Thursday, December 22, 2005

Hard Numbers Wanted for Soft World


Len Baldyga passes along this missive from the State Department:

The State Department is conducting a review of its Arabic language magazine, "Hi", to assess whether the magazine is meeting its objectives effectively. During the period of this review, the print version of Hi magazine will be suspended. The Hi website ( will remain active. Hi Magazine was launched in July 2003 to develop a dialogue with young, Arabic speaking audiences on topics that affect them and their American counterparts. Currently, 55,000 copies are distributed monthly in 18 countries, at a cost of $4.5 million a year.

The purpose of this review will be to develop quantitative data on how broadly Hi Magazine is reaching its intended audience. The review is part of a broader effort to develop a "culture of measurement" and to evaluate regularly the effectiveness of the Department's public diplomacy programs.

The timing of this announcement makes it likely this cut will get lost in the pre-holiday wash. I understand the administration wanting to measure things quantitatively—that's what No Child Left Behind is supposed to be about, and that was a good idea on paper—but like No Child Left Behind, quantifying something as mushy as "how broadly Hi Magazine is reaching its intended audience" is tough, particularly when you destroy the magazine in order to measure its impact. Perhaps State will now rely exclusively on measuring traffic at the Hi Web site, which is simpler than trying to assign a readership to each copy of the print magazine.

Public diplomacy is not only a broad term, it's nearly impossible to measure neatly. I've spoken with people about ways to do it and that will be the topic of some near-future Beacon posts.

Meanwhile I'll be taking some time off for the holidays and only posting sporadically between now and New Year's.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Beacon No. 74: Hooray for Shanghaiwood


Jena McGregor has an interesting story in Fast Company's Hollywood-themed December 2005 issue. "A Foreign Affair" rehashes Hollywood's growing dependence on the gravy of overseas box-office revenues, as well as the increasing popularity of shooting in foreign locales due to lower labor, equipment and other costs—and then steps off into an area I hadn't considered: Hollywood studios are increasingly taking on foreign partners to make movies overseas and then sell them locally, with the U.S. as at best a secondary market for flicks that translate well for U.S. audiences (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon):

Long one of America's most successful (and infamous) exporters, the U.S. film industry has traditionally made films for American audiences, viewing the international box-office take as mere gravy.


But now Hollywood is adding a pull strategy to its pushiness: By helping produce foreign-language films designed for foreign markets—German films for central Europe, say, or Korean films for Asia—it's turning the old model on its head.

Don't worry: Hollywood will forever peddle Scooby-Doo 2 and The Island to anyone who will sit still for them. In fact, with 8 of the top-10-grossing movies of 2004 making most of their revenues overseas, Hollywood is increasingly dependent on foreign markets. But one look at the success of films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon here at home, or at the long-term prospects of markets such as China or Russia, and the studios' logic is pretty clear. Coproducing foreign-language films "is never going to be at the foreground of production strategy," says Robert Rosen, the dean of UCLA's film school. "But it's a good secondary strategy that has a likelihood of being successful."

So Hollywood doesn't care about making movies overseas per se, but is happy to go where costs are lowest and future profits are highest. It's cheaper to make a movie practically anywhere than here in the Los Angeles Basin, causing boomlets in U.S. movie production everywhere from Vancouver to Shanghai. (See "Only Cruise Could Go to China," December 8.)

Second, while protectionism may be falling by the wayside for commodities like timber and sorghum, it's alive and well when it comes to intellectual property that could undermine native cultures and economies. As Fast Company points out, Russians increasingly want to see Russian-made films. Added to this understandable chauvinism is the fact that many coproduction deals are designed specifically to get around movie quotas in countries like China, which also limits foreign studios' ability to extract their traditional large profits.

This article alone is worth Fast Company's $4.99 cover price for those looking to see where the movie business is headed, both in the U.S. and abroad. Or you can wait until January, when's archives will be free to browse.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Beacon No. 73: Market Share and Mind Share


Over at Corporate Power, N.D. Batra reprints a column he did for The Statesman of India on the "Age of Corporate Diplomacy." In it, Batra applauds two U.S.-based multinationals for their international negotiating skills:

When American Airlines, the second U.S. carrier to start a nonstop service to India, planned its Chicago O’Hare to New Delhi flight, its management realized that open skies do not necessarily mean open hearts and minds, in spite of the excellent business climate and trust between the two countries. In an international business venture of this magnitude, failure is not an option. Competition is knocking at the door.

Cultural sensibilities, such as cuisine, had to be taken into account, especially as competition becomes hot on the lucrative non-stop route to one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

According to company sources, “With assistance from the American Airlines Indian Employee Resource Group, and in conjunction with Indian chefs based in the USA and India, the Americans structured a special menu for the Delhi flights that features Indian, Indian-inspired vegetarian and Western meal selections. No beef or pork will be served on the flights to and from Delhi. Only chicken, lamb and seafood dishes will be featured.”

Another airline, Continental, began its non-stop flight from Newark, New Jersey to Delhi on 1 November; and European and Indian carriers are bound to follow soon. Besides, as US[A] Today reported, the non-stop flight has to fly over Russian airspace, which required agreement between the two governments and further corporate diplomacy. So there is a lesson here. Since the foreign policies of a country could put a damper on its international commerce, multinational corporations must have their own corporate diplomats and protocol officers for business development abroad.

Who are these corporate types Batra describes, who do such a good job negotiating with entire countries on their own?

Very often, public-diplomacy initiatives focus on low-level citizen interaction between the U.S. and other countries, and people like myself are big advocates for putting ex-Peace Corps, ex-military, and foreign-born U.S. citizens to work again on behalf of the U.S., taking advantage of their experience overseas and unique cultural and linguistic knowledge.

But Batra's article suggests the U.S. has a large number of "corporate diplomats"—polished, highly experienced executives comfortable overseas, who are familiar with international niceties and who travel abroad with the backing of big companies that want to expand their hard (economic) and soft power in new markets.

My wife's father is one of them: Now in his 80s, Murray Weinberg was based in Hong Kong for 17 years on behalf of two apparel companies, traveling throughout the Pacific Rim and into the People's Republic when it began opening in the 1970s. He stayed abroad despite other opportunities in the U.S., and even jumped employers specifically to stay in Hong Kong. Mr. Weinberg is just one of those people—probably like whoever helped negotiate the American and Continental deals N.D. Batra mentions—who enjoys living overseas, meeting different people and finding things out.

By the time he returned to the U.S. in 1992, Mr. Weinberg was the veteran of thousands of lengthy business dinners and could be polite in several Asian languages. Friends and colleagues from Asia still visit him whenever they come to the U.S.—over a decade after he retired. It's clear that his personal brand—his soft power—was and remains extremely strong.

The total of corporate diplomats' knowledge could be—and already is—a valuable addition to U.S. public-diplomacy efforts. Far from the name-brand executives who frequently accompany high officials on trade visits, these overseas corporate diplomats—"lifers," as my wife calls them—might be a big help to U.S. public diplomacy as interlocutors for their country as well as their companies.

Friday, December 16, 2005

... And Then There Are Some Bad Ambassadors


TPM Cafe points to a fun tale of Our Man in Uruguay, a political-appointee ambassador named Martin Silverstein who stumbled—and for all I know is still stumbling—through his time in Montevideo. Think of this guy as the anti-Vershbow. (Ambassador Vershbow, by the way, is getting slagged by North Korea's hilariously inept English-language service for saying the North is a "criminal regime," among other truthhoods.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Internal Is External


China's rural peasants are increasingly dissatisfied with land seizures, taxation and other government actions. A citizen protest last week in southern China apparently turned violent and was met with police gunfire and the death of 20 or more civilians, a big display of force for the post-Tiananmen Square period. But Beijing now appears to be moving in several directions at once on this incident: suppressing and/or sanitizing news of both the protest and the shooting; disciplining the police commander involved; and continuing to invest in non-lethal crowd control technologies rather standard ammunition.

China's ongoing and increasing internal instability can't help but take Beijing's eyes off its long-term public diplomacy campaign abroad, just as the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre heralded a temporary retreat for China from the world stage in 1989. The Chinese leadership has always made securing the home front its major priority and if domestic protests continue to pick up steam, I would look for a withdrawal of Hu Jintao and others from the globetrotting they excel at and a renewed focus on China's interior.

Internal disruptions usually make a nation's public-diplomacy campaign more difficult in any case since they unbalance whatever message that nation wants to project, and the U.S. is no exception: As Karen Hughes began her term as the State Department's top public-diplomacy official, images of government ineffectiveness, racial inequality and engineering incompetence were beamed worldwide in the aftermath of the Gulf hurricanes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

"Cool Brittania" and Living the Brand


This piece from the Times Magazine's annual "year in ideas" issue is worth quoting in full:

If the British consultant Simon Anholt had his way, sitting at the cabinet table with the secretary of defense and the attorney general would be a secretary of branding. Indeed, he foresees a day when the most important part of foreign policy isn't defense or trade but image - and when countries would protect and promote their images through coordinated branding departments. "I've visited a great many countries where they have ministers for things that are far less important," he says.

This year, Anholt, a prolific speaker, adviser to numerous governments and editor of the journal Place Branding, published "Brand America: The Mother of All Brands," in which he predicted that the days when countries will essentially open their own in-house marketing shops are right around the corner. "Governments understand this very well, and most of them are now trying or have tried in the past to achieve some kind of control over their images," Anholt writes. He may be on to something, since governments are quickly realizing that image maintenance isn't just about reeling in tourists - witness Karen Hughes's high-profile public-diplomacy efforts or Tony Blair's Public Diplomacy Strategy Board, an outgrowth of Britain's "Cool Britannia" campaign. Late last year, the Persian Gulf state Oman hired Landor Associates, a brand consulting outfit, to develop and promote "Brand Oman."

Public boosterism campaigns are nothing new. But true nation branding, Anholt says, involves close coordination of the often disparate factors that go into a country's international image: tourism promotion, trade, even foreign policy. Just as companies have learned to "live the brand," countries should consider their reputations carefully - because, he says, in the interconnected world, that's what statecraft is all about. "Today's community of nations is open, transparent and substantially democratic - in many ways, like a marketplace," he writes in "Brand America." "The state's reputation is therefore of critical importance." Given how difficult it is for an unpopular America to make its way in the world, maybe Anholt isn't as crazy as he sounds.

The last copy of Anholt's book is just $10.36 over at Amazon.

Without going into Anholt at length—I haven't read any of his work—other countries can conduct global branding exercises because they are relatively small, ethnically homogeneous and don't export their culture worldwide. They are capable of either relatively swift about-faces, as some of the Gulf emirates have done and Singapore is contemplating, or determine that they will hold in place culturally like England.

Brand America is much harder to categorize—although Anholt's publisher certainly makes a stab on the cover of Brand America, showing a little Asian girl dressed up in a cowboy outfit for Halloween trick-or-treating.

Monday, December 12, 2005

MEB vs. CABSAT in Beirut

Beirut has always been a Middle Eastern media center, but in recent years it has watched a lot of talent and money march south to the United Arab Emirates and specifically, the tax-advantaged Dubai Media City. Dubai is becoming the de facto media and publishing capital of the Middle East and hosts an annual show called CABSAT that celebrates this fact, attracting broadcast and technology heavies from around the globe.

In an attempt to counter CABSAT (although no one will say so), Beirut recently hosted a Middle Eastern satellite broadcasters' conference called, appropriately enough, the Middle East Broadcasters Show. The Lebanon Daily Star covered it and found a lack of big Western companies that are the bellwether of success. That's not surprising since MEB is in its first year, but the Star's coverage of the show indicates some reasons why Beirut's not yet ready to steal Dubai's mind-share:

Ben Davenport, the Marketing Manager of the European branch of OMNEON, a media server provider based in America, acknowledged that even though few major manufacturers attended, the Pan-Arab turnout was better than he expected, for "a first show."

"We are a company based in the U.S., and none of our colleagues would come here because of the negative connotations associated with Lebanon, but I like Lebanon. Ultimately activities around the exhibition are why its not succeeding like it could," said Davenport.

A representative of the Lebanese subsidiary of a western firm who preferred to remain anonymous, used equally euphemistic terminology, referring to a bribing incident, where a Lebanese customs official tried to charge him an exorbitant duty on his equipment, as a "logistical issue."

The "negative connotations" Davenport mentioned also include ongoing tensions with Syria and an apparent renewal of pro-Syrian killings in Lebanon, such as today's car-bomb assassination of Lebanese MP Gebran Tueni.

Shakedowns and explosions are notably lacking in the relatively clean, business-friendly United Arab Emirates, which came in 29th on Transparency International's 2004 list of least-corrupt states to Lebanon's 97th. But if violence and corruption can be tamped down further in Lebanon, Beirut will hopefully see more big multinationals next year than just Panasonic (Japan) and Apple (U.S.).

Thursday, December 08, 2005

From ZenPundit: "Lawfare"


Mark Safranski at ZenPundit had a good post a few days ago introducing a coinage I'd never heard—"lawfare":

Don't like guns but your fellow citizens are attached to their Second Amendment rights ? Petition the U.N. for a convention restricting ownership of small arms. Your industries have trouble competing with other countries? Try an "environmental agreement" that acts as a carbon tax only on certain competitor states. Or " tax harmonization" upward that punishes freer economies than your own.

Rule sets matter. Previously, the United States willingly signed onto all kinds of far-fetched, even harebrained, international treaties, safe in the knowledge that since the Soviet bloc could be reliably expected to cheat blatantly or ignore its commitments, no one would bother pointing fingers at the U.S. because no country took such agreements seriously. Well today those documents are being dusted off and invoked by lawyers from NGO's hostile to America to hold us to stipulations to which our diplomats never would have agreed were it not for the expectation that they were effectively meaningless.the United States has to become engaged here as never before in order to:
In light of "lawfare", the United States has to become engaged here as never before in order to:

a) Establish a common premise for interpreting open-ended language with our allies that allows for a traditional standard of " robust sovereignty" so that states are both responsible for their actions as well as free to act. Mutual understandings make crafting joint policies far easier.

b) Negotiate for only genuine " win-win" and fairly narrowly defined covenants. We should sign only what we intend to keep and we should keep our word for what we actually signed. We are not Swaziland or even China. Our behavior sets the standard.

ZenPundit links to a further explanation of lawfare here. The idea of using international law as a lever in the international arena is nothing new; I just hadn't heard it referred to using such a catchy, compact term that evokes the idea of international agreements as an aggressive tool.

Only Cruise Could Go to China


People's Daily Online reports that Tom Cruise finished two weeks of filming in Shanghai for Mission Impossible III:

Shanghai's Jinmao Tower, the country's tallest building, and the city's futuristic Oriental Pearl TV Tower, will both be featured in the movie, with Cruise's breathtaking performances on them.

The film will become the first mainstream Hollywood blockbuster to shoot in China without any negative implications, according to director J.J. Abrams.

Cruise gushed about the China's spectacular vistas, culture and friendliness, saying he planned to come back in the future to see more of the country.

"It's spectacular. It's unbelievable," he said. "It's going to look extraordinary on film."

Cruise and his crew wrapped up two weeks of shooting for "Mission Impossible III" in China. It is said that the movie's producers are negotiating to simultaneously release "M:I3" in the United States and China next summer.

Tom Cruise won his fame in China mainly through the two previous "Mission Impossible" movies and last year's "War of the Worlds".

Finally, something the U.S. can export that the PRC can't duplicate: Tom Cruise! I wonder what "negative implications" J.J. Abrams mentioned leaving out of the film?

Piracy concerns aside, the movie's producers know that even if Mission Impossible III is pirated by millions even before the film opens in China, citizens will still flock to theaters for a positive depiction of their country in a U.S. film—particularly if it involves Cruise motorcycle-skydiving off the Pearl tower or some other Mission Impossible-worthy stunt.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Secretary Rice, Quickly


The secret-prisons-in-Europe story is such an obvious black eye for U.S. soft power, as well as for hard-power alliances with EU countries, that I haven't felt the need to comment on it until I could find a silver lining to the story: The U.S. is still hugely popular in former Warsaw Pact countries, and if I had to guess, that's where the alleged prison or prisons are rather than in Belgium or Ireland.

Note in the linked story mention of a survey showing that most Americans, British, French and South Koreans think torture of terrorism suspects is acceptable. (Read MSNBC's story on the survey here.) Is there more agreement among trans-Atlantic publics, and thus less damage to U.S. soft power, than meets the eye?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Public Diplomacy You Can Walk Around In


While most people are spending their time defining public diplomacy on paper, USC's Center on Public Diplomacy has challenged game-makers to create a gaming environment that simulates public diplomacy in some way:

The challenge to the game mod community, and current and aspiring game designers is as follows: design a prototype or modify a game incorporating the fundamental characteristics of public diplomacy.

What comes to mind when you think of diplomacy? Some ideas include cross-cultural communication, conflict negotiation, shared goals, and international exchange of knowledge. For more on our definition of public diplomacy, please visit our website.

Now incorporate that into a game or virtual world. How? That's for you to decide.

Center executive director Joshua Fouts was inspired by playing a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG), a Washington Post article says:

... Fouts and Douglas Thomas, the organizers of that school's contest, have discussed the project with State Department officials and hope to get a policymaker on their judging panel. The contest winner will be announced on the eve of a video game industry conference in Los Angeles next year.

The two said their contest was inspired by playing and exploring the virtual world of an online game called Star Wars Galaxies, which lets players around the world log on and participate in the universe of the "Star Wars" movies. They found that many players from other countries had a negative view of Americans, an impression that sometimes became more positive as they played cooperatively with players based in the United States.

"It's a virtual exchange program," said Fouts, who worked at Voice of America for six years before becoming the director of USC's Center on Public Diplomacy.

The biggest challenge for programmers entering the contest might be one that policymakers and activists have never had to think about: The game will have to be fun. After all, the loftiest and most educational game in the world won't have much positive result if nobody plays it.

The contest deadline is set for just prior to next year's E3 in Los Angeles, if I'm not mistaken. Gamers, start your mods. ...

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Dubai's the New Vienna

Intellectual freedom, a rich culture and history, business opportunities and central location combined to make Vienna a center for businessmen, bohemians, spies and others during the 19th century and throughout the Cold War. While Russia appeals in the case of Soviets et al. v. West, where's the new hot spot for Occident and Orient to meet?

In "Young Iranians Follow Dreams to Dubai," Hassan Fattah says ambitious and/or wealthy Persians are heading to the nearest country that combines historical ties with Iran and a healthy dose of political and entrepreneurial freedom:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 3 - When young Iranians like Arash Tale look across the skyline of this rapidly growing city, they see what their parents once saw in American and European skylines: opportunity, riches and freedom.

Mr. Tale, 24, founder and publisher of a real estate magazine aimed at Iranian investors, is one of a new generation of educated Iranians who have eschewed dreams of heading West for the more easily realizable destination of Dubai, where home is only a 45-minute flight across the Persian Gulf, Iranian passports draw no extra scrutiny and nightclubs are as accessible as mosques.

"Getting a visa to Canada or the U.S. is almost impossible now," said Mr. Tale. "Here, you just buy a property and you get a residence. Dubai is building an environment of freedom that still fits our culture."

Arab culture and hospitality, Gulf oil money, Persian and European expats. Much of the environment Dubai creates could be duplicated by other regional actors, but Dubai's the only one doing it just yet. I get the feeling the emirate is creating a latter-day, almost Casablanca-like oasis that's becoming interesting to watch.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Vershbow Drums on in South Korea


Readers may recall that I wrote a few months ago about outgoing ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow, calling him the very model of a modern major ambassador. Vershbow appears to be starting his tenure as ambassador to South Korea in the same vein, according to an "U.S. Ambassador Makes Drumming Debut" in Donga:

On November 29, he showed off his drumming skills during a Thanksgiving party at the reception hall of Hyundai Heavy Industries, hosted by Assemblyman Jeong Mong-jun and Lee Hong-gu (former ambassador to the U.S.), the executive of the Seoul International Forum. On November 30, he joined a New Orleans jazz band at the American Embassy in an impromptu performance there.
Vershbow appears to have excellent pitch to go with his drumming chops: Exhibit A: a Thanksgiving party hosted by a major Korean commercial player. Exhibit B: a party at the Embassy for Koreans, who, if you read on, were being thanked for helping raise funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Vershbow's working on all levels for U.S. interests—and he's only been in Seoul since October 16.

(Thanks as always to John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review for the initial item.)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Teaching the World a Lesson


In "China Wages Classroom Struggle to Win Friends in Africa," on November 20, the Times' Howard French described the PRC's long-term focus on winning sub-Saharan hearts and minds:

BEIJING—As the teacher, a career Chinese diplomat, spoke, his class of African diplomats scribbled furiously.

At the United Nations, China opposed the United States invasion of Iraq and has defended the right of Iran and other developing countries to use civilian nuclear power, said the teacher, Yuan Shibin. China, he noted pointedly, swept aside American objections to making an African the secretary general.

There was nothing subtle about this message, which will be repeatedly hammered home to the African diplomats during their three month, all-expenses paid stay at the Foreign Affairs University here. "China will always protect its own interests as well as those of other developing countries," Mr. Yuan said. By contrast, "U.S. national interests are not often in conformity with those of other nations, including China."

The classes are one element in a campaign by Beijing to win friends around the world and pry developing nations out of the United States' sphere of influence. Africa, with its immense oil and mineral wealth and numerous United Nations votes, lies at the heart of that effort.


China's appeal to Africa and much of the third world centers on the idea that nations will be drawn to an emerging superpower that does not lecture them about democracy and human rights or interfere in what Beijing considers "internal affairs."

French adds that China's support for liberation movements following World War II, plus its "remarkable quarter century of economic growth," position the PRC to offer an alternative to a Washington-centered world:

For developing countries, many of which have grown disenchanted with the so-called Washington consensus, a mixture of lowered trade barriers, privatization, democracy and free markets, there is intense interest in trying to learn from China. There is talk of a rival "Beijing Consensus," which emphasizes innovation and growth through a social-market economy, while placing less emphasis on free markets and democracy.

Beijing's school for diplomats is the civilian equivalent of the DoD's officer-exchange programs and invitations to foreign military officers to attend various American military schools. It builds relationships that will be invaluable to China not now, but decades from now, when the current crop of African diplomats is working the levers of government across Africa.

The PRC program is an interesting model for a U.S. administration that looks forward to a democratic future in which civilians run the show throughout the developing world.

French closes his article with a quote from Qin Yaqing, vice president of the Foreign Affairs University that's running the diplomat classes:

"China has a certain development experience that is relevant to these countries, and my advice is derived in part from Samuel Huntington, whose view is that democracy is a luxury."

Elected. Saudi. Female. Officials.


Hassan Fattah reports today that two Saudi businesswomen, Lama al-Sulaiman and Nashwa Taher, won election this week to the Jidda Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and that they are the first women to win any election in Saudi Arabia.

Of course this first would take place in Jidda, which Saudis say occupies the same space in Saudi Arabian political geography as San Francisco does in the U.S.; but al-Sulaiman and Taher's victories are seen as harbingers of future gains for women—particularly for their participation in the 2009 municipal elections.
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