Passport DC

This weekend I volunteered at a Passport DC table, and I thought I’d write about my experience. I helped as a favor to some former colleagues at the Arab League at the Embassy Row Hotel in Dupont. However, the event is city-wide, causing all the road mayhem that one would associate with something spanning DC. More than 70 embassies open their doors to the public and over the course of the month and it’s estimated that nearly 300,000 participants attend.

In my opinion, it’s an interesting event that can promote cultural awareness, but with the caveat that the embassy controls that image. At the Arab League I heard all manner of comments, including that it was the Arab Legion, that it was simply Saudi Arabia, shock that Iraq (pronounced I-Rock in this case, was Arab at all), and that it was the sole display for all the Arab countries, which surprised some guests who assumed all the Arab countries would have had their own embassies… etc. But there were also interested guests discussing their opinions of regional affairs, comparing the food of neighboring countries, some who came to learn and left stuttering out a few phrases of identifiable Arabic, and inevitably one or two tourist who ran out with all the baklava they could carry (I will find you…)

With a mix like that, it’s hard to pin down one outcome or make a succinct finding, but what is more interesting is that I was able to see the rank and file event this year, while I have some past experience at the classier cousin of this event, the embassy chef challenge, which while the best thing ever, is highly exclusive. So there is still a tiered system and some elitism to this annual practice that mitigates the intention of opening the world’s representatives to the nation’s capital.


Nepal’s Geography a Soft Power Resource?


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In the past week, many of us have been fixated on the tragedy in Nepal when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck at the heart of the country, devastated some of the nation’s most densely populated areas, leveled some of the nation’s most significant and historical landmarks, and displaced thousands of individuals into make-shift “tent-city’s” away from any major structure. The death toll was last reported to be nearly 4,000 people and the country is now in the middle of a massive recovery effort of which they have limited supplies and already overcrowded hospital facilities. To confront this tragedy, the world has responded. Many of the surrounding nations, world powers, and international aid organizations, such as India, China, United States, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Norway, France, Germany, Spain, Australia, and Japan are providing millions of dollars in relief effort and some are even sending aid workers to tend to those who have been most affected while searching for those who are still missing. It is not an easy effort, as the mountainous country provides unique obstacles for those trying to get in and many of the smaller rural villages closer to the epicenter of the quake are in much greater need as roads and communications have been severed throughout the country, according to ABC News.

We all realize the destruction that nature can cause, but what about its impact in global politics and diplomacy? Many may not have realized the significance that Nepal’s geography plays as a form of soft power in the area. We are not just talking about the tourist dollars brought in so worldwide trekkers can scale the peaks on the world’s tallest mountain in Mt. Everest.  This “low-developed country” uses its geography to garner a particular sway over its more powerful neighbors in India and China. According to Dinnesh Bhattari, “because of our location, two markets of more than 2.6 billion people are at our doorstep…our geopolitical location is also our soft power.” ( Nepal has an extremely unique opportunity to grow and thrive in Asia due to their strategic location between two superpowers. Natalie Obiko Pearson, Sandrine Rastello, and David Tweed of Bloomberg, continue to highlight Nepal’s geographic uniqueness by explaining the importance of the country’s rich water resources and how the country acts as a buffer zone. When talking about the nations water resources, they said, “the peaks in and around the Tibetan Plateau…feeds Asia’s major river systems…that supplies water to more than a dozen countries…representing nearly a third of the world’s population.” Also, “Nepal is a vital passage in China’s quest for direct access to the South Asian countries.” These are just a few of the reasons in which China and India have spent millions of investment dollars in the country as it is an access gate for more opportunities to expand their countries brand. Even more recently, both India and China have begun to establish more cultural ties to their neighbor with certain public diplomacy initiatives that will increase relations. As more details on this tragedy unfolds, it is almost certain that India and China will continue to be at the forefront of the relief efforts in the form of a medical internationalism initiative in which their relations can continue to thrive at the top of the world.

Works Cited

“Nepal-China Agree to Establish Cultural Center.” The Himalayan Times. The Himalayan Times, 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

“Nepal Earthquake: International Aid Groups, Rescue Teams Head to Quake-hit Country.” ABC News, 26 Apr. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

“Nepal’s Geopolitical Location Is Its Soft Power.” Ekantipur Report, 12 Dec. 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

Pearson, Natalie Obiko, Sandrine Rastello, and David Tweed. “Nepal Has Powerful Friends in High Places: India and China.” Bloomberg Business. Bloomberg, 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

Shanti, Neelapu. “India, Nepal Look to Further Enhance Cultural Relations.” ANI News. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2015.

Global Media and Public Diplomacy: Thin Line in Struggle for Attention, Perspective, Prominence, and Voice

With the semester quickly coming to an end, I thought it would be wise I end it with some new insights, as well as, ones I’ve acquired through my professional experience working as an international broadcast journalist in South Korea about Public Diplomacy and global media. For the past few months, it was fascinating to study and observe how there are distinct similarities in the agendas and objectives behind PD and international broadcasting. By no means am I qualified to be an “expert” when it comes to either PD or international broadcasting, but I would like to conclude my PD semester by boldly stating that the core motivators behind global media (international broadcasting) and PD are for attention, perspectives, prominence, and voice.

As we have studied, and many before us, international broadcasting is a single facet of PD initiatives and tactics. However, I would also like to add that global media is a giant and a monster of its own–with all its complicated drama, high-competitive nature, and layers of bureaucracy and “craftsmanship.” Many “novice” international broadcasting centers and corporations (i.e., NHK World, CCTV, Arirang TV, Russia Today, etc.) have considered major veterans in the field (i.e., CNN, BBC, Reuters, etc.) as exemplars to model after. All of the contemporary entrants directly and indirectly state each of them need exposure and a substantive voice in the international broadcasting realm to tell their stories. While it’s a continued debate in both the world of professional journalism and international relations, I personally believe (despite being a former journalist myself) neither news institution nor journalist can ever be completely and utterly objective. Seasoned international broadcasting groups pride themselves in their just, unbiased angles and takes on stories–these claims of themselves serve a clear purpose in showcasing and legitimizing their credibility. However, what we can appreciate from these institutions is the fact that they and their journalists continue to struggle with idealistic concept of news objectivity while operating under specific agenda guidelines–either as private business or public entity. In this humble struggle, I can’t help but wonder if international broadcasting–at least private ones–should be considered tools of PD. Given that same token, should “journalists” working for government-owned and operated be truly considered as “journalists”–especially if they have a clearly framed message they’re trying to convey to the public?

There is certainly a hazy line between international broadcasting (in its normative and objective sense) and strategically-planned PD initiatives. Obviously, I’m not naive to think these two tracks don’t have strong correlating factors, and often, work as complementary efforts. Nonetheless, I think major problems arise when blatant PD efforts are “masked” as “unbiased news.” As indicated in many successful PD case studies and instances, trust, credibility, and accountability are critical qualities to create favorable results and influence the public. Should government and global media leaders and officials truly believe in the importance of these characteristics, they must also embrace the fact they must be equally applied to international broadcasting and make more active efforts to excuse state-led agenda from news.

K-pop… No more ice cream. Ever

Just when I thought I wasn’t going to have anything to write about… Facebook is (syntax error deliberate). You hear a lot about the Korean Wave, Hallyu. I admittedly don’t speak much Korean outside of ordering food and/or beverages and getting around the urban madness of Seoul’s side streets. But sometimes, you’re stuck on your 2nd week of a job in rural MO/IL and you just start clicking on friend’s posts… Even that friend in the music business who you can’t imagine is always so chipper (I tack it up to us being on opposite schedules). Which is how I found an article lauding a song called, Ice Cream that is quite literally topping the charts of Korean music.

I was convinced that Bigtime ice-cream cake lobbyists must be behind this, and that this video about eating ice cream cake was part of a marketing drive for a new line of ice cream cakes at Paris Baguette (or another Korean bakery). It was then explained to me in sufficient detail that I regretfully accept it to be true, that this song was not an ad, but a piggy back on the Korean trend of eating in front of camera and scoring 10,000s of followers by doing so. It was half-heartedly explained that this is popular as eating in Korea is often communal… I was skeptical after encountering many colleagues having a bowl of cup noodle in the corner of local family mart and/or 7/11, but assuming there’s legitimate cause for watching people eat, what’s the impact on Hallyu? And specifically, what’s the impact on cultural exports of something like this? Maybe to a devotee, the oddity of a song mixing children’s rhymes about having ice cream, and of course eating cake while cruising down Route 66 with a 30 foot cat and L.A. Lights infused fur coats will simply be another masterpiece.

But assuming it’s not I wonder if there’s been a recognition that some popular content is better suited to Korean markets, and that some is more broadly applicable. With the control of record labels as they are in Korea, and the rapid induction and experimentation of different music styles in Korean music (high budgets and latent capacity for high production values equals some really great experiments and creations, I’m not strictly a hater). I wonder how many labels plan their releases and accompanying videos in order to maximize domestic and international product runs of videos, which presumably have a projected shelf-life? Unfortunately, this question, which in the depths of Wendy’s binge I consider insightful, wasn’t answered. So now my only concern is what my youtube recommendations will look like after viewing Ice Cream.

Expo Milano 2015: Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life


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American University just completed the Conflict Cuisine: Kitchen as the New Venue for Foreign Policy conference which had students, professors, diplomats, authors, and culinary experts all discuss the impact food has within our culture and how it can be used as a tool to reach other cultures. It is a symbol of identity and a tool of assimilation for those who are adopted into a new host country. For some, it is a source of soft power and for all it provides a visceral experience that crosses cultures and borders to bring us all together. Discussions during this conference ranged from the topics of gastrodiplomacy and culinary diplomacy, smart power, the impact of Diasporas on their new host countries cuisine, films showcasing the power of food to bring cultures together, book discussions, as well as the relationship between food, food insecurity, and conflict. One of the panelists at the event was Kimberly Reed, who is a representative of Expo Milano, the largest and most historical gathering on food in Italy for the next six months. “The World Expo is a grand stage where countries gather together to showcase technological innovations and national cultures to the broader society” (Wang, CPD Blog) This year’s theme is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” which highlights and showcases 144 countries and their plans to create a more sustainable food resources. Why does this need to take place? Kimberly provided some startling facts s and concluded that by “2050 – 9 .6 billion people will be on the planet who will need 70% more food than what we have today.” A stark reminder that everyone needs to start think about their sustainable food resources today, if they are to feed their populations for future generations.

So how does this relate to the field of public diplomacy? During the event, each country will have their own pavilion to showcase what makes their country unique in the culinary field, share their culture and the advancements they have made to fight food shortages and obesity, and well as “ share its national story of food and its underlying beliefs, attitudes and values” (Wang, CPD Blog). “It also provides opportunities for participant countries to project their image and identity to a wider international audience through national pavilions. For most participant countries the World Expo remains the single largest promotional event of a nation outside of its own borders” (Wang, CPD Blog). The American pavilion, which has been dubbed “American Food 2.0: United to feed the Planet,” will communicate stories that come from various industries of the American culinary culture including farming and agriculture, cooking and chefs, nutrition and health, research, and food security. It is through this expo that the United States can engage a worldwide audience “because the United States is intelligently and thoughtfully engaged in food and global food security and we want to be focusing on responsibility, the importance of international relationships, science and technology, nutrition and health, and culinary culture.” For more information about this year’s Expo Milano visit

Works Cited

Reed, Kimberly. “Expo Milano.” Conflict Cuisine: Kitchen as the New Venue for Foreign Policy. American University, Washinton D.C. 21 Apr. 2015. Speech.

Wang, Jian. “Expo Milan 2015: Dialogue Through Food.” Web log post. USC Public Diplomacy Blog. University of Southern California, 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.

Japan and Russia: “Let’s Talk Money Diplomacy”

I ran across a very interesting news article/ad today while “Googling” “public diplomacy.” Titled “Russia-Japan: Strategy of Economic Cooperation” ( & the business calendar description and agenda clearly states what this meeting is about. The actual text reads, “The Moscow Times newspaper invites you to take part in the conference, devoted to the development of the relationships between Russia and Japan. The aims of the conference are learning of international experience in global business, considering the differences between Russian and Japanese cultures, legal and personnel policy; attracting investment; improving quality of business. The key topics are: the steps of Japanese companies’ developing on the Russian market, priority ways of development of the trade and the economic cooperation between Russia and Japan, trends in economic relationships between Russia and Japan and its cooperation in the bank financing.”

As soon as I skimmed these lines, I couldn’t help but notice all the public diplomacy “buzz words” we have been so actively discussing this semester. From “international experience,” “cultures,” “development and cooperation,” to “relationships,” all these essentially give contextual meaning to what public diplomacy is about. The agenda outlines both private and public big wigs are supposed to attend this conference and talk “business and money” in an intercultural exchange and setting. As mentioned in class this week, Japan’s prevalent public diplomacy initiatives have lied in forms of business and development efforts. From various WWII compensations to Asian Women’s Fund, this island nation has invested a lot of its efforts and finances into what some criticize as “checkbook diplomacy.” With the right intentions, it is certainly a wise method–giving back to those who have suffered and helping those who need the extra boost to succeed. Especially for Russia–wanting to gain influence and power momentum in the Asia-Pacific–Japan can’t be a better partner. Detailed in the agenda, it appears most focus is given in the fact that Japan is seen as the “investor” while Russia is the “welcoming host.” Consequently, the sessions are lined with specific guides Japanese investors can find useful, such as investment opportunities, new trends in bilateral cooperation, and my personal favorite, “Working with Japanese media: How to make yourself known.” Both participating countries must have some compatible agenda or end-goal for them to work together. As Russia deals with sanctions from the EU and the U.S. over the Ukrainian crisis and searches to diversify its market, and with Japan trying to convince more allies and neighbors with its drastic changes in diplomatic and political spectrum, it almost seems perfectly timed that these two countries would look in more integrated ways to form a stronger bond. As bystanders, it will be in our best interest to keep a close eye on these two countries “money diplomacy” efforts and how they, ultimately, play out in forming and solidifying their respective public diplomacy narratives and initiatives.

Countering Confucius Institutes: Japan’s Push for a Soft Power Presence


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In a recent article published by Reuters and The Wall Street Journal, for the first time in nearly 40 years, Japan has instituted an education initiative that plans to fund Japanese policy and culture studies courses in many top-level universities in the United States. Taking a page from the Chinese and Korean public diplomacy books, the Japanese government, along with the Japan Foundation, will be allocating grants to schools such as MIT, Georgetown, New York University, and Columbia in a push that looks to create a greater cultural understanding of modern Japan, in order to separate itself from the enemy image it has from the past. A Japanese finance official stated that, “The [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe government has a sense of crisis that history issues concerning Japan … are not properly understood in the United States, and decided to make a contribution so that Japan research would not die out” (Umekawa, Reuters).

Japan is well aware of the success and inroads that China and Korea have had in revising their national brands through the targeting of educational institutes and Japan does not want to be left behind. “’There is a fear that Japan is losing out in an information war with South Korea and China and that we must catch up,’ said Kan Kimura, a political professor at Kobe University” (Hayashi, The Wall Street Journal). In fact, it looks like that this may be the beginning of a larger public diplomacy initiative in the United States. “After a decade of shrinking spending on public diplomacy, Japan’s foreign ministry won a total of 70 billion yen for strategic communications in an extra budget for 2014/15 and the initial budget for the next year from April, up from 20 billion yen in the initial 2014/15 budget. Those funds are to be used for ‘soft power’ initiatives such as the Japan studies programs at foreign universities and setting up ‘Japan House’ centers to promote the ‘Japan Brand’” (Umekawa, Reuters). Also, “Tokyo… plans to add Japanese-language programs, send young Japanese to study and work in the U.S. and ramp up efforts to influence global opinions of Japan” (Hayashi, The Wall Street Journal). As the 70th Anniversary of World War 2 ending comes closer, the Japanese are looking for ways to boost a favorable image, build up an enhanced understanding, and distance themselves from a troubled past.

Works Cited

Hayashi, Yuka. “Japan Takes Soft-Power Push to U.S. Campus.” WSJ. N.p., 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 15 Apr. <;.

Umekawa, Takashi. “Japan Budgets over $15 Million for Overseas Universities in Soft Power Push.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 12 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.  <;.

Tension between domestic politics and public diplomacy for Greece

Many of our readings have dissected the tension between domestic policy constraints and public diplomacy. In a recent article by The New York Times on the strained talks between Germany and Greece, we can see that same tension playing out in real time. When the new finance minister of Greece, Mr. Varoufakis, went on his goodwill tour of the EU, he talked about the common plight of the average German citizen and their Greek counterpart. And his rhetoric often appealed to a sense of the ‘people’ against the ‘machine’ of the troika.

But, in more recent public commentary he, and Prime Minister Tsipras, have taken on a tone that could be seen to drive a wedge between the very audiences they’ve been appealing to over the past several months. Why, when Greece’s only hope of debt relief is Germany’s buy-in, is the new government coming across as antagonistic towards Germany? Why when Greece is asking for “rescue money” from Germany, would it then turn around and demand wartime reparations in a highly public and charged way?

Common sense, and self-preservation, would seem to suggest that some deep internal conflict of interest on the part of the Syriza government is at work. But, underneath the bluff and bluster, there is a compelling conundrum. How can the Syriza government live up to the promises made as it sought to win the recent elections to its domestic constituents and then backpedal in its talks with Germany?

Timing is Everything

Why bring up German reparations now? Why not build on the unity-of-the-EU-proletariat-angle that Varoufakis has been cultivating and solidify some potential support among the German electorate, who like their Greek counterparts, can be a strong influence in the position their government takes on any potential new deal struck between the two nations?   Because the Syriza government has to appeal to its local base, for whom this is an issue with deep resonance, and, because they may seek to solidify their position and avert a referendum or some other such measure, if they appear to be catering to the troika.

Tsipras has an unenviable task, avert defaulting, while keeping an austerity-sick people happy, and that is muddying the waters of Greece’s public diplomacy, causing it to throw ‘sticks and stones’ (i.e. the seizure of German property in Greece, call for reparations, and criticism of acreditor emissaries), when what it really needs to do is find and hold the meager common ground it can find with the foreign publics of its lender partners, and in so doing their leaders, who like Tsipras, must also keep their promises not to heap more debt-relief onto their own taxpayers.


Education Exchange with Iran


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The recent nuclear agreement with between the U.S (with its allies) and Iran has rejuvenated a relationship between two countries that have been diplomatically restricted for many years. Now, a door has been opened and the Iranian people have seen a glimpse of a brighter future. If the framework holds, then the economic sanctions that have plagued the country for decades will be lifted and the livelihoods of many Iranian citizens would improve. Certainly this is cause for celebration as many Iranian’s took to the streets to applaud for what is sure to be the start of a new beginning for diplomatic relations. In order to continue taking advantage of this opportunity, now is as good a time as any to increase our public diplomacy efforts in order to create a more relaxed and improved relationship, as well as a greater understanding with the Iranian people.

Since the Iranian revolution, the United States has been referenced as “The Great Satan” and chants of “Death to America” was a common occurrence throughout the country. Over time, increasing public diplomacy initiatives could help dispel these negative notions and return to a per-revolution relationship with the Iranian government. Philip Seib recommends in his article, “America and Iran: An Opportunity for Public Diplomacy,” that an increased educational exchange program or people-to-people diplomacy could help out in this initiative. “Exchange programs — academic and cultural — are effective in breaking down stereotypes, and existing efforts should be accelerated…which would signal Iranians that “the great Satan” might not be so satanic” (Seib, “America and Iran: An Opportunity for Public Diplomacy”). In fact, through his research he mentions how America had upwards of 50,000 Iranian students before the revolution, but dropped to 2,000 after the revolution (Today, there are just around 9,000 students enrolled in US universities). “Their having been here means something beyond the knowledge they acquire in classrooms and laboratories. When they return to Iran, their perceptions of America and Americans will have been shaped by first-hand experience rather than by the demonizing messages from their own government” (Seib, “America and Iran: An Opportunity for Public Diplomacy”).

It would not be an easy initiative as the Iranian government will have a big impact on how their citizens will be able to travel to and from America as many of the hardliners still hold negative views of the Western world. Still, it is imperative to build upon the new excitement that the Iranian people have for this new opportunity that has been presented to them.  “Study abroad, exchange of scholars, and international programs are relatively inexpensive ways of bringing about better understanding between people while at the same time decreasing the appeal of simplistic stereotypes that perpetuate international conflict.  Public diplomacy through these international interpersonal encounters not only directly benefits the individuals involved, it also changes national images” (Weaver, International Relations: Communication, Identity, and Conflict).  Ideally standing by is not an option as the forward-thinking Iranian people are open to new ideas and ways of thinking that will give them a breath of fresh air from the stale way of thinking of the past.

Works Cited

Seib, Philip. “America and Iran: An Opportunity for Public Diplomacy.” The Huffington Post., 5 Apr. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2015

Weaver, Gary.  International Relations: Communication, Identity, and Conflict. Boston: Pearson, 2013.  Print.

Post-Nuclear Deal: Iranians Go Viral… But Then What?

To many Iranians, today is indeed a celebratory and monumental moment–the U.S., other world powers, and Iran have finally reached a nuclear deal. With this announcement, media outlets not only quickly reported on the actual nuclear restrictions agreement, but also about local Iranians’ jubilation both offline and online ( Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his supportive leaders have spread the message of positivity and progressiveness and said that this new deal “benefits everybody” ( However, as any public sentiment goes, not all of the Iranian population were in favor of this new development. Alongside cheerful shouts were looming skepticisms and critiques. Now, the question remains, how will Iran “sell” this nuclear deal among its disapproving locals and convince the global doubters that the Iranian people and government will hold up their end of this much-contested agreement? Public diplomacy and policy sound familiar?

Today’s New York Times article titled “Iran’s Leaders Begin Tricky Task of Selling Deal at Home” addresses this internal conflict the country is facing between the supporters and protesters. Now, domestically, Iranian leaders are tasked with the burgeoning responsibility to unify their public that this nuclear deal will, ultimately, do good for the country and its people. As the article highlights, with this deal, comes the lift of sanctions, which means Iran’s economy will see much more bustling. This is great news for everyday citizens who have tussled for decades with gloomy economic developments and failures.

In the public diplomacy front, it appears Iran could have even more complex issues to deal with. For so long, the U.S. and most of the Western powers have distanced themselves from the nuclear issues involving Iran. There were constant back-and-forths when it came to negotiations, empty threats, and unsuccessful talks. With all this history, it is actually quite amazing that these parties were actually able to reach a consensus with the newly-developed nuclear deal. With all this attention and focus on this agreement, and even more weary international onlookers, if the Iranian government is truly serious and sincere in its involvement, it is time to strategically make use of public diplomacy. President Rouhani gave his first green light to glimpses of public diplomacy at his televised speech, “Any promise that we made and any promise that we will make, we will stand by it… We are not men of deception or hypocrisy” ( However, we all know smart public diplomacy is easier said than done. The Iranian government must look further into PD initiatives, strategies, and tactics to develop and maintain President Rouhani’s message of trust. Again, PD is not a simple PR stunt. It must be understood and dealt as a long-term goal with ultimate objectives being able to nurture better relations and changing the hearts, minds, and jaded perceptions of oneself/country. The Iranian government will have to navigate the right path how to create harmony and consistency domestically and globally in its promise that the nuclear deal is legitimate and beneficial to “all.”