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In my previous contribution to this site I offered a brief and wide-ranging survey of contemporary Chinese public diplomacy which I described as "work in progress." China's relations with such odious regimes as Zimbabwe, together with its continued intimidation of democratic Taiwan, mean that positive developments, such as its increasingly affable and sensitive attitude towards Japan and its role in defusing nuclear crises in the Korean peninsula, are obscured.
This is the first of what I intend as a series of occasional postings about public diplomacy and soft power in and towards Asia, focusing principally on the People's Republic of China. This site is understandably concerned with western approaches to, and practices of, public diplomacy, especially as they relate to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the challenges of international terrorism. My aim is to draw attention to non-western perspectives that acknowledge, but are not dominated by, events in the Middle East.
The many justifications for U.S. public diplomacy policy range from the concrete to the abstract. In forums such as this Web site, public diplomacy is described as both a specialized instrument for foreign policy promotion, as well as a symbol of the lofty ideals of promoting international dialogue and cultural understanding. Yet the instrumental aspect of public diplomacy typically boils down to the amplification of United States ethos.
From their offices in Washington and its suburbs, U.S. government officials charged with explaining the American way to publics abroad were put to the test last week by the Virginia Tech shootings.
When I give my course, "Propaganda and US Foreign Policy" (1) -- a historical overview of the subject -- I like to invite the class for a modest buffet dinner chez moi. The last time this get-together took place, it included a screening of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935), a film -- considered by some a propaganda classic -- that celebrates the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg. As the students ate their dessert, I turned on the DVD, and the Nazi director's troubling yet spectacular black-and-white images appeared.
U.S. public diplomacy programs aim to cultivate connections between foreign publics and the United States, which in theory fosters greater understanding of the United States, its motivations, and ultimate policy objectives. It should make sense of U.S. politics and reveal a more "objective" picture of the stewards of U.S. policy, who act at the behest of the American people. And it’s not an exact science. Strongly entrenched negative views about the U.S. in the Middle East (and elsewhere) continue to push the State Department towards new ideas for how this can be accomplished.
If there is one constant in discussion about public diplomacy in the United States these days, it is policy criticism. Such criticism has been a booming industry since the early days of the Bush administration – as U.S. popularity abroad continues to plummet. This is not to say, however, that the stewards of public diplomacy have ignored their charge. The now familiar Radio Sawa and Al-Hurra television supposedly beam models of pluralistic, democratic news culture to the Middle East.
This interview with First Secretary M. Ashraf Haidari was originally published in International Affairs Journal, Vol. 3 No. 1, University of California at Davis.
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