A Tug-of-War: How Spain is Caught in the Middle of a Narrative Power Battle between the United States and China

By Hunter Gilfillian, M.A. in International Affairs ‘20

In recent months, a battle of United States and Chinese narratives has gained traction in the land of Don Quixote. Although, instead of windmills, the new “giants” are satellites, economics, and security.

Currently, Spain is caught in the middle of a narrative “tug-of-war” between the United States and China regarding Chinese technological investment in Spain’s fifth generation (5G) networks. In response to Chinese efforts to develop and maintain its technological footprint in the Western Mediterranean, the United States has responded with an “offensive” narrative, one that places more pressure on Spain. Conversely, China is producing a “defensive” counter-narrative combatting that of the United States, resulting in a large-scale battle of narratives.


On one side of the narrative battle, ring is the United States. Threatened by investment of Chinese technology in the networks of a key European ally, the United States is maximizing a “great power” narrative in terms of its international relationship with Spain and China.

Normally, the United States does not need to warn its European allies, especially those of which it has a long and shared history. Recently, however, the United States utilized a “great power” narrative when it issued clear and concise feelings about Spain’s relationship with Chinese technology firms. In February 2020, United States officials warned Spanish officials and telecommunications executives of a potential withdrawal of sharing sensitive information with Spain should Chinese technology firms, like Huawei, continue to be involved in local markets.  Issuing these types of warnings toward a friendly nation is a tool that a “great power” can utilize in a narrative context. Spain would likely not issue a similar warning to the United States. Nonetheless, while the United States’ actions and warnings are rooted in trying to protect its ally and other partners against potential threats to security from China, this type of narrative places Spain in an awkward position.

A potential effect of the utilization of a “great power” narrative is an indirect and unwanted strengthening of the Chinese counter-narrative against the United States in Spain. International warnings and this type of narrative may harm an already fragile Spanish favorability view of the United States given that favorable views from Spain decreased from 59% to 42% from the end of the Obama presidency to the end of 2018 according to the Pew Research Center. This would arguably help China in its approach toward the issue further down the road, something the United States does not want.


United States and China, Image by Iecs on Wikimedia Commons (CC by 3.0)


Comparatively, China has produced a defensive counter-narrative in response to the United States. When asked about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments on China’s espionage, information stealing, and link to the technology company, Huawei, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Hua Chunying, compared Secretary Pompeo to that of a fictional character in a Chinese short story. Spokesperson Chunying said, “unlike her harmless monologue, Mr. Pompeo keeps repeating poisonous lies.”

China is attempting to change and control the narrative through its response. This type of response produces a counter-narrative where China shifts the blame from itself to another country, despite any accusations or evidence. While this may seem like an offensive tactic, China’s action is in response to the United States, allowing it to take a defensive position in the narrative battle.

Furthermore, a defensive position allows China to continue bolstering its counter-narrative against the United States. Recently, Chinese technology company, Huawei, played a soft power role through its delivery of medical supplies to countries like Spain during the COVID-19 pandemic. These types of good acts by Chinese companies have the potential to strengthen China’s counter-narrative toward the United States as this type of action is a key public diplomacy instrument. Building a rapport with the Spanish government and people during times of a crisis undoubtedly have beneficial effects for diplomatic relations whether this is the intention of China or not.

This narrative battle between the United States and China is not only recognized in theory, but also in the heart of international relations as well. Huawei’s role, and ultimately China at large, was noted by the European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell, saying, “there is a global battle of narratives going on in which timing is a crucial factor,” and “China is aggressively pushing the message that, unlike the US, it is a responsible and reliable partner.”

If the United States wants to succeed in this battle of narratives, it may need to balance its approach toward Spain and its call for security in Europe in a more positive tone. While the counter-narrative produced by China is bolstered by technology and soft power approaches at the moment, the United States’ long and shared history with Spain is a force to be reckoned with. However, for the time being Spain is stuck in the middle of this narrative “tug-of-war” between the United States and China, so time will tell how “giants” in the land of Don Quixote will affect this narrative battle.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not express the views of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or the George Washington University.



“Infected” Olympic Games

By Saori E., MA Media & Strategic Communication

COVID-19 is rampant in the world today. The virus, which originated in Wuhang, China, is being successfully contained in China. However, its neighboring country, Japan, is struggling to prevent people from getting infected with the new virus partly because of the government’s different ways of controlling their message compared to China. The reality and government’s message should always be balanced out to mitigate issues.

Effects of COVID-19 in Japan

On March 14, the President of Japan, Abe, enacted the Special Measures Act, which allowed him to issue an Emergency Declaration. Once the Emergency Declaration is issued, it would enable the government to regulate public behavior by law.

In Japan’s case, the government aims to build a stronger economic environment through the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Because of this, the president hesitated to undertake the process for an emergency declaration. This declaration would hinder industries involved in Olympic preparation which were supposed to host the Olympics this summer, and lead to the delay of the preparation. However, since the Tokyo Olympics is likely to be postponed to 2021 in any event, the government decided to issue this declaration.

Comparison of The Governmental Reaction To COVID-19

The governments of China and Japan have reacted differently to the Coronavirus with their measures reflecting each country’s priorities, those which ended as a success and failure respectively. China maintained the balance of reality and message by controlling the reality itself to fit with their ideal message, whereas Japan did not change their message even when the reality changed.


The Chinese government’s major priority was to prevent their people from causing panic resulting in the government losing trust and to maintain the national stability. Their reaction to the COVID-19 was forceful, which manipulated the reality to balance out with the message that the government was willing to spread to their people. The way China took control of the reality was as follows:

  1. No restrictions on people from travelling around the world during the Lunar New Year holiday
  2. Management of major social media such as Wechat and Weibo to prohibit people from spreading false news

Since the rise of COVID-19 was right before the Lunar New Year holiday, the government did not restrict people from going to other countries because they did not want sudden restriction of travelling to cause panic for people going overseas. Such an action by the government could lead to the rise of a negative impression towards the government by Chinese citizens.

Additionally, the Chinese constitution clearly states that although people have rights of freedom of expression on online networks, the government can infringe upon this in order to maintain the safety of the people; this enables the government to encroach into people’s privacy more than other countries. This allowed them to warn their people that they will be punished if they spread false information.

This focus on the organization of people was due to the China’s priority of maintaining the people’s trust in the government. The fact that the government was able to manage people’s movements resulted in the decrease in infection. The match of the reality and message supported the government’s original priority which is to prevent people from causing panic.


The Japanese government’s major message for the people has always been based on their focus on fiscal reconstruction, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was their major priority for that. They did not change this way of messaging even when COVID-19 went rampant, and as a result, the changing reality undermined the government’s message. The policies that Japan issued along with their message to maintain Japan’s economic level and not controlling the reality is shown as of below.

  1. No restrictions for Chinese tourists visiting Japan during Lunar New Year holidays.
  2. No legal penalty for spreading false information online

The Abe cabinet has been focusing on the fiscal reconstruction from the beginning of their tenure, and in order to do so, he has been trying to build a stronger relationship with China. Because of this, Japan could not restrict the Chinese tourists from coming to Japan during the Luna New Year holidays even if they knew the risk of accepting people from China with regard to COVID-19. Rejecting people from China at the end of January would not have given a good impression for the Chinese government.

The Japanese government was focusing too much on economic aspects and did not restrict online information. This caused false information to spread, and the government was not able to deliver their message effectively. Because of the flooding information online, various realities were created and Japan was not able to clearly deliver its message to the people.

Even when the reality was changing, Japan kept on sending out messages based on their focus on economic aspects, which led to the unbalance of reality and messaging, resulting not only to the loss of control in COVID-19 but also the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics itself.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not express the views of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or the George Washington University.


The Battle of Messaging: Indonesian Palm Oil and the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED II)

By Oryza Astari, M.A. International Affairs ‘20

Rainforest Action Network’s “Indonesia, Climate Change, and Rainforests” report describes destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests as one of the leading causes of climate change. Furthermore, Greenpeace describes Indonesia as one of the “top tier emitters of global greenhouse gas emissions” due to deforestation.

This environmental narrative—accepted widely by the international community and particularly by the European Union (EU)—conflicts with Indonesia’s own version of the story.

On March 25, the Tanah Merah project in Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua officially began, as it cleared out rainforests to make way for palm oil. Mongabay and the Gecko Project, two media companies that focus on conservation, report that the project is estimated to generate US$6 billion in timber and create a large palm oil plantation “almost twice the size of London.” Clearing Papuan rainforests will emit immeasurable amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, exacerbating the climate crisis.

Cargill’s problems with palm oil

The EU, an international leader in international environmental efforts, introduced its latest Renewable Energy Directive, dubbed RED II, in response to the deforestation in Indonesia. RED II introduces a new approach to biofuels based on the concept of indirect land use change (ILUC). ILUC is the transformation of carbon-rich forests, wetlands, and peatlands, into land(s) used to produce crops for biofuels, resulting in the vast release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The EU argues that ILUC risks “negating” the savings that result from the use of biofuels; thus, the use of such “high risk” crops as palm oil will be phased out by 2030.

Below, I will present the Indonesian perspective on the issue, followed by the EU response to the Indonesian narrative. Finally, I will conclude by presenting the winner of the narrative battle.

The Indonesian government’s strategy in its narrative battle against the EU involves evoking emotional content and controlling the process of the project.

First, Indonesian officials invoke inflammatory words when describing RED II. Such words evoke a particular narrative that engages audiences on an emotional level, bringing out emotions such as anger or even disappointment, particularly for the Indonesian audience. For instance, Former Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita called the move protectionist, arguing that the policy is aimed to support European biofuels producers of rapeseed and sunflower oils.

Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Mahendra Siregar concurred, calling it a “‘structured and systematic’ campaign to block palm oil” from competing with European-grown biofuels. Vice Minister Siregar furthered his argument by concluding that the environmental concern of RED II was simply a façade, a “guise,” for protectionism.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo took it a step further, calling the policy an “act of trade war.” Not only is President Jokowi evoking emotional content, he is also controlling the process of projection.

President Jokowi took the lead by repeatedly calling the EU policy a “palm oil ban.” His position, as the highest government official and the leader of the country, lends legitimacy and credibility to his message. As such, his cabinets followed his lead, and began invoking similar inflammatory words such as “discrimination” and “protectionism,” as illustrated above.

Furthermore, President Jokowi’s invocation of “trade war” puts the focus on EU-Indonesian trade on palm oil, rather than the environmental issue. In 2018, the European bloc reportedly consumed more than 7 million tons in palm oil biofuels, with 65 percent used as energy. It is evident that palm oil biofuels trade is lucrative both for the European bloc and Indonesia, pointing to the EU’s hypocrisy on the palm oil issue. Thus, the obvious response—and remedy—for Indonesia, after months of failed negotiations with EU officials, was to bring a lawsuit to the World Trade Organization in December 2019.

In response, the EU focuses their narrative argument on the epistemological and informational content. RED II was accompanied by a report with available, consistent, scientific data from 2008 to 2015. The European Commission reiterates that it arrived at the decision based on the given scientific data, which shows that palm oil has been associated with high risk of deforestation.

Furthermore, the EU invokes the identity narrative of an “Energy Union”—a bloc with a strong commitment to sustainability—in its response to Indonesia. This invocation strengthens the EU’s position, as it illustrates to the audience that the policy is harmonious with the EU’s values and identity as a champion of energy and the climate targets.

While the WTO suit will take years to be decided, in the battle of messaging between Indonesia and the EU, the winner is clear. The EU’s new policy is harmonious with its identity; its claims backed by nine years’ worth of scientific evidence. The relationship between the EU identity and scientific, enlightenment thinking makes for a cohesive, persuasive message that is consistent with the EU’s narrative.

On the other hand, Indonesia’s counter-messaging campaign on the “palm oil ban,” although strong for the local audience, has been unsuccessful. Indonesia’s lack of response on deforestation claims is dissonant with the wider environmental messaging, which have been accepted by the scientific community and international audience. More importantly, Indonesia’s latest Papua shows that its loss was not simply due to the EU’s more persuasive message, but because its narrative simply does not match its reality.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not express the views of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or the George Washington University.

Terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement: A Philippine Independence Story

By Barbara Alberts, M.A. Media and Strategic Communication ’20

In February, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte announced he intended to terminate the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States. The VFA allowed the United States to station military forces in Philippine military bases, and the two militaries to execute joint military exercise and operations in the country. The U.S. military presence in the Philippines was also seen as a “security blanket” for the Philippines against China’s growing naval presence in the South China Sea. The termination would leave the United States with no legal or operational standing in the Philippines, but for some politicians in the Philippines, the ending of the agreement is seen as a step toward an independent Philippines divorced from the United States and its fate.

The image of the U.S. as a protector and ally of the Philippines has been rejected recently by Philippines government officials, citing the U.S. military as an unwelcome presence on the islands that perpetuates the idea of the United States as the Philippines’ colonizer rather than ally. The desire for independence from the United States that resulted in Duterte’s decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement has roots in a deep master narrative of independence in the Philippines. A master narrative is a, “transhistorical narrative that is deeply embedded in a particular culture,” (Halverson 2011). According to Halverson, “our understanding of ourselves…who we are, what we are here for, what makes us unique, and so on, is entirely bound up in the narratives we grow up hearing and the stories we connect to them,” (Halverson 2011). When it comes to public diplomacy and communication with the Philippines, understanding the master narrative of independence in the Philippines is the first step in helping understand Duterte’s foreign policy decisions as they relate to the United States.

Independence: A Philippines Master Narrative

Since Duterte took office in 2016, he has been vocal about the Philippines becoming more independent from the United States. However, his decision to terminate the VFA is also part of a slow-moving process the Philippines has taken to distance itself militarily from the United States which began in the 1990s.

CREDIT: Manila coastal plan, United States Marines Corps

Historically, the United States has exerted its power through its military bases on the Philippines. U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay, located about two and a half hours outside of Manila, was one of the US’s largest overseas military bases before it was decommissioned in 1992, when the Philippines Senate rejected a treaty that would have seen the United States provide $203 million in aid in exchange for a 10-year lease on the base. At the time, Philippine senators saw American military presence in the Philippines, “as a vestige of colonialism and an affront to Philippine sovereignty,” (Sanger 1991).

The desire for separation from the United States is part of a greater master narrative in the Philippines of independence. In the Philippines, independence is a deeply rooted value, and gaining it has been a constant battle throughout its history. There is an abundance of independence stories in the Filipino culture. First, it was the quest to gain independence from Spain, which initially colonized the islands. Then, it was the struggle to shake the United States’ rule of the land. After the Philippines gained true independence from the United States in 1946, the drive for independence turned inward during the Marcos regime from 1965-1986, which ended when he was ousted during the People Power Revolution and Corazon Aquino took office. Now, the focus has shifted outward again, with Duterte seeking military independence from the United States.

Conclusions and Recommendations 

Populism in the Philippines has been trending upward since Duterte took office (Bieber 2018), and despite the majority of Philippines citizens preferring a stronger relationship with the United States over China, and nearly 70% of Philippines citizens believing the United States would defend them from China, Duterte has spurned any sort of U.S. involvement in the Philippines.

CREDIT: U.S. Navy, 24 November 1992, PH2 FARRINGTON, Public Domain

With memories of colonization still felt in the Philippines today, moving forward, the United States should make a concerted effort to approach any treaties, agreements, or negotiations with the Philippines as an interaction between two independent countries. The United States would benefit from emphasizing Philippine independence, and respecting the country’s movement toward independence. In terms of future military agreements, should the United States propose a new military partnership, they need to frame it as partnership between equals. The United States cannot achieve its military goals in the South Pacific without the cooperation of the Philippines, and the Philippines has benefitted from U.S. military presence in keeping China’s naval presence in the South China Sea at bay as well as helping with counterterrorism efforts in the country’s southern islands. By understanding the Philippines master narrative of independence, the United States can better communicate with their oldest ally in Asia.

CREDIT: Photo by U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft


 Works Cited

Bieber, Florian. “Is Nationalism on the Rise? Assessing Global Trends.” Ethnopolitics, vol. 17, no. 5, 2018, pp. 519–540., doi:10.1080/17449057.2018.1532633.

Goodall, Jr, H.L., and Steven R. Corman. “What Is a Master Narrative.” Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism, by J. Halverson, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 1–9.

Sanger, David E. “Philippines Orders U.S. to Leave Strategic Navy Base at Subic Bay.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Dec. 1991, www.nytimes.com/1991/12/28/world/philippines-orders-us-to-leave-strategic-navy-base-at-subic-bay.html.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not express the views of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or the George Washington University.

What is Islamic Journalism?

Western policy makers and diplomats need to understand more about Islam when engaging with journalists in Muslim Southeast Asia.  

IPDGC Director Janet Steele at the Sydney Southeast Asia Center in Sydney, Australia.

Over spring break, IPDGC Director Janet traveled to Australia to give talks at the University of Sydney, Australian National University and Monash University, on the topic of “The journalisms of Islam: contending views in Muslim Southeast Asia”. She was also interviewed by Natalie Pearson at the Sydney Southeast Asia Center while at the University of Sydney.

The interview can be heard here: listen

Panda Diplomacy

By Colleen Calhoun, Mary Anne Porto and Libby Schiller

Exotic animals have long been seen as symbols of power and democracy. Dating back to the times of Ancient Rome and Emperor Octavius, large animals such as lions, rhinoceroses, etc. have been used as leverage in bureaucracy.

Animal diplomacy is not exclusive to the Chinese. In the era of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, Egypt gave Giraffes to foreign nations. Queen Elizabeth II gave two black beavers to Canada in 1970. The Chinese originally gave Pandas away as gifts, but in 1984 the government decided to begin a 10-year loan system with annual payments.

Today, there are more than 25 zoos worldwide that have Pandas.

With the new loan system, China has reached out to countries in an attempt to foster relationships. More so now, China has been using Panda diplomacy to pursue economic and political ambitions as well. The Edinburgh Zoo received its pandas in 2011, setting up a deal to pay an annual fee to the Chinese government to help giant panda conservation projects in the wild. Not only is China reaching out to countries using Pandas, they are benefiting from the relationships as well. Similarly, Japan also received two pandas in 2011, and the two countries hoped it would improve relations caused by dispute over islands and their sovereignty.

China has been successful in their efforts because Pandas are very cute and many
countries would like to have them in their zoos. Pandas are a soft power tool that the Chinese have been using to increase their scope around the world. More so than diplomatic relationships, China has seen more growth in economic relationships with Panda diplomacy.

According to a BBC article, Scottish exports to China have almost doubled in the past five years. Similarly, Panda loans in Canada, France and Australia coincided with trade deals for uranium. The article also said, “If a panda is given to the country, it does not signify the closing of a deal – they have entrusted an endangered, precious animal to the country; it signifies in some ways a new start to the relationship.” This shows that China is not looking to give countries Pandas and complete a one time deal. They are looking to foster long-term relationships, especially regarding economics.

As a soft power tool, the Chinese government can use cute, cuddly Panda to increase economic growth, not only for the time-being, but over an extended period of time.

There are many challenges facing those who wish to replicate animal diplomacy efforts of the past. Animal advocates have challenged the practice as they say it commercializes animal lives and puts stressors on already vulnerable endangered species. Others want more transparency about where fees for loans go. Countries who choose to do so should consider making their funding more transparent and perhaps shifting away from a funding model all together, instead focusing on just awareness, to reduce criticism.

Countries should also consider the logistics of their animals, making sure the animals are able to travel and not endangered. They should also ensure that the animals are representative of their countries and reflect positively on them.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

Public Diplomacy and Asian Cuisine in America

By Caroline Rexrode, Matilda Kreider and Jade Hurley

Asian cuisine has been used as a public diplomacy tool in the United States, specifically from the country of Thailand. The primary philosophy behind food diplomacy, or public diplomacy using cuisine native to one’s country, stems from culinary nationalism. We all associate different foods with different places of origin–tacos, spaghetti, fried rice — and especially in a globalized world, where we enjoy several cultures at once in the food we eat, cuisine can be one of the first steps to learning about a foreign nation.

Culinary nationalism is a philosophy where the food of one’s country is closely related to their national identity, and such pride in one’s cuisine can lead to a government’s promotion of certain recipes as being a part of their nation’s heritage–it is a form of showing the world what you have to offer. This is why nations like Thailand have chosen to tie food closely to their national identity.

By spreading one’s cuisine into foreign nations, it is not a one-time occurrence of public diplomacy. Food can be a quotidian diplomat, meaning, once there, its diplomatic properties of education and friendship will be repeated day after day. Immigrants from places like Thailand can encourage their friends in other countries to eat it, restaurants can be established, and the diplomatic powers of food can be never ending. This was the philosophy behind the Thai government’s decision to launch the first large-scale culinary diplomacy effort to encourage people worldwide to try Thai cuisine, which was largely successful.

By 2015, a CNN poll found that Thai food is the world’s most popular cuisine. This is a shift in the eating patterns that we have witnessed in our lifetime, and watching the rise of Thai food is watching the rise of positive relations between Thailand and the world.

It has been a trend in America that foods of Asian origin take on a trendy reputation that influences how Americans view Asian nations and people. Foods like sushi tend to start out in urban hubs on the east and west coasts and spread into the continent and into rural areas, giving them a reputation for being more sophisticated and trendy.

Bubble tea, which originated in Taiwan, can be found most readily in the U.S. on college campuses because it’s expected that Asian students will flock to it and eventually other students will follow, which has made bubble tea have a very youthful reputation. Other regional cuisines are popular with young people and can serve as social symbols, too, like Mexican food in the form of chains like Chipotle.

Another interesting foreign food phenomenon in the U.S. is the prevalence of food trucks. Food trucks build familiarity and can help people get to know parts of the world that they wouldn’t otherwise. On an urban campus like GW’s, one can usually find 5-10 food trucks at a time, and many of them are foreign cuisines like Chinese, Afghan, or Laotian. Due to the casual and accessible nature of food trucks, consumers gain exposure to regional cuisines they might never have experienced otherwise. Some of the food trucks on campus are even incredibly niche, like Himalayan or Bermudian, exposing Americans to even more unusual foods. Also, the presence of food trucks in suburbia as well as in large cities helps eliminate the urban elite complex that is attached to some foods.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

China’s Panda Diplomacy

by Lily Werlinich, Emma Barrera and Mailinh McNicholas

Nuclear arms may be the current talk of the town, but China has been successfully deploying a furrier weapon for years: the panda. Late last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Berlin’s Tierpark Zoo to commemorate the latter’s loan of Meng-Meng (“Little Dream”) and Jiao Qing (“Darling”). The two pandas will remain in Berlin for the next 15 years at an annual cost of $1 million.
The two world leaders met for the exchange two days before the G20 meeting to project a peaceful, friendly relationship to the international community, a stark contrast to the atmosphere that President Trump would bring with him to the conference.
Yet this loan is much more than a mere photo-op. For years, the Chinese government has loaned pandas to other nations as a way of signifying respect. China lent the United States its first pandas in 1972 after President Nixon’s historic visit to the Asian nation. Pandas can even be withdrawn when a nation refuses to support China’s political policies. After President Obama met with the Dalai Lama in 2010 against China’s wishes, panda cubs from Zoo Atlanta and the National Zoo were repatriated. Other times, pandas certify the existence of favorable trade
relations between China and its partner nations. China and Germany are the first- and third-largest trading nations in the world, respectively, and therefore must work to craft deals favorable to both nations.
This exchange of pandas is a theatrical display of public diplomacy and a way for China to flex its soft power, a branch of diplomacy that the nation has historically neglected. As defined by Joseph Nye, countries use soft power to make themselves more attractive. They do so by emphasizing their culture, political institutions, and foreign policies in ways that appeal to international sentiment.
Pandas are an excellent source of soft power because of their inherent charm. The bear-like mammals symbolize political power in the East and wildlife conservation in the West. But perhaps most importantly, they are simply adorable and adorable animals are transnational and transcultural.
China’s new soft power initiatives reflect the nation’s desire to project its power beyond the Asian region. In its nineteenth National Congress in October, the Chinese Communist Party and President Xi Jinping announced the country’s commitment to achieving “China’s dream” of becoming the number one global power during this century by developing a powerful military and reaching full economic development by 2050.
China’s new foreign policy strategy rejects isolationism and aims to promote inclusive development, as reflected by the country’s ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative” to link China with Central Asia, the Middle East, Russia, Europe, and Africa through physical infrastructure, financial arrangements, and cultural exchanges.

As China transitions to a more assertive role in the international arena, President Xi
Jinping aims to develop China’s soft power by presenting a“true, multi-dimensional, and panoramic view of China.” Ultimately, China’s embrace of globalism and shift in style, attitude, and behavior in global affairs is likely to have a profound impact on the international order.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s). They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

How Anti-Americanism in Pakistan can be mitigated through Diplomacy and Public Diplomacy


Image Source: “U.S. – Pakistan Relationship.” Chappatte Globe Cartoon, Chappatte in International Herald Tribune, 30 May 2012, www.chappatte.com/en/images/u-s-pakistan-relationship/.

Pakistan is the 7thlargest country in the world in terms of its population and a country that holds a negative view of the United States.  The United States and Pakistan have been strategic allies on multiple occasions; however, the increasing distrust between the two countries due to conflict of national interests in the war on terror in Afghanistan has caused tensions in their pre-existing complex relationship.

The U.S. was among the first of nations to ally with Pakistan after its independence in 1947.  The United States provided economic and social assistance to the newly independent country and still maintains vital military relations. In return, Pakistan proved to be a valuable strategic ally of the United States in the cold war against the Soviet Union and helped the U.S. in driving Soviet forces out of Afghanistan. Pakistan continues to hold a strategic position in the United States’ interests in the Central and South Asia region. However, unlike prior to 1980s where the relationship was based on mutual benefits and good will, the post 9/11 basis of partnership has been mainly transactional between the U.S. and Pakistani military, which is given aid by the U.S. to support its efforts in Afghanistan. This transactional relationship stemmed from a trust deficit caused by the both countries’ conflict of narratives as a result of their history regarding their national interests and motives in the region.

The growing perception of “Anti-Americanism” in Pakistan is primarily due to the U.S. security strategy concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan that Pakistan feels undermine Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism, leaving the country feeling underappreciated by the U.S. This contributes to fostering a negative image of the United States in Pakistan. In current circumstances, with Pakistan being a strategic ally, the U.S. can use diplomacy in conjunction with public diplomacy to turn the tide in a relationship with Pakistan.

Currently, there is a decline in Pakistani public support of American cooperation with its military and for U.S. assistance and humanitarian aid in areas where extremist leaders operate. Also, there is less inclination towards the U.S. to continue providing intelligence and logistical support for Pakistani troops fighting extremism. Pakistanis feel that the U.S. doesn’t take Pakistan’s national interests into account and doesn’t give it sufficient credit for its contributions to the war in Afghanistan.

The U.S. led drone strikes are a major contributor to this sentiment. According to Pakistan, drone strikes targeting extremist leaders result in more collateral damage of civilians and are mostly carried out without the consent of the Pakistani government that threatens country’s sovereignty. Regardless of how the U.S. views drone strikes in North Waziristan area and how effective they are in targeting extremists, the collateral damage in form of civilian causalities and social structure raises questions about the outcomes of drone war on Pakistani soil. The unified objection of the unauthorized U.S. led drone strikes from the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military further fuels the Pakistani narrative that the U.S. only cares about pursuing its own objectives even at the cost of threatening country’s sovereignty.

To mitigate this major issue, the U.S. needs to work with the Pakistani government and its military on a new bilateral drone strikes strategy that considers both countries security concerns in mind so the major point of tension between them is resolved – the public diplomacy alone will not solve the problem. Despite of the U.S. and Pakistan history of distrust, consensus on drone strikes strategy may have a positive effect on their relationship.  Once a consensus is reached, the U.S. can work with the Pakistani government to gain public support by communicating the drone attacks in a way that is transparent to the Pakistani public. The U.S. can also work with the Pakistani government to prevent civilian casualties or find/invest in alternatives to drone attacks such as Aware Girls to combat extremists, which instills a positive sense of perception in Pakistani public that the U.S. is not showing negligence in addressing their concerns. So far all the public diplomacy efforts made by the U.S. in Pakistan through bridging cultural gaps with programs like Fulbright Scholar Program and funding literacy education for underprivileged children or providing social and economic development opportunities to the private sector have been ineffective due to focus on the drone strikes. Mutual agreement of the countries on the use of drone strikes will pave the way for the better reception of the U.S. public diplomacy efforts in Pakistani public.

Over the years the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has been complex and ridden with distrust due to conflict of narratives regarding history and their roles in addressing security concerns in the region. The U.S. engagement in Pakistan is mostly highlighted in relations to the military, so every shift in that relationship affects the perception of the U.S. in Pakistani public. To counter the negative image building, the U.S. can use public diplomacy to mitigate Anti-Americanism caused by the U.S. foreign policies by reaching consensus on drone strikes with the Pakistani government and highlighting its role in social and economic development in Pakistan, thus signaling the desire for improving relationship to the Pakistani public.

DisclaimerThe opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily express the views of either The Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.

When Policy Meets Public Diplomacy: U.S. losing its edge in attracting international students

china education fair
Chinese students attend an Education Fair at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to learn more about study abroad programs in the U.S.


U.S. public diplomacy efforts are about attraction, rather than coercion. A major variable in measuring “attractiveness” of the U.S. is through attitudes of potential foreign exchange students. The ability of the U.S. to attract bright minds from around the world has bolstered the country’s development since its inception and fuels the U.S. “melting pot” narrative. China is now the primary source of these foreign exchange students. The recent release of Institute for International Education’s 2016 Report revealed that numbering almost 330,000, Chinese international students comprise 31.5 percent of the total number of international students in the U.S. Sheer volume holds weight, but from a public diplomacy perspective, the numbers are less important than the attitudes behind them. Why do Chinese students choose to study abroad in the U.S.? Will this trend last? Research I conducted in 2015 concludes that unless the U.S. sees major education and public diplomacy policy shifts, we have reason to doubt it will.

In 2015, I completed an in-depth study of the evolution of Chinese students’ motivations to study abroad in the U.S. Its findings highlighted a need for the U.S. to foster policies that attract foreign talent as the web of international politics becomes increasingly multipolar. These conclusions ring true today.

The rapid influx of Chinese exchange students, who make up the majority of foreign students in the U.S., will play an unprecedented role in Sino-U.S. relations, as well as in the U.S. economy as potential future skilled immigrants. Through historical contextualization, observations at U.S. Consulate Guangzhou, as well as primary interviews of study abroad participants from the 80s, 90s, and today, my research concluded:

  • In comparison with students from the 1980s, 1990s, and even early 2000s, today’s Chinese students have a greater freedom of choice and the economic means to take advantage of that freedom of choice. To date, that choice has overwhelmingly been to study abroad in the U.S., but both quantitative and qualitative data suggest that trend is waning as students begin to consider other countries in place of or in addition to the U.S. as study abroad destinations.
  • Though modern-day students make the decision to study abroad out of desire for a better education and personal development, practical factors dictate which study abroad location and program students choose. Factors that may affect a student’s decision include the cost of a program and a country’s immigration policies, which may become even more important in the future as developed countries reach equilibrium in terms of education quality.

The student exchange trends described above call for the U.S. to adjust its education policies to continue attracting foreign talent, a factor that is crucial to the economy’s continuing success. Giving international student policies a more important role is not a betrayal to the “America First” rhetoric on the rise. In a recent interview, Thomas Friedman described his new book as a “manifesto for the eye people”. The “eye people” are those who thrive in the middle of the hubbub of globalization and interconnectedness and draw power from it. The “wall people” are those who withdraw into extreme nationalism. To thrive, the U.S. needs to maintain its status as a hub of global leadership. America’s largest group of international students is beginning to perceive the eye-to-wall shift. When will we?

Click here to read the full study.

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