in 1984, broke the ANZUS treaty, and banned nuclear ships from its ports.

So, with this important context in mind, New Zealand formed what has become its national narrative; one in which is adequately defined by a nuclear protester comment, “we were like a little fish in the world telling a big fish no.” New Zealand, for the first time in it’s national history, had made its own foreign policy; one that has serious repercussions on the United States. New Zealand Prime Minister at the time, David Lange stated after establishing the ban,

“This will change everything – there’ll be no going back. We’ll cut ourselves adrift economically, militarily, culturally . the umbilical cord to our past has been severed. New Zealand will never be the same again… we were hedgehog New Zealand, curling ourselves up into a frightened little ball and praying the outside world wouldn’t run over us. Tomorrow we stand up in the full glare of the international spotlight and say: “This is who we are, this is what we believe, and damn the consequences!”

This narrative has defined New Zealand since the 1980s, and it has led the country to become a very fair and good international player. Today, it is celebrated for this narrative, which was most recently displayed in October of this year when New Zealand, a nation of 4.5 million, won more than two-thirds of the UN General Assembly to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Foreign Minister Murray McCully stated after the vote, “We want to be the sort of country that listens to countries that are affected by the deliberations of the council. I think there’s been a view abroad that that doesn’t happen.” Thus, it seems that New Zealand and its leaders will continue to adhere the small, but politically mighty narrative as they take their seat on UN Security Council starting next November. It certainly will be interesting to watch how this narrative impacts their efforts on the council.

Narrative of past, justification for now

Week 11/12

  1. Explain how a specific narrative provides an important basis for a country’s foreign policy. You could write about how a narrative constrains the options for policy or action, or, how it provides a consistent resource of justification (i.e. how narratives of American exceptionalism fuel certain kinds of US policies). This speaks to the arguments we talked about in class regarding the role that strategic narratives play in framing how leaders and publics understand, rationalize, and argue for particular policies and obligations.

For this blog entry, I will talk about how narrative for Japanese invasion of China for both first and second Sino-Japanese war contribute to a consistent justification for Chinese government’s claim over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

It is often argued that there is a rising anti-Japanese sentiment in China nowadays, given evidence by regularly break out of anti-Japanese protests and strong reaction towards Japanese governmental behaviors such like officials went to visit controversial Yasukuni Shrine. Many regard this as a historical problem after the Japanese invasion in China and the legacy of the war continuously shadow over the relationship between two countries. However, it may be too hasty to say that Japan and China have always struggled for historical issues after the end of war. In fact, after Japan established a formal foreign relation with China in 1978, China and Japan was in “honey moon” period for almost two decades. As a tacit unofficial war compensation to China, Japanese government provide a huge amount of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to China over years. An example from IR field will be that when China was criticized by almost all western countries for its cruel crackdown on student demonstration in Tiananman Square 1989, Japanese government did not exercise too much financial constrain or public criticism. Instead, Japanese emperor and empress actually visited China after the event and this was interpreted as a sign of support for the Chinese government by Japanese government.

If the anti-Japanese sentiment is not so much a product of history—or at least, not always so—what cause Chinese people today appear to be so anti-Japanese? I argue that it is not so much about history itself, but the narrative of history that the state is trying to create. There is a change in perspective about history between Japan and China. When China and Japan established formal diplomatic relation, both countries agree to leave the disputes over history for the future generation and build relationship for now. This consent agreement of putting economic cooperation in front of historical dispute make China and Japan close partners even until today. The history education did not emphasis on the part about Japanese invasion, nor did broadcast program or national propaganda. It is believed that the Chinese government do so in order to focus on work with Japan for economic development.

The narrative changed, however, when China’s economy grow fast and become a rising power in the world. The national education campaign put much more emphasis on patriotism toward PRC and the narrative behind is that China suffer from “a century of humiliation” by invasion of foreign nations and it finally rise up again as a big power in the world. The patriotism education call youngsters to know the suffering of their nation’s past to appreciate development of China today, it also warn youngsters to be aware that “if you leave behind, you will be bitten by others” which refers to what happened to China in last century. The implication will be that if China stop growing economically and militarily, it will once again face the crisis and humiliation in history.

Japan is a big part of this narrative. And de depiction of Imperial Japan as a “thief”, “robber”, and “murder” which take away many territory of China under “humiliating” concession is prevailed in history textbook, documentary, movies, dramas, and even news report. The narrative is set in such way that the resistance of Japanese government or officials to acknowledge or admit some historical views that are in discussion (for example, number of victims in Nanking Massacre) is a danger sign that Japanese militarism is still alive and it may come back one day to reproduce the tragedy in history again.

Then some may ask, but how does this link to the island dispute? In my opinion, the narrative established here is very crucial for Chinese government’s justification for its claim over islands, especially to convince Chinese people. Chinese claim over Senkaku/ Diaoyu island has three key component: First, Diaoyu Island is historically a part of Taiwan; Second, Taiwan is always a part of China, and therefore Diaoyu, as a part of Taiwan, should be always a part of China as well. Thirdly, China ceded Diaoyu as a part of Taiwan in Shimonoseki Treaty with Japan 1895. Shimonoseki Treaty is a treaty signed by China’s Qing government after lose to Japan in the first Sino-Japanese war. Shimonoseki treaty is regarded or told by Chinese media and textbook as a humiliation to Chinese nation, and “robbery” of Imperial Japan which take away territories from China.

Therefore, the narrative set the tone in such a way that Diaoyu island is a part of Chinese territory should be “returned” to China and Japan is ruthless invader who occupy China’s Diaoyu Island since it defeated China in its first invasion war. Chinese scholars further attack that this island should be returned under Japan’s statement for unconditional surrender, however due to protection from Western countries like the U.S., it is not returned to China. However, such claim is never voiced out clearly by the Chinese official when occupy period ends and U.S. return autonomy to Japan, it is never openly discussed when China and Japan establish formal diplomatic relation. This power narrative now is used as a justification by Chinese government to claim that this island was always a part of China until it is lose to Japan in the first Sino-Japanese war; Japan should return it after the ending of the Second World War, but it never done so and continued to occupy Diaoyu island. Therefore, it is in every right of China to “tack back” Diaoyu island which lost to “foreign invader.” The implication of this whole set up of narrative is clear: China is no longer the Qing Empire in the century of humiliation; China is again return as world’s big power and will never allow formal invader like Japan to insult China by occupying Chinese territory which Japan “robbed” from China. This narrative is a powerful one, since it has historical assertion, backed up by strong nationalism sentiment, and also warned Chinese people for “Japan’s reviving militarism.” I would therefore argue that this narrative is the strong source of justification for Chinese foreign policy towards Japan especially regarding territorial dispute issue.