Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Limitation of US Public Diplomacy
OGAWA Tadashi / Managing Director, Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership

May 8, 2008
The international community casts a critical eye on the United States. According to the latest BBC World Service poll based on more than 17,000 interviews across 34 countries, the view that the United States is having a negative influence in the world is nearly a majority, at 47%, while only 35% say that it is having a positive influence. In terms of negative influence, it ranks after Iran, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.

Under the banner of "War on Terrorism" since the trauma of 9/11, the United States has been trying to strengthen its public diplomacy to capture the hearts and minds of the Islamic youths in the Middle East who might be tempted towards terrorism. However, its public diplomacy towards the Middle East has not achieved the desired results, and questions are increasingly raised about its efficacy even within the United States.

One could argue that the United States is unpopular internationally because of its judgment in failing to nurture international consensus and embarking on a course of self-righteous foreign and military policies, and it is not quite fair to make public diplomacy the culprit for the increased antipathy to the United States.

That said, it is also true that there is a serious problem with the basic concept of the United States public diplomacy. With too much focus on the short-term diplomatic gain of winning support for the US government policy, it has been preoccupied with unilaterally projecting the US case. Too little attention has been paid to fostering and increasing mutual understanding with the citizens of the Middle East and other Islamic regions. Further, public diplomacy has been seen as a theatre of "war of ideas and ideologies", thus injecting the rhetoric of war into cultural exchange.

Let me cite an example. The year after 9/11, the US State Department produced a television programme describing how Muslim residents in the United States are living peacefully, and tried to have it aired in the Islamic countries. The campaign was meant to show that the "War on Terrorism" does not see Islam as an enemy, but that Americans and Muslims share many values in common. The programme turned out to be unpopular, and the campaign was suspended before long without achieving its objective. Perhaps what the State Department should have done is not to talk boastfully to the Middle East about how human rights are respected in American society, but to show by deeds that the United States was genuinely interested in learning in earnest the history, culture and society of the Middle East and in understanding the complex emotions harboured by the people of the Middle East toward the United States and other Western countries.

The aforementioned BBC poll shows that Japan has been rated the highest in terms of positive influence for three consecutive years. This is especially the case in Southeast Asian countries. It should be remembered, however, that violent anti-Japanese demonstrations erupted in the region in the 1970s, and the feeling toward Japan was far from warm. Japan succeeded in improving its image in the region through its non-military contribution to peace and its Official Development Assistance, and above all, through its unremitting efforts to foster mutual understanding as equal partners respectful of the dignity of the other. Unless we show ourselves willing to listen to the views of the others, they will not be ready to accept what we say.

Behind the proliferation of international terrorism lie the humiliation and identity crisis of the Middle Eastern Muslims who feel that their dignity and cherished values have been jeopardized. It is not the unilateral projection of values but dialogue and mutual understanding that will heal the scars of their heart and cut those would-be terrorist youths away from terrorist groups.

The writer is Managing Director, Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

小川 忠  / 国際交流基金日米センター 事務局長

2008年 5月 8日







(筆者は国際交流基金日米センター 事務局長。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟