China, public diplomacy

Public Diplomacy On the Way to the Office

An online poll administered by the National Zoo chose Bao Bao as the name for its newest panda cub. Credit: Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo

An online poll administered by the National Zoo chose Bao Bao as the name for its newest panda cub. Credit: Abby Wood, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

On my relatively short commute the office this morning I came across three separate examples of public diplomacy — each of them conducted by a foreign country with target audiences in the United States.

First, I read a charming op-ed by the Chinese Ambassador in the Washington Post that begins with the line, “Many people don’t realize it, but there are actually two Chinese ambassadors in Washington: me and the panda cub at the National Zoo…” The opinion piece comes on the occasion of the naming of the panda cub, Bao Bao, as a result of an Internet poll that invited members of the public to vote on their favorite name.  As Ambassador Tiankai describes in his article, China has long used the exchange of pandas not only to symbolize peace and friendship between our countries, but also as the basis for practical scientific collaboration and cooperation.

Next, I listened to an NPR story from over the weekend reporting that the Cuban government has decided to relax restrictions to allow its baseball players to go abroad and accept contracts to play in foreign countries.  Although U.S. laws would still make it illegal for Cuban players to bring any earnings in the U.S. back to Cuba, there is already wide speculation that this may still lead to larger numbers of Cuban baseball players in the Major League.  Baseball has long been a valuable source of soft power and a tool of public diplomacy between the United States and other countries, particularly Japan and Latin America.

Finally, I was greeted upon my arrival to the Foggy Bottom Metro station (the closest metro station to the U.S. Department of State) by a massive advertising campaign funded by the Canadian government.  The campaign emphasizes the strong U.S.-Canada partnership, particularly in the area of energy trade and cooperation, and appears to be directed towards influencing public opinion in advance of the pending decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

I was struck by how these examples illustrate the range of public diplomacy themes, tools, audiences, and time horizons.  Public diplomacy draws on themes ranging from national symbols to sports, employs tools from exchanges to ad campaigns, targets individual locales to entire populations, and operates in a time frame from days and weeks to generations.  Although I confess that I am probably more likely to notice examples like these than most people, it was nevertheless no accident that I came across these three distinct examples on one commute.

As we continue to debate the merits of public diplomacy here in the U.S. and appropriate levels of funding, we should take note of the fact that other countries clearly recognize its value and actively use it to advance their national interests.  We would do well to do the same!

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the State Department or the U.S. government. The author is a State Department officer specializing in public diplomacy, currently detailed to the IPDGC to teach and work on various Institute projects.


About Jonathan Henick

Jonathan Henick is a career diplomat with over 20 years of experience in the U.S. Foreign Service, including assignments to Turkey, Portugal, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Timor-Leste. He is currently working as the Public Diplomacy Fellow at the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication at George Washington University.


2 thoughts on “Public Diplomacy On the Way to the Office

  1. Jonathan — Nice piece. Hope you can attend some of the Public Diplomacy Council’s First Monday panel discussions (with free sandwiches provided) on “Public Diplomacy as a Global Phenomenon.” Latest event was with the participation of the Baltic States. See

    Posted by john brown | December 9, 2013, 10:31 am

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