Putin in China

I never think about it thoroughly until I came to the U.S. that why Putin is all that popular and become such an political “idol” in China. I called him an “idol” instead of a “figure” because often people do not pay attention to his policies or his political movement, yet extremely interested in his personal life and anecdotes. Such admiration is not really what people usually do to a foreign political figure yet to a teenage idol. For example,even a fake video about Putin sung a song during Voice of Russia got virus in China (http://www.iqiyi.com/v_19rrhbvd5g.html ). I reconsider his popularity in China and think there are mainly three reasons make Putin such a political icon in China.

Firstly, Putin’s strong personality which captured and publicized by his PR team. I remembered as a child I read a magazine issue on Yeltsin yet nothing interesting enough to let me know who is this person and what are his characteristics. The only thing I remembered is just Yeltsin was the leader of Russia, like any other state leaders. Putin personalize himself and put trademark on his strong personality and personal life many times. Chinese netizens called him “Emperor Putin” as a praise for his strong (and rather uncommon in the modern world) rule and leadership. He is regarded as the state leader with such a strong personality that does become a source of soft power of Russia in China: when we talk about Russia today, many picture Russian as the nation of people with battle spirits, strong, determining, and dare to fight with the West, which are actually traits presented by Putin. Simple example will be the news on Putin put on cloth for Mrs. Peng Liyuan, the first lady of China, during APEC summit and this got virus in China when Putin was praised as a “gentleman”.


Secondly, the Sino-Russial relations. There is no major conflicts or contested issue between China and Russia today. In fact, recently these two powers have developed many new framework for further cooperation. In terms of personal charisma, President Obama is another popular foreign political leaders in China yet people talk about his policies, especially policies related to China, more often than his personal life or personality. This is because given the U.S.-China relation today, President of U.S. need to make many decisions that may not be favorable for Chinese and people are more concerned about the policy outcomes brought about by the leader, rather than the leader himself. And when unfavorable decisions made, backed up by President’s rational for it, Chinese are less likely to give credits to this President for his decisions made.

Thirdly, the post-cold war world order. The mentality of us versus them is still existed on the world order today. In fact, as we discussed in the class, China see the established world order and norms as one established by the West. The world of Democracy and the world of Communist still exist and China often stands with Russia as  team counter-West. This attitude was reflected on Assad Crisis and also on Crimea Crisis. “Emperor Putin’ as Chinese people called him, is a figure that never hide his skepticism about the West with political power to fight against it. That impresses many Chinese since Chinese government is actually frequently criticized for being too weak in front of the West and too profit-driven when comes to China’s relation building with Western countries. It is not necessarily anti-west, yet it is more like Putin says many critical opinions that Chinese people agree with and hope their own leaders can frankly speak that out on behalf of their country.


“Vulture” Public Diplomacy in Argentina

The mysterious death of an Argentine prosecutor named Alberto Nisman has roiled the South American nation since January. Initial reports indicated Nisman had committed suicide, but in the past several months, a panoply of theories about the “real” story behind Nisman’s death have been explored by various segments of Argentine society.

Less than a week before Nisman died in the bathroom of his apartment from a single gunshot wound to the head, the prosecutor had published a detailed report claiming that Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman had made a secret deal with Iranian officials who were allegedly involved in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish community center, described by some as the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history.

Nisman said that the Argentines had offered the Iranians immunity in exchange for closer economic relations between the two countries. An Argentine judge recently declared that the accusations described in Nisman’s report “do not constitute a crime,” but some of his colleagues have contested his decision.

The timing of Nisman’s death is highly suspect, given that he was scheduled to testify regarding his allegations before the congress the next day. Some have theorized that Nisman could have been “suicided,” a term Argentines use to refer to assassinations that are staged as suicides. The suspected motives behind Nisman’s supposed “suiciding” are too various and sundry to concisely summarize here, but most of them are related in one way or another to the prosecutor’s years-long investigation of the AMIA attack.

No one has ever been convicted for the AMIA bombing and the facts of Nisman’s case are still coming out, but this has not stopped politicians from, well, politicizing the issue. Opposition parties have attempted to harness the high-profile story to amplify their anti-corruption message ahead of a general election this year. The governor of Buenos Aires province, Daniel Scioli, a staunch supporter of President Kirchner and himself a presidential aspirant, praised the recent ruling that declared the case against Kirchner insufficient, blaming a “media and political operation” for “the international damage that [Nisman’s] false accusation created.”

President Kirchner herself has also commented quite frequently on the case. In a column published earlier this week on her official website, titled “Everything has to do with everything” Kirchner claimed that her administration had been targeted by “a global modus operandi, which not only severely injures national sovereignty, but also generates international political operations of any type, shape and colour.”

Many commentators tend to dismiss the Argentine government’s official statements on the case as propaganda and conspiracy theories meant to confuse and distract from the unanswered questions about Nisman’s death. The well-respected Argentine journalist Uki Goñi recently characterized President Kirchner as having “gone on the offensive against her critics” with her latest salvo “by claiming she is the target of a conspiracy between US ‘vulture funds,’ Jewish community groups and the prosecutor Alberto Nisman.”

However, in this instance – at least from Kirchner’s point of view – it is these groups that seem to have “gone on the offensive” against her.

As I wrote for Counterpunch last year, when Argentina defaulted on its national debt in 2001 “more than 90% of lenders subsequently agreed to restructuring deals that allowed the country to exchange new bonds for the defaulted ones at a significant loss for the creditors. However, some investment firms labelled ‘vulture funds’ by their critic…bought up Argentine bonds at discount prices, hoping to use the US legal system to force the country to repay their full value.”

Since 2007, a US-based organization financed by the vulture funds called American Task Force Argentina (ATFA) has spent millions of dollars on a campaign to “do whatever we can to get our government and media’s attention focused on what a bad actor Argentina is,” in the words of the group’s executive director. This included funding a series of advertisements in 2013 warning about Argentina’s relationship with Iran.

In 2014, ATFA’s spending on lobbying increased by nearly 50 percent as the legal fight between the vulture funds and Argentina continued to heat up. The Buenos Aires Herald reported last month that Paul Singer, the owner of a prominent vulture fund and one of the major backers of ATFA, is also the second-biggest donor to the pro-Israel group Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), which “launched a website and award to honour the memory of late AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman.”

Goñi reported that a spokesperson for Singer’s hedge fund denied the “allegation that Mr Singer had any contact whatsoever with Mr Nisman” and “Jewish leaders also responded angrily to the president’s claims.” Yet the fact remains that Singer plays a substantial role in supporting organizations that have loudly and consistently challenged Kirchner’s government regarding both the AMIA case as well as the ongoing debt dispute.

This does not excuse the apparently botched investigation of Nisman’s death and the lack of a conclusive resolution to the AMIA case, but these hyperbolic and vitriolic communications campaigns backed by billionaires have needlessly enflamed the situation. In part, the Kirchner government’s hyped-up rhetoric might be a response to the onslaught of the international information campaign waged against the country in recent years, fueled in large part by groups like ATFA.

Basketball Diplomacy – A Slam Dunk?

The world of public diplomacy seems to be filled with an unseemly number of hyphenated styles: digital-diplomacy, manga-diplomacy, even sauna-diplomacy. With the opening of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the U.S. comes yet another entry into the diplomatic catalogue: NBA-diplomacy. Several news sources, including an interesting editorial piece in the Orlando Sentinel, have picked up a story about the NBA starting a basketball camp in Havana running from April 23rd to April 26th…smack dab during the NBA playoff season. Coincidence? Probably not.

Making the NBA relevant as an outlet for diplomacy is a bit of a long shot. Sure, history is rife with examples of sports teams and leagues creating cultural bridges between disparate groups. Soccer is a great example of this – Japan hosted the Iraq National team for their first game after the US led invasion in 2004. But what’s interesting here isn’t the NBA attempting to build support in Cuba – it’s the hostility this action has elicited from Miami’s basketball team, the Heat.

You see, the majority of American’s were in favor of restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba. It seemed like a conflict that had worn out it’s rhetoric, a situation ripe for mending to give our diplomatic efforts a much needed boost. But for Cuba-Americans living in Florida, Castro and his supporters represented (and still represent) a vile and irrevocably irredeemable  regime that have brought only harm to the Cuban community. The Miami Heats anger at the NBA’s decision to go into Havana with arms open reflects the anger of Miamians (sp?) specifically and Cuban Americans in general.

In the end, it probably all comes down to market share anyway. The Heat have a vested interest in objecting in order to keep their fan base happy. The NBA has a vested interest in building upon the Obama Administrations diplomatic efforts and developing a new market abroad. The event will occur, and hopefully it will be a success, but it does reveal that sometimes a diplomatic initiative that seems like a home run can be more complicated than it seems. Even something as innocuous and “soft-ball” as a basketball camp for kids can lead to unintended consequences.

My advice? If I were the NBA, I would get the Heat involved no matter what. And I get Cuban American finds involved as well.  This sends a message that America isn’t ignoring it’s domestic Cuban population, and that it doesn’t forget the historical troubles between the two countries. What America does want is to expose it’s new partners to an American past time that features a plethora of Carribean and Spanish speaking coaches, players, and supporters.

P.S. Sorry about the title. I couldn’t resist.

Mandarin to be Introduced in South African Schools


Mandarin is no longer a add-on or something you need to go to Confucius Institute to learn in South Africa. Now mandarin is added as a part of curriculum in South African schools. From the report of CCTV, it seems like the economic is the biggest factor in play here. China has continuously invest heavily in African countries and South Africa seize the opportunity to learn the language in order to have more advantage for business. In CNN news report, it is made more clear that South African parents will see this as their children’s “ticket to success.” Last year, China’s trade with Africa exceeded 100 billion dollars and ability of mandarin can be related to career opportunities. Furthermore, with China’s heavy investment world widely especially in Africa, South African youth with Mandarin ability are believed to have more advantage to attract Chinese investment and doing more business.

While this shows the success of Mandarin language today in Africa may not due to Cultural diplomacy like the Confucius Institute, there is an interesting information from the CNN report. It says that many African children found it challenging to learn how to write Chinese characters and pronounce Chinese words but they “enjoy learning about the culture.” It is contrasting to the video we watched during class about the experience of a group of American high school in immersion program designed by Confucius Institute, which makes them still want to learn the language but not like the country or culture at all. It may be an interesting perspective to look beyond the economic factor in Mandarin’s popularity in Africa. It will be interesting to look into Confucius Institute’s contributions to this attraction by culture and dislike of learning language itself. Perhaps more cultural exposure will help the spread of Chinese culture in the region and cultural diplomacy may play its role in Africa if appropriate strategies used. Confucius Institute or other public diplomacy initiatives by China should put this case into consideration when further policy come out.

What the “Rupture” in the FARC’s Unilateral Ceasefire Means for the Peace Talks

For more than two years, the Colombian rebel group known as the FARC has been engaged in negotiations aimed at securing a peace deal with the government. In December 2014, the FARC announced a unilateral ceasefire that it said “should be transformed into an armistice.”

The Colombian government appeared to agree. In January, President Juan Manuel Santos instructed the government’s negotiating team to seize the opportunity to move quickly toward a “bilateral and definitive” ceasefire. Last month, in recognition of the FARC’s adherence to the unilateral ceasefire, Santos announced a temporary pause in bombing FARC positions. The guerrillas and the government even promised to cooperate in an effort to locate and decommission the large number of landmines laid throughout the country during the conflict.

However, an apparent attack yesterday by the FARC on a group of Colombian soldiers, which the country’s attorney general described as an “ambush” and a “war crime,” has thrown into doubt the status of the ceasefire. Eleven Colombian soldiers reportedly died and another 19 were wounded during the incident. A number of media outlets and analysis firms are describing the event as a “setback” or “hurdle” to the peace process.

That this occurrence is a setback is virtually undeniable, but not much evidence indicates that it will prove a major blow to the peace process. In response to what Santos called “a deliberate attack by the FARC” and “a clear rupture of the promise of a unilateral ceasefire,” the president “ordered the armed forces to lift the suspension of bombings on FARC camps.”

In a series of public statements released on their website and social media platforms, the FARC argued against the resumption of bombing, vehemently rejected the government’s characterization of the deadly incident and vigorously reaffirmed their commitment to the peace process.

The attack will – and has already – fueled long-standing criticisms of the negotiations, but the process has survived more than two and a half years of ups and downs. The FARC had previously held to their unilateral ceasefire despite continuing offensive actions against the group by the armed forces and neither side has mentioned breaking off the talks as a serious possibility.

At the same time, the FARC recently warned that the ceasefire could be “fading” due to the continued operations against the group. Although the FARC’s military weakness likely played a large role in bringing the rebels to the negotiating table, the resumption of bombing could cause the FARC to respond with its own escalation, which could contribute to a dangerous cycle of increasing violence.

While it is too early to predict the long-term effects of the recent attack, public diplomacy efforts aimed at reiterating both sides’ commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement to the conflict will be critical to maintaining domestic and international confidence in and support for the talks.

South Korea: The Vatican’s Major Asian Ally

As a follow up to last week’s post, I would like to shift focus from one East Asian country to another, from China to South Korea. I chose to do this in an effort to showcase how these to Asian countries can serve as such a striking dichotomy of weak versus strengthened diplomatic ties between the Vatican and an Asian nation.

Stepping away from the controversial and constantly conflicting relationship between the Vatican and China, and present to you readers, happy Catholic in the South Korean capital of Seoul!

Pope South Korea Trip (1)
I mean, just look at the joy on these nuns’ faces! You’d think they’d just seen the head of the Roman Catholic Church of something…

But before we get too ahead of ourselves, it’s best to start back in August of 2014, when Pope Francis took a special five-day trip to the East Asian country with “a call for reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.” While on Korean soil, the pope did his best to showcase his “humanity” and “simplicity” in an effort to share an “alternative message” of the Vatican’s good intentions towards the nation-state.

“Francis’ simplicity and move-to-the-bottom mentality offers an alternative message. Coupled with a humility uncommon to Asian heads of state, Francis quickly grabbed Korean attention. Despite the formalities of the papal office, Francis took opportunities to depart the mold in numerous breakaway comments and spontaneous acts.”
-Thomas C. Fox, journalist for the National Catholic Reporter

The Korean media networks were eating it up, showcasing the humble Pope Francis in the best light possible: every PAO officer’s dream.

Nuns preparing to greet Pope Francis as he arrives in Seoul.

What makes Pope Francis’ (and by extension, the Vatican’s) relationship with South Korea so strikingly different from his relationship with China is a nation-state that is ready to receive his message. But then again, what exactly does “being ready” mean, and how does a nation-state get to that position of openness, of willingness to collaborate?

It’s by a show of good faith. And for every nation state, a show of good faith is means something different….and sometimes, it’s a little more difficult. In South Korea, a show of good faith by Pope Francis was as simple as meeting with Soith Korea’s young people on Asian Youth Day, and a call for evangelization “through dialogue and openness, even with others suspicious or intolerant of the church.”


In other countries, like China, it has been and will continue to be all the more difficult. And it’s a two-fold issue. Not only is China’s idea of a “show of good faith” one that offends numerous other nation-states (a.k.a. forcing the hand of Pope Francis to not meet with the Dalai Lama), but it’s also one that show’s very little returns on investment. While the Vatican should keep trying, it would be best for the pope to keep in mind that good PD with China could mean and long and treacherous road ahead.

Unlikely Allies and Opening Diplomatic Doors

A recent article on Ynet (translated by i24.com) by Israeli public diplomacy expert Yitzhak Oren provided an interesting analysis of the recent election in Nigeria from a relationship-building standpoint. Oren, a former ambassador to Nigeria, lamented the loss of President Goodluck Jonathan to Muhammadu Buhari in the recent national election. Jonathan had been a close and supportive ally of Israel – something I was completely unaware of before reading this article.

The article discusses how the relationship between Nigeria and Israel was about two main things: business and security. And with Israel, that seems to be the modus operandi for almost all of their public diplomacy outreach. They have quietly and effectively created relationships with countries that want military hardware and training, as well as an eager ally in business partnerships. Nigeria is one example, but this strategy has also worked for regional powerhouses like India and Singapore.

The larger implication from a public diplomacy standpoint is the ability to forge unlikely relationships based on mutual benefit and not necessarily cultural or societal similarities. We’ve discussed in class the possibilities inherent in “cultural congruence” between nations – a shared narrative that allows for effective and smooth public diplomacy initiatives. But in this case, we see something very different: Nigeria is a heavily Muslim country, and shares very little historically with Israel or the Israeli people. There’s nothing wrong that, per se, but their recent friendliness belies the need for public affinity that seems to under gird some of the conversations we have about public diplomacy.

And the article seems to take the thesis a step further – that perhaps creating mutually beneficial scenarios can override cultural in-congruence and even historical animosity. Buhari is a devout Muslim, and Jonathan is not, yet Oren describes the opportunities for Israel to create a new horizon of partnership with the Buhari government inspired by the need for a firmer security situation in the face of Boko Haram and declining oil prices. Well, guess who needs oil and who doesn’t have a problem selling weapons and military acumen?

The idea that Israel might form a strong relationship with a new Muslim leader in a Muslim region with strong strategic importance seems far-fetched…until you look at the issue from the right perspective. When you start creating business partnerships and sending Israelis to Nigeria (and visa versa), the public enters into the diplomacy equation. Nigerians doing business with Israelis while trying to counter the threat of Muslim extremism could open up some very interesting possibilities for exchange and dialogue.