Digital Diplomacy: Using Social Media to Understand, Engage, Inform, and Influence

“Public diplomacy is a vital instrument of national policy, and should be funded as such.” – US Ambassador Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.

While traditional methods of public diplomacy utilizing television and print media are still essential to reaching a mass audience, in today’s globalized world an effective social media is critical to governments’ abilities to understand, engage, inform and influence the next generation of leaders in communities all around the world.

Recently I attended a forum held at The George Washington University entitled “The Last Three Feet: New Media, New Approaches and New Challenges for American Public Diplomacy”. Panelists (primarily Foreign Service officers) discussed the contemporary communications environment and how public diplomats overseas cope with it. Content from this post is representative of what was discussed.

Public diplomacy is not just a public relations campaign, but the promotion of diplomacy between societies. As societies connect, the social connection becomes more important. Local campaigns become connected into global campaigns, such as the fight against poverty, social exclusion, etc. People want a way to achieve their personal destiny, and find encouragement in others. Governments have to show people that they can help them to achieve their goals with democracy, open society, and economic opportunities.

In order to be successful, public diplomacy must be relevant to people and their happiness. Using a default ideology will no longer work, as people understand that the issues they face are complex and require multiple solutions. Governments need to show how they empower people for good health, security, and education; working through civil society is also important because of its different and useful connections to communities on the ground.

Diplomacy is an act of accommodation and empathy, finding places where we agree and we have the ability to connect. Who gains value in the digital diplomacy exchange? Importantly, who should Embassies and Consulates prefer as their target audience? Is an Embassy’s Facebook and Twitter for locals or expatriates? These are important questions that public diplomacy officers should consider when starting and maintaining social media as digital diplomacy. The answers may vary by country and foreign representation location, and are not always easy to answer. I provide pertinent examples afforded by Aaron Snipe of the US Department of State from his time serving at the US Embassy in Iraq.

Key Points in creating and maintaining an effective digital diplomacy strategy:

1) Understand. In utilizing social media, government officials must begin by listening. Examine how the Embassy used social media up until that point. Take a close look at the number and type of ‘fans’. Are there too many from your own country or those with direct linkages to the Embassy? The primary goal of an Embassy’s social media strategy should be to communicate with the locals and provide a platform for grassroots engagement. Before beginning engagement, however, government officials must understand what is at the heart of the local culture, social life, and political discussion.

In Iraq over the last year the US Embassy experienced significant improvements in their communications with locals because alongside all English text, they added Arabic text; this opened up a much larger space for readers who could not understand English, or did not feel comfortable communicating in English. Adding the local language showed a sign of respect for the local culture and a desire to effectively engage locals. However, some Americans did not agree with this move and have complained that the Embassy’s Facebook should be to communicate with local Americans about urgent issues and safety information.

2) Engage (part 1). Generate content relevant to locals. While a Facebook page can be a mouthpiece for a government, it should not simply be a place solely for launching press releases and policies. If users do not connect with the content then it hampers the tool of digital diplomacy from serving its purpose.

While the State Department generates and provides a surplus of content, it was not always what Iraqis were talking about; therefore the Embassy could not always use the reports, releases and policy briefs and so forth. The Embassy team focused on finding out what was important to Iraqis and attempted to connect with the culture; they created a “question of the day” which ranged in questions from “What is your favorite kabob shop in Baghdad” to “What do you think about the new law in France prohibiting face-covering veils”.

3) Engage (part 2). Ensure engagement is organic, about things that people are actually interested in, and contains a human element. People do not want to interact with ‘government administrators’. They want to know who you are in the Embassy. People will then get used to talking to ‘us’ in the Embassy, and will connect more effectively knowing their comments reach real ‘people’.

For example, in Iraq Embassy officials created a “Window into the Embassy” on YouTube. Programs feature Foreign Service officers talking about the Strategic Framework Agreement in Arabic. It was then linked to Facebook to spur discussion.

4) Inform. The ability to speak in a less formal way should not be overlooked. While it can be challenging to offer government words in a friendlier manner which coheres with policy, social media provides a channel in which a government can say thing more empathetically than traditional media and more formal statements.

5) Influence. Governments can receive and use productive feedback from comments on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. Not all comments are constructive; sometimes participants praise you and ‘like’ everything you do without any explanation (or in some cases offer condemnations without justification). However, social media provides a place for real local engagement and direct reflection of a government’s policies. In the same way that a government can have a sincere influence on locals’ opinions, the locals gain unmatched access to government officials’ ears; this influence (or belief of influence) is invaluable for both participating sides.

While this post argues that local populations should be the primary target for a foreign Embassy’s social media tools, the keyword is ‘primary’. An Embassy website, Facebook, or Twitter can be a useful place for nationals to learn about their country’s policies, influence or events happening in a particular country. They can even provide a space for disagreements or praises about actions where the national may otherwise have no place for engagement. However, digital diplomacy as public diplomacy, when used as an effective tool to promote a state’s foreign policy interests is meant to focus on persuading the peoples (and hence the leaders) of other states that they seek positive engagement and to improve their overall wellbeing.

Whether locals prefer or need economic, social or political assistance depends on their particular situation. Sometimes in a small country, one-to-one dialogue can be more cohesive than a broader Facebook campaign. Nonetheless, a strong and coherent digital diplomacy strategy exemplifies empathy and compassion for a globalized community which is similarly reaching out to understand, engage, inform and influence foreign governments.


The All Blacks won their hearts, now who will win their votes?

With the 2011 Rugby World Cup over and won, New Zealanders are taking more notice in the upcoming national election set for November 26. In the shadows of the Rugby World Cup, negative events occurred which do not seem to have damaged the National Party’s standing: the Rena oil spill off the coast of Tauranga, a national credit downgrade, and claims that Prime Minister John Key deceived the House when he said “Standard and Poor’s had said another credit downgrade would be more likely if Labour became the Government”. Thus as the National Party is set to remain in power, this election and the simultaneous referendum on MMP are likely to have a stronger impact on minor parties and their ability to influence Government rather than simply which party will lead. Minor parties will more than ever fight for survival in a critical economic time for New Zealand, trying to link up with international campaigns and media spectacles; as an export and tourism-driven economy New Zealand has not been immune to the effects of the global recession.

With the Prime Minister’s national approval rating around 70%, and the National Party polling around 54%, one would think John Key’s party had released widely popular policies in the lead up to the election. However, the two latest policies affecting welfare and state-owned assets (SOEs) caused significant public stir.

Parties call out policies with impact during tough financial times

In a supposed effort to invest in improvements in current assets and the education sector, the National Party seeks to sell portions of SOEs to create a mixed ownership model; this policy would likely affect the banking, power and transport sectors. Moreover, the Australian arm of an international investment firm was selected to advise and assist the Government in potential sales of SOEs.

The Green Party, Maori Party, Labour Party, Mana Party and United Future have all strongly opposed to the sale of SOEs and appointment of an international advisory firm. The potential for SOEs to fall under international hands is worrisome to them, and instead they prefer the SOEs to either stay as profit producers for the government or in the hands of “Kiwi Mum and Dad investors”. As Minister of Revenue for successive governments, United Future’s Peter Dunne said there had been no real debate or discussion about the sale of SOEs and called for privatization limits; while some assets could be sold off, Dunne believes Kiwibank, Radio NZ and water are non-negotiable. While some countries welcome foreign direct investment, each has a right to investigate the potential impacts of foreign ownership. The Green Party’s plan to create 100,000 new green jobs, in contrast, seeks direct government investment in home insulation projects, incentives for public-private partnerships in renewable energy solutions and government support for small to medium enterprise.

National’s plan for welfare reform is another controversial policy, and aims to move beneficiaries into the workplace and off assistance. The new plan is based on a recommendation from the Welfare Working Group and renames the beneficiary categories to Job Seeker Support Benefit, Sole Parent Support, and Supported Living Payment. The plan targets single parents as culprits. Once her first child reaches the age of 14, a single mother must “look for work” or be penalized. If a mother has a second child while still a single parent, she must look for work once the child turns 1. As John Key once accused, women on the benefit are “breeding for business”.

The 1,000 people that stood in line to apply for 140 jobs at a supermarket in Hamilton illustrated the dire job shortage; opponents claim the lack of jobs is the problem rather than the people on the benefit. Minor parties and editorials are calling for the National Party to create job opportunities instead of simply renaming benefits and making threats to those who cannot even secure part-time work due to the lack of opportunities available.

Tax policy is a third election topic about which Kiwis and Americans alike are keen to hear alternatives. Several minor parties have taken strong stands against businesses in an attempt to ride the ‘occupy’ movement wave. In a challenge to National’s plan to sell SOEs to obtain funds for education, the Mana Party wants to restructure the tax system so that investment in education “is never considered a special extra and is always part of core Government responsibility”. Winston Peters and his party New Zealand First called out CEOs and ultra-wealthy in New Zealand at the recent campaign launch. New Zealand First aims to improve lives of the 90% by changing the tax structure; Peters called for less personal tax, removing tax on savings, less company tax, lowering GST to 12.5%, and removing GST on rates.

Voting Reform – will NZ and the US swap styles?

In addition to the party policies set to affecting social and economic conditions, debate over the voting system for political representation in New Zealand is heating up in the lead up to a referendum. Electors will be asked two questions: whether or not they want to keep Mixed Members of Parliament (MMP), and if NZ changes its voting system, which of four alternative styles would they prefer? The listed alternatives to MMP are the following: First Past the Post (FPP), Preferential Voting (PV), Single Transferable Vote (STV), and Supplementary Member (SM). You can read about each form of voting on the Election website. MMP and SM are more amiable toward a mixed government; FPP and PV make it more difficult for minor parties to get into Government and exert influence. A Supplementary Member group has used New Zealand First leader Winston Peters to illustrate the negative effects of minor parties’ influence on Government. Critics of minor parties feel National or Labour fulfill their needs and see no room for alternative opinions or rabble-rousers such as Peters. The pressure to move away from MMP is strong enough to cause a media spectacle but not enough to maintain a diverse nationwide campaign.

In the US, a movement is gaining hold to oppose the primarily two-party system for the presidential election. Americans Elect seeks a nonpartisan presidential candidate to be on the ballot in all 50 states. An internet-based election will elect the final candidate in June 2012. To ensure the candidate’s ideology is not too far to one side, the VP running mate (chosen by the candidate) must be from a different party. About 60% of Americans like the idea of a third, independent candidate running for president against Democratic and Republic candidates. Already on the ballot of 7 states, Americans Elect is definitely a cause to watch, as it has the potential to produce voting reform in this country, albeit in a different way to New Zealand. The idea of having multiple parties in Government is inconvenient for lobbyists and firms who sway lawmakers in the US; however it would be interesting to see if New Zealand moved toward a system which favors two parties while the US moved toward one which favors diversity. And next, if Kiwis could start watching football, Americans may switch to rugby.

US Strategy: All Eyes Turn to Asia-Pacific

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding US engagement in the South Pacific over the last few weeks and months. The US sent its largest delegation ever to the Pacific Islands Forum’s Post-Forum Dialogue in Auckland in September; this month USAID opened a new Pacific Island Regional Office in Port Moresby, the US Coast Guard assisted New Zealand to provide emergency water supplies to Tokelau. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta weighed in on the US presence in the Pacific on a recent visit to the region with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell to meet with ASEAN ministers. November will bring the APEC Summit in Hawaii, and the East Asia Summit in Bali.

Given all these recent events and appearances, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote an article for the November issue of Foreign Policy entitled “America’s Pacific Century”. The article details America’s adapting strategy in the Asia-Pacific. Clinton’s early claim that due to geography, “the US is both an Atlantic and a Pacific power,” illustrates how she views the role of diplomacy. US Ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner adds good insight into the article on his embassy blog.

The Obama Administration seeks a US-Asia alliance similar to the US-Atlantic alliance. Using “forward deployed diplomacy”, the Administration’s strategy follows six lines of action:

“strengthening bilateral security alliances;

deepening our working relationships with emerging powers, including with China;

engaging with regional multilateral institutions;

expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and

advancing democracy and human rights.”

To improve and safeguard bilateral relationships and alliances, according to Clinton, the US needs to update its alliances.

“In this effort, the Obama administration is guided by three core principles. First, we have to maintain political consensus on the core objectives of our alliances. Second, we have to ensure that our alliances are nimble and adaptive so that they can successfully address new challenges and seize new opportunities. Third, we have to guarantee that the defense capabilities and communications infrastructure of our alliances are operationally and materially capable of deterring provocation from the full spectrum of state and nonstate actors”.

The US is notably focused on updating the intricacies of its alliances with Australia, Thailand, South Korea and Japan. Additionally, as “part of a broader effort to ensure a more comprehensive approach to American strategy and engagement in the region” the US is building new partnerships with “China, India, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Brunei, and the Pacific Islands”.

Regarding multilateralism, Clinton believes there is still work to be done on all sides to strengthen collaborative political, economic and social efforts across the Pacific. “A more robust and coherent regional architecture in Asia would reinforce the system of rules and responsibilities, from protecting intellectual property to ensuring freedom of navigation, that form the basis of an effective international order.” The US gains from multilateral settings because “responsible behavior is rewarded with legitimacy and respect, and [states] can work together to hold accountable those who undermine peace, stability, and prosperity.” Thus US engagement with ASEAN, APEC and EAS are critical to the renewed Pacific strategy.

In maintaining economic statecraft as “a pillar of American foreign policy”, the US seeks to increase its exports to the Asia-Pacific. Because the Asia-Pacific currently “generates more than half of global output and nearly half of global trade” it is only natural that the US continues to push for progress in this area. Clinton asserts improved trade flows will assist improved diplomatic ties and vice versa:

“Increasingly, economic progress depends on strong diplomatic ties, and diplomatic progress depends on strong economic ties. And naturally, a focus on promoting American prosperity means a greater focus on trade and economic openness in the Asia-Pacific.

“Our hope is that a TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) agreement with high standards can serve as a benchmark for future agreements — and grow to serve as a platform for broader regional interaction and eventually a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific.”

Because American political and economic resources were allocated to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last decade the US has been unable (or perhaps just unwilling) to give the Asia-Pacific region the attention that it deserves. Therefore Clinton calls this renewed engagement with the region a ‘turn’ in policy.

UN Peacekeeping Operations: Watch This Space

The Brookings Institution held a discussion entitled: United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Fit for Purpose? featuring Anthony Banbury, Noam Unger and William Durch on October 18, 2011. The discussion was timely given the current budget deficit of the United States government, the continued request and need for UN peacekeepers, and the “Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act” sponsored recently in the House of Representatives. Discussants provided examples from their personal experiences in or alongside UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) to help us understand the constraints the operations face and the way forward.

According to Anthony Banbury, Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support at the United Nations, the “short answer” to the discussion’s question is “increasingly so”. The UN is trying to transform PKO field operations based on its own experiences; however any reforms or improvements are also up to member states because they must get passed by the General Assembly. Financial circumstances are linked to UN policies, but not in a way that is efficient for PKO.

The approach for creating and proposing field operations must be considered more holistically, according to Banbury. At times, UN Member States make robust mandates for field operations, which can include strict security requirements for personnel and other costly measures, without grasping the cost structure in advance. Logically, UN officials should instead provide several proposal options for the international community to choose from, presented with the dollar amount required and at different cost levels. The UN understands that the international community is concerned for the cost of PKO; they have the ability to improve synergy in combining functions to make the process more efficient. The Global Field Support Strategy – to be approved by the UNGA – illustrates the way in which the business model is changing to incorporate cost considerations. Banbury believes that once it is approved and changes are made, in 1-3 years, the answer to whether or not UNPKO is fit for purpose “will be yes”.

The past 15-20 years have seen a significant increase in the number of PKOs, led by the UN as well as NATO and other coalitions which have helped shape the way the US views such operations. Brookings Institute Fellow Noam Unger emphasized that since September 11, 2001, the US has maintained a security rational to support PKOs; the US targets weak and failing states in particular for field operations, proclaiming that they provide unstable environments which can engender terrorism or radical sentiments. However, because of growing public enthusiasm for accountability in light of budgetary pressures and financial preservation, funding to the very programs aimed at political and social stability is under attack. Lobby groups on both sides of UN funding arguments continue to lobby the government, and Unger believes that the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act will not get passed into law. Unger boldly stated that if the act did get passed, then there is “something seriously wrong” with the legislators. In any case, the Obama Administration signaled it would veto the act if it did get passed by both houses of Congress.

While in-fighting continues in the US Congress and the government gears up for an election next year, the US must not lose sight of the importance of its international commitments to a more peaceful and equitable world. The Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) and process changes discussed above illustrate a more positive and proactive collaboration among UN officials, US government and other states involved. One goal for the PKO missions is to be able to finish when the strategic need goes away (as opposed to consent being revoked); I am looking forward to the day when that occurs much more often in field missions as well as when that same principle is applied to the capacity and capability of UNPKOs.

“The US is a Pacific Nation,” Obama Greets Korean President Lee at White House

This morning’s Arrival Ceremony for the official state visit of Republic of Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak and his wife Mrs. Kim Yoon-ok coincided with a newly ratified free trade agreement between the US and South Korea. Guests were invited as part of an initiative called ‘White House Tweet Up’. I found out about the event just in time to secure entry and to be one of the many constantly snapping photos on the Lawn.

Undeterred by the pouring rain, hundreds of us waded through several security checkpoints and puddles to stand on the White House South Lawn to watch the occasion. The waiting began early; I arrived at 6:45 AM, stepped onto the lawn around 7:20 AM, and the Presidents arrived at 9:10 AM. After a heavy downpour, an announcement was made that “due to inclement weather, the Arrival Ceremony will be moved indoors.” Some guests left, while others simply wandered the grounds for photo opportunities. I stood firm and was rewarded for my steadfastness when at 8:40 AM it was announced that due to improved weather, the ceremony would indeed be held outdoors, as planned. Within minutes, men and women from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines bearing guns, musical instruments and flags began marching toward the White House to start the ceremony

Secretary of State Clinton, Treasury Secretary Geithner and Vice President Biden were some of the highest ranking officials in attendance. President Obama and the First Lady greeted and escorted President Lee and his wife as they exited their vehicle.

With servicemen holding umbrellas over their heads, Presidents Obama and Lee gave very brief welcoming statements to the crowd and to the world. They both praised each other’s peoples, national ideals, and the bilateral trade agreement. According to President Obama, ties between the two states are stronger than ever, and as a “Pacific nation” the US seeks to continue collaboration with South Korea.

President Lee’s arrival is timely given yesterday’s ratification by both houses of Congress of the free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. For some industries (particular worries are in the manufacturing sector), the trade agreement will take away American jobs; however according to the Washington Post, “producers of dairy, pork and poultry products, chemicals and plastics are all likely to increase exports to Korea”. In addition to the Arrival Ceremony, there was a press conference in the Rose Garden, and President Lee will address a joint session of Congress. While the morning began with a soggy start, sunny, fall skies now overhead have perhaps foreshadowed a prosperous bilateral exchange in the forecast.

Moore – Free Trade Agreements for NZ

On Monday October 3, the Asia Society sponsored a ‘Diplomatic Dialogue’ at the New Zealand Embassy in Washington, DC with Ambassador Mike Moore. As the keynote speaker, Ambassador Moore discussed the current state of US-NZ relations as well as an update on the NZ economy and the Pacific region. Mr. Moore stressed the historical emotional and defense bonds between the US and NZ and focused on bilateral and multilateral trade Ambassador Moore was optimistic despite NZ’s recent credit rating downgrade and the fall in the Kiwi dollar. Despite growing local and international movements against free trade, the US and NZ press on toward a more connected Pacific economy.

As the former head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ambassador Moore did not hide his bias for multilateral trade pacts and the WTO in particular. While being passionate about future WTO discussions and deals, he expressed his disappointment in the Doha Round of talks and the ‘unfinished’ business remaining from the Uruguay round. Ambassador Moore offered bilateralism as an alternative solution, with regionalism being the next step forward.

“New Zealanders,” according to Moore, “are natural traders. We can’t eat all our meat, can’t spin all our wool, and can’t drink all our wine.” Because of stalling and lack of agreements made at the WTO and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, NZ pursued bilateral trade agreements. Most notably, New Zealand concluded trade agreements with Australia, ASEAN and China. According to Moore, trade with China has nearly doubled in two years since the conclusion of the NZ-China Free Trade Agreement. Furthermore, NZ is starting trade talks with Russia and India. “Otherwise,” Moore stated, the economy would be in decline and “New Zealand would perish”.

Touting the ease of doing business in New Zealand, Ambassador Moore reiterated the government’s strong belief in the power of free trade and the future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The National government aims to move the TPP swiftly forward and “clinch a deal” that would provide an impetus for future multilateral talks in Geneva. The aim of the TPP according to Moore is to improve the global supply chain, whereby goods are ‘made in the world’ instead of a single country. However, there are movements and critical responses against the TPP in New Zealand, Japan and elsewhere in support of local workers and industries.

Trade can be exploitative, and global trade in particular has the potential for damaging smaller producers. Ambassador Moore left out any harmful effects of free trade on the New Zealand economy, particularly how it might impact local workers. As an agricultural-based economy with exports that are mostly primary goods, New Zealand must be cautious when entering trade negotiations with larger states including the US. While Fonterra may benefit from greater access to the US market, there is always a potential for US industries to flood the Kiwi market with cheaper subsidized goods. Free trade can be a double-edged sword and the governments involved must closely examine the potential impacts on domestic industries and create alternatives or offset the impact for those who may be squeezed out of business at least in the short-to medium-term.

Time to Shine: In Search of Solar-Powered Innovation

The latest US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition held in Washington, D.C. finished this past weekend with local entrants University of Maryland taking the overall win, followed by Middlebury College (2nd) and New Zealand (3rd). The event showcased student creativity, innovation and teamwork with undoubtedly positive results for all. While there are plans for each of the competing twenty houses to be shifted to different parts of the country and the world, only time will tell whether or not the new technologies used during the competition will make it to the mass market. This post will focus on two houses – New Zealand and China. Photos from the event will follow.

Called “First Light,” New Zealand’s house is modeled after the classic Kiwi bach, or what Americans call simply a beach house. This was the first time a New Zealand team, or any from the Southern Hemisphere for that matter, made it into the competition. First Light gets its name from the fact that NZ is the first to experience the sunrise each morning. Using recycled sheep’s wool as insulation, a Maori waka-inspired lamp shade and landscaped in a way to provide a tour of native NZ horticulture, the house has a uniquely Kiwi feel. A sun roof in the center of the house provides warmth as it heats up the concrete dining table and floors. The tinted windows on all sides protect residents and their belongings from the sun’s strong UV-rays. The innovative drying cupboard/closet utilizes solar heated water pumped through a heat exchanging. Overall, the house inspires a green lifestyle and makes one yearn for the ‘crashing waves’ that the NZ team kept telling us to imagine.

Garnering plenty of excitement and interest from visitors, “Y Container” from Team China was created with the purpose to recycle damaged shipping containers. Six twenty-foot containers were cleaned, broken down and fused to make the frame as well as to provide insulation for the home. Transportability is the key feature of Y Container; the house can easily be transformed and moved so its residents can ‘live anywhere’. Inside the house, the space takes on a similar mantra, with stacking, triangular furniture enabling easy conversion from chair to table and back again. Also, with the walls on a sliding track, they can be moved around the house to enlarge or shrink the living and bedroom areas. The y-shaped modeling itself can be modified to a different shape or additional units can be added. An integrated heating system recovers heat from the solar thermal collector to use for hot water and the floor heating system. Whether or not the technologies used are groundbreaking, the concept, design and implementation of Y Container struck visitors as a new way forward for recycling the items used every day in international trade.

In addition to the US-based Solar Decathlon, the competition expanded to include Solar Decathlon Europe (sponsored by Spain, with next one in 2012) and a future Solar Decathlon China to be held in 2013. The initiation of a Solar Decathlon China demonstrates China’s continued ability to outpace the globe in its market share of solar panel production and acknowledges that it is an increasingly strong partner in creating and encouraging use of renewable energy. The US and Chinese governments signed a memorandum of understanding in January 2011 stating that they “have a common goal in fostering sustainable economic and social development while encouraging the use of renewable energy sources and recognize that solar energy development and use is an important part of their collaboration …” As well as being a strong producer of solar panels and other renewable energy technologies, China seeks to be an innovator in the field; by increasing public and private sector funding and adding to the pool of students dedicated to such technologies, China may well be on its way to meeting that goal.


New Zealand’s bach-inspired First Light

Team China’s Y-Container

Multi-purpose furniture inside Y-Container

Hybrid car “refueling” station demo

China’s Peaceful Development

China’s Peaceful Development, officially the latest white paper from China released on September 6, 2011 by the Republic of China’s Information Office of the State Council, offers a glossy view of how Beijing wants the international community to interpret its domestic and international policies for economic and social prosperity. As the BBC observes, the document’s “main point is summed up in the three-word title.” As is usually the case with public strategy and policy documents, this white paper is written for China’s competitors rather than as a strict guideline for operation. Peace, harmonious society, economic and social prosperity, sovereignty and acceleration are the document’s often repeated slogans. With the West increasingly concerned about China’s rise, every month brings new books and articles on how the US should compete, deal with, submit to or collaborate with its ‘partner’ in the G-2. China claims not to desire regional or global hegemony but instead seeks a cooperative and collaborative world of states that respect each other’s internal business and share its goals of economic and social prosperity.

Some of the echoing themes in the paper are the following:

• China has respect for other states’ sovereignty, and how the international community should not interfere with a state’s internal matters;

• China acts as a responsible international player, participating in UN operations, providing development assistance to other states, and continuously meeting its targets for the Millennium Development Goals;

• China is a peaceful state and does not pursue war or conflict; it is the only nuclear power to declare that it would not “be the first to use nuclear weapons, or use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones”;

• While still a developing state, China continues to make a significant effort to reduce the environmental impact of its industrialization; it is the first developing country to create a National Climate Change Program and set goals for current and future emissions reductions.

According to the document, the domestic strategy for peaceful development is about ensuring the basic needs of its population and getting to a ‘middle’ stage of development. In order to reach its goals of domestic harmony and prosperity, China plans to focus on policies which will tweak its economic patterns. First, Beijing intends to accelerate a shift in the growth model; to improve domestic consumption patterns, the state will mix drivers of investment, consumption and export. Second, it aims to exploit domestic resources and domestic consumption patterns. Third, it aims to accelerate the creation of a harmonious society and improve access to social services, education and employment, etc. so everyone shares in the responsibility of being prosperous and harmonious. Fourth, in trade and production China’s focus will be on the quality rather than the quantity of trade, production and investment. Finally, China aims to utilizing bilateral and multilateral agreements, while also safeguarding sovereignty. The creation and maintenance of a peaceful domestic and international environment is essential for Beijing’s wellbeing at this stage; the government has a tight grip on social and economic control and by enlarging the middle class it hopes the economic freedoms will continue to overshadow the lack of social freedoms.

The white paper’s foreign policy steps for China’s peaceful development do not provide any surprises. Political, economic, cultural, and environmental and security concerns are all pathways for cooperation and peaceful relations. Respect, trust, and collaboration in these five areas will lead to the promotion of a ‘harmonious world’. Furthermore, like other state actors, China explicitly stipulates that its core national interests provide the basis for its foreign policy decisions, and they include the following: “state sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and national reunification, China’s political system established by the Constitution and overall social stability, and the basic safeguards for ensuring sustainable economic and social development”.

According to the white paper, “mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination” lead to a more equitable international order and stability. In the hopes of gaining an advantage, China perpetually proclaims that it “does not seek regional hegemony or sphere of influence, nor does it want to exclude any country from participating in regional cooperation”. China is realist in that it maintains its core interests and seeks to pursue them, but seems to follow a softer realist pattern by explicitly stating that it does not seek power regionally or globally. In fact, it aims to preserve the existing balance of power held by the US and contribute to stability in this way. China sees itself as aiding in regional prosperity and harmony during its peaceful development, rather than as a challenger or new hegemon.

“China’s prosperity, development and long-term stability represent an opportunity rather than a threat to its neighbors. China will uphold the Asian spirit of standing on its own feet, being bold in opening new ground, being open and inclusive and sharing weal and woe. It will remain a good neighbor, friend and partner of other Asian countries.” China claims that it is and will remain a developing country for some time, and it needs peace and stability to follow through with its national development plans. China does not foresee greater prosperity in an international system of conflict, but of peace and cooperative exchanges.

Peace and economic globalization are worldwide trends that every country seeks, or should seek, in this age. Countries cannot solve crises (manmade or natural) unilaterally because they share common security issues. “The international community should reject the zero-sum game” because it is only through cooperation and collaboration that goals every nation seeks will be pursued effectively. “We want peace and not war; development and not stagnation; dialogue and not confrontation; understanding and not misunderstanding”.

China hopes the international community will “support rather than obstruct China’s pursuit of peaceful development”. However, the international community would be incapable of obstructing that development in any case. The global economy is too intertwined with China’s production and distribution of goods to be able to obstruct its development. While demand for certain types of non-essential consumer products has decreased due to the global financial crisis, at this stage no country can replicate China’s powerful grip on low-cost production. The fluctuating exchange rate between the USD and CNY, increasing scarcity of labor and demands for improved working standards and wages may eventually drive particular industries out of China. Some of China’s neighbors or countries in Latin America may attempt to pick up these industries, but inevitably consumers will not be able to get the same low prices. Internationally workers continue to seek and hope for improved social and economic status as well as safe and hospitable working conditions, and rightly so. Neither labor nor the environment can sustain the perpetual damage. In addition, the Chinese domestic market provides an apt place to mitigate the effects of the drop in international demand for Chinese-produced goods.

So, what does this white paper mean for state relations in the Asia Pacific? China’s actions in the region should be worth more than its words although both are mostly positive for improving the situation in the region. China’s desire to boost cooperation with ASEAN members, invest in the United States, and go it alone in aid to the Pacific reflect China’s strategic evaluation of its relationships and investments and attempts to utilize them for their benefit like any other major power. Since the latest Chinese white paper release, Australia declared it was time to review its links with Asia “in the so-called Asian Century” while New Zealand is also contemplating its future. China will continue to attempt to get its own house in order while spreading cultural diplomacy and economic ties throughout strategic regions across the globe; it will maintain that it is trying to be a good neighbor and international actor by participating in UN processes and operations and multilateral mechanisms and forums. Importantly China will also seek to improve its domestic environmental conditions and decrease its carbon output; while the US takes steps backwards or small, hesitant steps forward arguing about budgets, China continues to call for energy conservation and emissions reductions, and is even suggesting that the US and China cooperate in new clean energy technology. Overall, the US welcomes the trend towards a perceivably more open and clean China with higher standards of living and working conditions. Being in China’s relative neighborhood, Asia Pacific states have much to gain or lose depending upon the path China takes over the next decade; the path toward ‘peaceful development’ and its policy steps are welcoming as long as they appeal to and provide for the real wants and needs of the Chinese people.

The Republic of Philippines: under new management

“We must build islands of excellence to be part of the global supply chain.”

On Thursday, September 22, the Hon. Cesar Purisima – Secretary of Finance for the Philippines – gave a public lecture at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Entitled “Investing in Alliances: Philippine Reforms Mean Business”, the discussion targeted business, nonprofits and the US government in order to bring more financial investment to the Philippines. It served to showcase the ideals and actions of the latest Aquino administration, which has been in power for about one year. Secretary Purisima discussed four pathways for success in the Philippines: improve structural competitiveness by focusing on economic fundamentals and good governance, seek an environment of fiscal sustainability and macro-economic stability, create a more business-friendly Philippines, and lastly invest in the bedrock of the Philippine economy, its people.

Both Secretary Purisima and President Aquino highlighted the Philippines improved ranking in the September 2011 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report during public lectures in New York and Washington, DC. The Philippines jumped 10 spots – the biggest jump this year – from 85 to 75 out of the 142 countries ranked. The leaders put the success down to reforms made over the last year and held hold high hope for the future reforms.

Much in the same way that the Obama Administration had to restore US diplomatic legitimacy, the Aquino Administration is attempting to restore faith and confidence in the infrastructure and governance of the Philippines by promoting ‘inclusive growth’. Reforms included stamping out corruption, increasing spending on cash transfers and other social programs, and critically evaluating effectiveness of government programs.

Secretary Purisima also discussed the actions taken toward a closer and more structured ASEAN community. A European Union-style framework is not the ultimate goal, and a common currency is not on the table. However, steps are being taken to continue improvements in trade between ASEAN states that have resulted from more dependence between member states and an intertwined global supply chain. The primary method to improve trade within ASEAN, according to Secretary Purisima, is for member states to establish more closely matched customs regulations in order to decrease the transit time and increase access to goods sourced from neighbors.

When I visited the Philippines in 2009 large parts of the capital, Manila, had been developed under the Arroyo Government, but we are yet to see whether this progress in the most affluent parts of the country will improve the lot of the huge number of Filipinos still living below the poverty line. The Aquino Administration’s policies of building and repairing schools, improving infrastructure to advance tourism, providing additional funding for low-income families, and increasing the competiveness of and access to university education are all noble causes in addition to the Administration’s vocal desire and actions to punish corrupt officials. I hope that when President Aquino’s term ends in 2016 he achieves what he sets out to and more, so that as he stated, his successor will “have no choice but to continue with the same reforms”.