Sunday, December 31, 2017

Resort businesses protest Trump foreign worker policy

Katie Tabeling,

(Dec. 29, 2017) Ocean City’s business community campaigned to preserve the J-1 Visa Summer Work Exchange Program, after the Trump Administration looked to eliminate foreign work programs earlier this year.
In late August, national publications reported that a core group of White House advisors sought to include the J-1 visa program in the president’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order.
The executive order is designed to reduce the number of foreign workers in the U.S. workforce to protect jobs for Americans. The J-1 visa program was originally left alone when President Trump signed the order in April, but White House staffers proposed reducing the program or eliminating altogether.
Ocean City would be hit hard by the change, as the program brought roughly 4,000 J-1 visa students to the resort last summer. There are 12,000 seasonal openings a year.
A study from the Eureka Firm showed that that 69 percent of 460 employers surveyed said the loss of J-1 students would have a “big impact” on business. Roughly 29 percent of employers said it was likely they would have to lay off permanent staff after the season.
Looking at the big picture, the J-1 visa program is estimated to contribute more than $500 million to America’s economy annually through program fees, travel, housing and entertainment.
The Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association and the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce sprung into action immediately after the news broke. Both organizations rallied its members, and asked them to write letters emphasizing the program’s importance.
“Several of my members wouldn’t be able to operate,” Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Executive Director Susan Jones said. “There’s jobs like housekeeping that won’t be filled, because we won’t have the staff. It’s not a position our high school and college students desire.”
By September, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) publically [sic] defended the summer work and travel program in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. It was one of the few times Hogan broke his typical silence on the Trump Administration.
“Many small businesses in Maryland … Ocean City in particular, depends on these students to supplement its seasonal workforce during peak seasons,” Hogan wrote on Sept. 12. “The community is also enriched by the diversity of the workforce, which adds tremendous economic and cultural value to the city.”
The U.S. Senate also backed the J-1 visa program, as the Appropriations Committee passed an amendment that mandates any alterations to the program must be transparent.
The amendment was attached to a $51.35 billion spending bill, and stipulates none of the moneys be used to modify the J-1 visa program. That forces the Trump Administration to work with the Appropriations Committee “regarding how any proposed modification would affect the public diplomacy goals of, and the estimated economic impact on, the United States.”

Gov't sets up public diplomacy plans

Rachel Lee, Korea Times

image (not from article) from

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a set of action plans for next year to strengthen public diplomacy, Friday.

This is the first comprehensive program after the country established its first basic public diplomacy plan in August.

The plan includes public diplomacy projects worth 410 billion won submitted by 15 metropolitan councils and nine central administrative agencies. It excludes, however, Official Development Assistance (ODA) projects and other overseas investment- and economic cooperation-related projects.

The plan consists of 49 tasks in six fields, including infrastructure, policy, knowledge and culture, according to the ministry. By content, it includes about 320 culture-related projects, 200 knowledge-related projects and 190 policy-oriented diplomacy projects.

The foreign ministry said it will host a think-tank forum targeting opinion leaders in the United States, China, Japan and Russia. Other projects include networking events to raise awareness of domestic policies among foreign diplomatic missions in Seoul, surveys to find out the country's perceptions abroad, and conferences with private committees to expand technologies and correct factual errors regarding the country.

The ministry said it has for the first time summed up a public diplomacy plan as part of the government's efforts to organize projects by central administrative agencies and local governments.

Based on the overall plan, the diplomatic offices' public diplomacy activities will be set up, the ministry said.

It added the ministry will actively cooperate with such agencies and institutions in order to push ahead with planned activities.

A committee on public diplomacy, a governmental coordinating body on public diplomacy, held its first meeting on Aug. 10 with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha as its chair.

The meeting brought together the committee's four members from the private sector: 10 members from the government and three observers. The committee finalized Korea's first basic plan on public diplomacy (2017-2021), which will serve as a public diplomacy guideline during the tenure of the Moon Jae-in government, and designated the Korea Foundation (KF) as its public diplomacy overseer. The KF was founded in 1992 for international exchanges and public diplomacy initiatives.

Meanwhile, the government has decided to spend 3.48 trillion won on ODA projects next year.

The budget, up 412 billion won from this year, has for the first time surpassed the 3 trillion won mark since the country joined the OECD Development Assistance Committee in 2010.

Next year's budget includes projects worth 150 billion won with Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which are now recognized as ODA projects, the government said.

About 74 percent of the budget will be spent on supporting developing nations' sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Israel okays $72 million anti-BDS project


Funded by government and Jewish donations, new organization will oversee fight against boycott attempts through public diplomacy

Image from article, with caption: Palestinian activists hold posters during a demonstration calling for a boycott of Israeli products in the West Bank city of Nablus

The plan, which would entail the largest monetary investment yet by Israel specifically toward combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, was announced last week to cabinet ministers and approved as an executive order after none of them objected, the Ynet news site reported Friday.

It calls for setting up a not-for-profit organization whose board will be made up of government officials and donors from abroad, the report said. The board will oversee the first major “civil-society infrastructure servicing the State of Israel and the pro-Israel community in the fight against the de-legitimization of Israel,” the notice sent to ministers read.
The $75 million budget will come partly from the government and partly from Jewish donors and communities abroad, the report said. It did not say when the new organization would become operational or even established formally.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, November 14, 2017.

But the initial funding to the tune of $36 million will come from the budget of the Public Diplomacy Ministry under Gilad Erdan. At least 10 Jewish philanthropists have pledged to at least match that sum, with some promising to give $2 and $3 to any dollar put in by the Israeli government beyond the initial funding, according to the report.
The organization envisaged by its creators would operate on a regular basis to counter pressure applied to artists, performers and commercial enterprises not to engage with Israel. But it would shift into high gear at sensitive periods such as fighting, waves of terrorist attacks, and anti-Israel votes at international forums, the announcement stated.
The new organization’s avenues for action would include public campaigns, lobbying, arranging for solidarity visits to Israel by opinion shapers, establishing new and social media presence, and interacting with pro-Israel organizations worldwide for coordinated action with a focus on Europe.

Students protest at an anti-Israel demonstration at the University of California, Irvine. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times 
While such activities today formally fall under the purview of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, privatizing them would allow for quicker and more flexible action unconstrained by government bureaucracy and legal limitations on third party services, that require tenders when carried out by the government, the announcement explained. The new organization will, however, be subject to review by the state.

DFA sticks to ‘strategic silence’ on China

Sara Susanne D. Fabunan,

image (not from article) from

FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Friday there will be “no change” in his policy and that he will continue to observe his so called “strategic silence” to “protect the interest” of the Filipinos living and working around the world.

“Whether you talk about diplomatic negotiations, whether you talk about diplomatic relations, or you talk about operational security, there are times when the DFA has to observe what I will call strategic silence,” Cayetano said.

He then asked the public to resort to “reading between the lines.”

He said his department’s silence was in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s independent foreign policy where the Philippines would be “a friend to everyone but an enemy to no one.”

“We sometimes make room to negotiate...I’m just saying we cannot change next year,” Cayetano said.

Since Cayetano assumed office, the agency and even the Office of Public Diplomacy, formerly the Public Information Services Unit, had not been releasing timely statements on pressing issues such as the recent declaration of US President Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, or why they abstained from voting on the issue, or even to comment on North Korea’s launching of missiles.

The department has also been silent on domestic issues such as appointment of former Taguig City officer in Charge Administrator Joel Montales, a key ally of his wife Taguig Mayor Lani Cayetano, as Undersecretary for Security and Consular Concerns and political blogger RJ Nieto as “consultant” for migrant workers’ affairs but filed his resignation later on.

The OPD’s role is to attend the media’s queries and concern in a very timely manner.

Cayetano said the country’s silence on foreign issues was aimed at appeasing countries in dispute.

He said there were also things that his department would not divulge.

“And sometimes maybe, specific issues of the Middle East, South China Sea, etc.,” Cayetano said.

“Sometimes we have some information that we cannot make available yet because it will complicate the matter,” he said.

There are about 10-million Filipinos working and living around the world in 170 countries.

Cayetano plans to give a “better life” to all Filipinos in 2018 by pursuing Duterte’s independent foreign policy,

“The administration and the DFA focus for next year is a better life for all Filipinos,” he said.

Cayetano cited his recent conversation with the President and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III where the latter said that in the 40 years that he was around, it was only this moment where several countries “even rival countries” coming together and paying attention to the Philippines.

The more than $30 billion in loans, commitments and investments were products of Duterte’s independent foreign policy, he said.

Cayetano also plans to streamline the passport process aiming to copy the booking system of airline companies.

In 2018, the DFA is set to establish new regular consular offices in seven to nine places across the country.

Blast from the Past: The Evolution of American Public Diplomacy: Four Historical Insights

By Seth Center, Ph.D., Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State,

Fact Sheet
By Seth Center, Ph.D., Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC
December 2, 2013

1. The “Golden Age” Was Not Always So Golden
Contemporary public diplomacy (PD) is often measured against the standards of a mythical past punctuated by Cold War victory. In fact, America’s PD was rebranded a success story only after the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Congressional hearings on the subject from the late 1980s—at the cusp of Cold War victory—reveal issues familiar to present-day PD practitioners: the challenge of measuring effectiveness, the impact of budgetary limitations, and the lamentation that PD was not well-integrated into the policymaking process. Congress raised questions about the responsiveness of Chiefs of Mission to PD priorities, the impact of terrorism on PD officers’ ability to do outreach in the field, and the role of authoritarian governments in impeding U.S. programs. Throughout the Cold War, the PD apparatus was a regular target of reform studies, and its budgets were under constant scrutiny. Public diplomatists wrestled with the balance between unapologetic messaging and building two-way bridges through intercultural communication. The United States Information Agency (USIA) rarely had a “seat at the table” in policy deliberations. It was after all Edward R. Murrow, USIA’s most famous director, who lamented that if PD was expected to be in on the crash landing it should also be in on the take-off. When Americans did pay attention to PD, it was often with over-inflated expectations. Many Americans--including Presidents and Congressmen--could not comprehend how information programs seemed incapable of blunting anti-Americanism abroad and building sympathy for U.S. policies.
2. Public Diplomacy Is Still in Its Adolescent Stage in the State Department
Integrating PD and traditional diplomacy after the 1999 merger of USIA and the Department of State required changing a bureaucratic culture, establishing a new professional cone in the Foreign Service, and rebuilding capabilities decimated by post-Cold War budget cuts. Fourteen years is an eternity in a world of 24-hour news cycles, but brief in the history of the oldest cabinet agency. Halting progress has been made on nearly all fronts. For instance, the establishment of PD Deputy Assistant Secretaries in the Regional Bureaus--first proposed during the merger--did not come to fruition for more than a decade. Culture shifts can be slower than structural change. PD leaders consistently stressed the importance of embracing bold public engagement strategies and overcoming the risk-averse, closed-door diplomatic mentality of the “old” State Department. Nevertheless, the risk/reward calculus of PD as practiced had to be constantly tested against the conception and tradition. Technologically, the Department moved from a position of semi-literacy to embrace tech-friendly engagement strategies for disseminating messages and creating new opportunities for reaching younger, more diverse audiences, and countering hostile messages. The full integration is still unfinished, but, substantial change can be overlooked in the maelstrom of daily crises and the slog of bureaucratic inefficiency.
3. Whole-of-Government Public Diplomacy Efforts Left a Trail of Forgotten Acronyms and Aborted Strategies
Reorganizations and new “strategic” approaches defined interagency approaches to PD. Well before 9/11, officials tried to integrate the disparate civilian and military elements involved in information policy. After the terrorist attacks, they again tried to fashion an interagency strategy and coordinate a “strategic approach” to the “War of Ideas.” Strategically, the PD-lead oscillated. Early in the Bush administration, the White House coordinated overall policy, while the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs led the “State piece”. The President then shifted responsibility to Foggy Bottom. In 2009 the interagency lead reverted back to the White House. Post-9/11 perceptions of threat complicated coordination. The military massively expanded its role in strategic communications as battlefields blurred. This produced debates about the definition of PD, and civilian concern that PD was becoming “militarized” and must be “rebalanced.” Operationally, there was constant tension between the State Department asserting itself as the lead agency and the perception that it was unable to act commensurately. Interagency success stories, such as the creation of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications were small-scale, requiring policy-level leadership and the bypass of existing entities. More frequently, a pattern of frustration emerged. An alphabet soup of working groups and committees analyzed challenges, drafted strategies, and then disappeared. At each stage, PD leaders believed they had created effective structures and strategies. Their successors, in turn, bemoaned what they regarded as frail structures and the absence of strategy.
4. Public Diplomacy and Traditional Diplomacy Are Converging
The United States has slowly embraced the decentralization of diplomacy blurring the distinction between public diplomacy and traditional diplomacy. Developments ranging from terrorism to popular uprisings to technological revolution have demonstrated that threats and opportunities emerge from within states and below state institutions as much as between states. Reaching new audiences in new locales outside of traditional power centers became a strategic imperative. Traditional diplomacy adjusted by moving beyond reporting and analysis and relationships with governments in host nation capitals. Public Diplomacy expanded beyond policy advocacy and explaining American values. Overall, U.S. foreign policy prioritized helping strengthen government institutions, support democratic movements and foster civil society. The process of convergence has been evolutionary. Secretary Powell grasped the power of the information revolution, reallocated positions and resources from traditional diplomatic posting to new areas and recognized the power of satellite television to move publics and constrain governments even in authoritarian regimes. Secretary Rice forwarded this reconceptualization under the rubric of “Transformational Diplomacy,” which sought to help people transform their own lives and the relationship between state and society. Secretary Clinton continued the theme under the concept of “Smart Power.” “Person-to-person diplomacy in today’s work is as important as what we do in official meetings in national capitals across the globe,” Clinton said in 2010.The work done by PD officials in Arab Spring countries beginning in 2011 was as much about capacity-building as advocating U.S. policies or directly trying to explain American culture. By 2012, the National Framework for Strategic Communication defined PD as a “critical lever” of U.S. efforts to facilitate democratic transitions and foster economic opportunities within and across societies. Technological factors made the decentralization of diplomacy possible and expanded PD tools. However, the center of gravity of U.S. foreign policy has shifted toward public diplomacy for a more fundamental reason: the core goal of public diplomacy is inseparable from the core American objectives of promoting and defending the free flow of goods, ideas, and people.

Murrow's Cold War

Renee Earle, American Diplomacy

Murrow's Cold War: Public Diplomacy for the Kennedy Administration (2016) by Gregory M. Tomlin. University of Nebraska Press: Potomac Books. ISBN 978-1-61234-771-4. 400 pp 12 illustrations. Hardcover, 34.95.

For many Public Diplomacy practitioners, the three years that Edward R. Murrow headed the U.S. Information Agency represent the golden years, a time when Public Diplomacy was there at the take-off and not only at the crash landing, as Murrow famously said. [See *** JB note below.]The seat at the policy-decision table was not easily won, however, even for the likes of Murrow. Gregory Tomlin’s engrossing book takes us through this period with thorough research and interesting insights into the policies and events, both domestic and international, of the Kennedy Administration and the role of public information in the evolution of these events. The book is as much about USIA and the conduct of public diplomacy as about Murrow himself, and, in focusing on this period in Edward R. Murrow’s life, Tomlin addresses a fundamental question concerning Public Diplomacy, then as today: is Public Diplomacy a nice add-on or an important element in determining outcomes in the conduct of our foreign policy.

With an excellent introduction tracing the evolution of the USIA and the many debates surrounding the agency’s mission, effectiveness, and the overall value of considering foreign public opinion when determining policy, Tomlin sets the stage for Murrow’s arrival at USIA in 1960. He examines this more rarely explored period in Murrow’s life, depicting the man and the professional, and paints an accessible picture of the often enigmatic Murrow. During his term as USIA director, Murrow is shown as interested not only in policy and programs, but also in the workings and people of his agency. At this time, most exchange programs were still with the State Department, and USIA’s core programs were in information (radio, film, and libraries, followed by TV). Tomlin expertly describes Murrow’s struggle to tell USIA’s own story so as to convince Washington of the value and contributions of its information activities, a task the author rightly judges as often more difficult than the effective global propaganda with which it was charged.

Tomlin masterfully presents the political backdrop of the momentous years of the Cold War, from Cuba to the Berlin Wall and Vietnam. He retells historical events vividly with enough but not overwhelming detail, facilitating the reader’s entry into the many and simultaneous challenges facing the Kennedy Administration and USIA. With numerous examples, Tomlin describes the potential and decisive game changers of public opinion that lead to policy change, and argues for the importance of getting public diplomacy right. Getting it right, Tomlin posits, includes bringing in PD early and the coordination among USG agencies that Murrow worked so hard to achieve. To demonstrate, Tomlin, contrasts two telling examples of when it works and when it doesn’t—the Bay of Pigs and Cuba Missile Crisis.

The author highlights several elements which Murrow insisted were essential to successful PD. The importance of understanding audiences through consistent research informed Murrow’s strong recommendation for the U.S. not to resume nuclear testing. U.S. policy was caught between international public opinion that indicated fear of literal and figurative nuclear fallout and the need to show strength to domestic hardliners as well as to NATO allies who feared, in turn, that the U.S. capability might not be not strong enough in a stand-off with the USSR. The author describes the accompanying dilemma for the U.S. Information Agency as it worked to address both issues while still heeding one of Murrow’s primary tenets, that U.S. information be truthful.

The book often returns to Murrow’s deep understanding of the value of using the human dimension in successful Public Diplomacy. He grasped, perhaps like no other USIA director, that communication is furthered when one understands the interlocutor/audience and crafts a message in that context. He further understood the irreplaceable contribution that direct contact makes to this effort, giving rise to his perhaps Apocryphal comment that in effective persuasion, it’s the last three feet that counts. Our new “interconnectedness” through the Internet, and in Murrow’s day television, is no substitute. The human dimension infused USIA’s exploitation of the U.S. space program. Tomlin offers a captivating account of the origins of this effort and the mostly positive public opinion it garnered. These were also the heady days of the birth of USAID and Peace Corps. Murrow saw clear links between the missions of these two agencies and the USIA’s ability to project a better image of the U.S.

The author addresses the fundamental question of why the USG needs an information capability at all while we have CNN, a question as pertinent today as in Murrow’s time. Despite the increasingly media-rich environment, reaching new heights first through television and now with the Internet, it was not evident to everyone that the USG needed an energetic source of authoritative and trusted information in this mix of voices. Tomlin rightly highlights the continuous struggle for adequate financing of the USG information effort in this increasingly competitive world of information dissemination. As Tomlin points out, already in Murrow’s time “the days were over when USIA films would draw thousands into commercial theaters.” The author presents illustrative examples of Murrow’s uphill battle with Congress, and his tremendous efforts to supplement USIA’s own meager resources by enlisting the help of the private sector. Murrow was forced to persuade a German printing press to print pamphlets about the Berlin Wall since the U.S. Air Force would transport them from the U.S. only if it was reimbursed.

Tomlin devotes a chapter to Murrow’s clear understanding of the lingering importance of race in America in presenting a credible image of the U.S. as the global megaphone for democracy and freedom. This domestic issue, ignored by many foreign-policy makers, dogged the USIA as much, if not more, than most foreign policy issues. Here again the author sheds new light on an issue largely ignored in Murrow biographies. Realizing that African diplomats considered the U.S. a “hardship post “given their treatment in the U.S. during the segregation years, Murrow understood immediately how much this tarnished the U.S.’s credentials in fighting the Communist system throughout the Cold War. Well exploited by Communist propagandists, images of racial strife in the U.S. quickly made it around the world.

Race in America continues to be an issue for our Public Diplomacy today—and not only in Africa—, and USIA’s film about segregation in the U.S., “The March,” still captivates embassy audiences worldwide. Criticized by many at the time, the film is one of many examples of Murrow’s quest for balance and insistence on the truth, as he realized that exclusively “positive” pictures of America would instantly be received as propaganda and thereby be counterproductive. Moreover, we learn that Murrow’s insistence on raising the issue with Kennedy was not simply one of good PR, but also a moral one for him. The author credits Murrow’s efforts with effecting the pace with which the Administration addressed civil rights and credits USIA and its information campaigns with Khrushchev’s realization that confrontation with the U.S. would not advance his goals in Latin America.

For many past and present PD practitioners, the challenges to Edward R. Murrow as director of USIA will read like déjà vu. They will recognize their own experience in Murrow’s struggles, as Public Diplomacy is often still held to a higher standard of proof of effectiveness than other foreign affairs activity, requiring investment of already limited time and resources. And, Public Diplomacy too often remains an afterthought. Thanks to Tomlin’s detailed account of PD in Murrow’s day, it becomes apparent that, while tools must change with the time, Murrow’s principles of successful PD—gaining credibility by telling the truth and understanding audiences through direct contacts—stand and should be emulated still.

Tomlin offers a highly readable account of Edward R. Murrow’s role in a tumultuous time of U.S. political history and the development of America’s information dissemination capabilities. It will be of interest to professionals and the more casual reader alike. I highly recommend it.

Renee M.Earle is a retired Public Diplomacy Foreign Service Officer with the rank of Minister-Counselor. She served at our Embassies in Turkey, USSR/Russia, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, France, and the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels. Domestic positions with the Department of State included Diplomat-in-Residence at Duke University in North Carolina, Acting Office Director of Public Diplomacy in the European Bureau, and Chief of the Central Asia Division of the Voice of America, where she directed the Pashto, Dari, Farsi, Uzbek, Azeri, and Turkish language services.

JB comment:  What Murrow actually said, according to Google search citing the Tomlin book:
"Frustrated and angry, Murrow complained: 'Dammit, if they want me in on the crash landing, I'd better damned well be in on the take-off!' (67). Regrouping after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, USIA scored mixed successes in promoting economic development in Latin America, but its efforts foundered as poverty and inequality in."


From: "The Evolution of American Public Diplomacy: Four Historical Insights By Seth Center, Ph.D. Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State"

"Throughout the Cold War, the PD apparatus was a regular target of reform studies, and its budgets were under constant scrutiny. Public diplomatists wrestled with the balance between unapologetic messaging and building two-way bridges through intercultural communication. The United States Information Agency (USIA) rarely had a “seat at the table” in policy deliberations. It was after all Edward R. Murrow, USIA’s most famous director, who lamented that if PD was expected to be in on the crash landing it should also be in on the takeoff. When Americans did pay attention to PD, it was often with over-inflated expectations. Many Americans--including Presidents and Congressmen--could not comprehend how information seemed incapable of blunting anti-Americanism abroad and building sympathy for U.S. policies."

From: Issue #10 Bruce Gregory's Resources on Diplomacy's Public Dimension January 05, 2004
"In on the take-offs and not just the crash landings"

Scholars and practitioners of public diplomacy often attribute this phrase to former USIA Director Edward R. Murrow, who indeed used it to make the case for putting USIA at the policymaking table during the Kennedy Administration. The phrase was used earlier by Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg in calling for bipartisanship during the Truman Administration. Vandenberg attributed the phrase to Harold Stassen.

"As Murrow saw it, the important thing was not that the USIA Director, as a member (sic) of the National Security Council, should argue for or against policy on psychological grounds. It was that he should be informed in advance of policies in the making, and take part in their formulation. As he frequently stated it, the USIA should be "in on the take-offs, and not just the crash landings," like that of the U-2 spy plane shot down in Siberia." Alexander Kendrick, Prime Time: The Life of Edward R. Murrow, 1969, p. 456.

". . . I don't care to be involved in the crash-landing unless I can be in on the take-off. Harold Stassen, comment on bipartisanship, attributed to him by Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg." Suzy Platt, ed. Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service, 1989, pp. 260-261.

"Once again, it was the procedure of a hurried call to senators and a last-minute meeting to inform them of an impending development or of the execution of a policy, and not to consult on the formation of policy. Vandenberg then and thereafter insisted that real bipartisanship meant consultation in advance and not a perfunctory reading to legislators of an impending press announcement or policy statement . . . Stassen's comment, the Senator used to say, was such a good statement of the Republican case that he wished it were his." Arthur H. Vandenberg, Jr., ed. The Private Papers of Senator Vandenberg, 1952, p. 230.

East Africa: GERD - More Than Just a Dam

Solomon Dibaba,

Image (not from article)The Grand Renaissance Dam or GERD from

The global media seems to limit the importance of the Nile and GERD to a bone of contention between Ethiopia and the riparian countries.

For Ethiopia, GERD is more than a hydroelectric dam. As repeatedly stressed by Ethiopia, GERD is a flagship project that symbolizes the unity and sovereignty of the peoples of Ethiopia who are continuously expending billions of Birr to complete the project as soon as possible.

Over the previous hundred years, huge number of hydroelectric dams have been built around the world but when Ethiopia finally decided to use its share of the resources of the Blue Nile by constructing a dam, a lot of dust has blown up here and there. Ethiopia or many of the Nile riparian countries have never been parties to the two sets of agreements that were signed in a gross miscarriage of justice and Ethiopia's sovereign rights to use its own resources.

From the outset, Ethiopia initiated the Tripartite Agreement which included the Republic of Sudan and Egypt as a means of ensuring collective, inclusive and equitable use the resources of the Nile. This single instance clearly indicates that Ethiopia intends to approach any issue on the Nile in a more transparent way so that the countries involved could work together in a sprit de corp for the overall development of the sub-region.

Besides, during the construction of the dam, Ethiopia has repeatedly invited media outlets from Sudan and Egypt to the observe the reality on the ground through their own perspectives. International scholars, diplomats and ambassadors from many countries had visited the site of the dam. Ethiopia also initiated a strategy of public diplomacy as a means of building trust between the peoples of the three countries and to further enhance people to people relations.

One of the most conspicuous features of the GERD is the fact that it is being built and finance by the peoples of Ethiopia. This is a unique situation in Africa where even the most modest infrastructural facilities through foreign financial support. The public servants, farmers, various national financial institutions, Ethiopians in the Diaspora are proudly financing the biggest hydroelectric power dam in Africa. The peoples of Ethiopia are making history for all to witness.

The leaders of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan are constantly meeting to stream line not only on the progress of the GERD but also to discuss on future relations between the two countries. The issues related to GERD and the Nile are only few of the issues that explain the needs, interests, values and diplomatic and public relations between the countries.

In his discussion with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry a couple of days back, Foreign Minister Dr. Workneh said the dam will not harm any country. "This dam has no single harm on Egyptians,"

On several occasions, Ethiopia has expressed its commitment to work both with Egypt and Sudan in the spirit of accountability and transparency. During his visit to Ethiopia, the Egyptian foreign minister expressed his country's commitment to the full implementation of the Declaration of Principles for the benefits of the peoples of the three countries, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.

The Egyptian foreign minister stressed on the need to move in all sectors whether in the issues of GERD, economic development, direct investment, or establishment of industrial parks to attract further investment and capacity building cooperation.

Apart from the negotiations on GERD, the ratification of trade agreement between the two countries partnership in the areas of health, education, promotion of tourism, opening up investment opportunities could be further negotiated.

Ethiopia has already embarked on a number of projects that are specifically geared towards regional cooperation and integration in the areas of infrastructural development, energy and exchange of knowledge and practice in battling trans boundary contraband trade in firearms and other commodities.

The construction and final completion of GERD, will ultimately benefit not only Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan but also almost all East African countries that can use environment friendly hydroelectric power.

Among other things, GERD will be a living example on how people can pull together their resources and work towards a meaningful and sustained development through effective coordination of a strong political leadership.

One of the hurdles for less developed countries is the inability to initiate national development programs that can promote self reliance and self development. Many countries get into the vicious circle of poverty simply because they are dependent on foreign assistance as a critical part of their macroeconomic development programs.

In this context, upon completion and ultimate utilization, GERD will be a showcase not only for the development of hydropower generation but also as a leaning center of excellence in science, technology, hydrology, mechanical engineering, fishery and other areas related to water development.

Along with the construction of the dam, it is also imperative to focus on the maintenance of the ecosystem in the environs of the dam. Specific programs relating to catchment management, conservation of the original flora need to be in place before the construction and filling of water into the dam starts.

Human settlement pattern in and around the dam is another critical factor that requires due attention. The looming of such grand projects like GERD naturally leads to proliferation of urban centers both along the road to the dam and also in the environs of the dam. This implies that the settlement pattern in and around the dam need to be properly regulated.

With over 60% of completion, GERD has already become a reality on the ground. The international media and particularly the private media in Egypt are finding it very difficult to accept if not to deny. The lofty goals for which the three countries are negotiating are totally incompatible with the blind reporting of some media outlets who try to misguide both the global media and the international readership. They deny the fact that Ethiopians are contributing their financial resources for the construction of the dam and try to attribute the financing of the dam to donations from a single investor operating in Ethiopia.

Hoax news on GERD is simply part of short run media commercialism which can never change the reality on the ground. The impending truth is that the construction of GERD and the corresponding negotiations between the three countries is already helping to upscale the comprehensive relations between the countries that would definitely extend to other more profound areas of partnership and cooperation.

The hostility of some international media firms on Ethiopia's efforts to help establish a power grid in East Africa may certainly live with us for sometimes to come but again this will never change the reality on the ground.

The mutual advantages that the three nations can get from GERD is yet to unfold. GERD is a dam that could symbolize the everlasting mutually developmental opportunity not only for the lower riparian countries but also for other countries in the region.

Trump’s roadmap

Wajid Ali Syed, The News on Sunday

uncaptioned image from article

America’s decision to declare Jerusalem Israel’s capital does not necessarily imply a bipartisan declaration of intent

Since 1995, all presidents before Trump have exercised the waiver provision, hoping to achieve the Palestine-Israel peace process first and then adopt the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Trump stirred up the old order, and when he announced Jerusalem as Israel’s capital he did not specify if it’s just West Jerusalem or the eastern part as well which the Israeli forces occupied in 1967. This created enormous ambiguity. The announcement broke with an international consensus that Jerusalem’s final status should first be decided in direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and then any other movement made in this regard. Therefore, the UN demanded the US to rescind its declaration on Jerusalem and keep it a contested holy city as it has always been.

Before making the decision, Trump spent a whole day explaining the policy change in telephonic calls with Prime Minister Netanyahu; Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president; and Arab leaders who apparently warned him that it could disrupt the peace process.

However, Donald Trump “very clearly” said that nothing is defined so far. “This decision is not intended, in any way, to reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement. We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians. We are not taking position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.”

The president also asserted that the US would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides. He called on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al-Sharif. The next logical step is to carry out and oversee a peace plan between the Israelis and Palestinians.

One of the critical negotiators in the past from the Israeli side, Yossi Beilin, believes that the Trump declaration is just a part of public diplomacy. Beilin’s far-reaching proposed peace agreement in the mid 1990s, after lengthy negotiations, came to be known as the Beilin-Abu Mazen document. It remained an unofficial draft because of the assassination of the then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. After that, both sides refuted the existence of any such deal.

I asked Dr. Beilin what the future holds and how different any peace proposal could be from the Oslo Accords and the Geneva Initiative? He replied: “I think that the optimal plan, right now, should be based on the ‘Arab Initiative’ from 2002 and on the ‘Road Map’ from 2003; namely: a Palestinian State in provisional borders for a limited period, and an intensive Arab involvement in the process, which will culminate in full normalisation with Israel.” ...

Is Trump's America the 'dispensable' power in Asia?

David Camroux, East Asia Forum

Madeleine Albright, one of several scholar–statespersons the unique American spoils system used to produce as secretary of state, characterised the United States as ‘the indispensable power’. In relation to East Asia today, that description seems no longer salient. In this vein, perhaps thirty years from now we will look back on US President Donald Trump’s first official visit to East Asia as the moment when the United States abandoned a superpower role in Asia and grudgingly accepted that hegemonic power in the region would be shared with China.
Activists burn an effigy depicting US President Donald Trump during a protest in New Delhi, India, 12 December 2017 (Photo: Reuters/Saumya Khandelwal).
In his obsession with dismantling the legacy of his predecessor, Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) days after taking office. The TPP was the economic pillar of the US ‘pivot’ to Asia announced by former president Barack Obama in 2009. It marked a continuity in US Asia policy back to 1945 in that it constituted the economic element of a threefold approach. The other two pillars were hard security (reflected in Obama’s pledge to move 60 per cent of US naval assets to the Pacific) as well as public diplomacy or soft power in promoting international public goods (such as democracy and human rights). It also meant providing an intellectually formidable State Department with adequate resources.
Trump’s trip to Asia in November 2017 demonstrated that his administration has largely abandoned, or at best severely weakened, two of the three pillars of this bipartisan foreign policy edifice. While in relation to North Korea there was a bellicose reaffirmation of the US commitment to playing sheriff, the multilateral economic and soft power dimensions were significantly downgraded. US proposals for bilateral trade deals were greeted with polite silence. Given the Trump administration’s drive to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and the US–Korea Free Trade Agreement as part of its ‘America first’ agenda, US credibility as a trustworthy trading partner has been sorely compromised.
As for US soft power, Trump’s ‘bromance’ with his Philippine counterpart President Rodrigo Duterte — shown through the former’s previous praise for the latter’s war on drugs, which has resulted in some 12,000 extra-judicial killings — has demonstrated a downgrading of human rights concerns. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s call in Naypidaw for an independent inquiry into what the UN has categorised as the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya seemed an effort of diplomatic tokenism. Only under pressure from the US Congress did he later invoke the term ethnic cleansing and the possibility of sanctions against the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw).
By contrast, China potentially has the economic clout and political influence to impose a solution on the top ranks of the Tatmadaw. Tillerson’s Chinese counterpart Foreign Minister Wang Yi has proposed a three-phase plan for resolving the Rohingya crisis — a proposal that received support from both Bangladesh’s and Myanmar’s governments, with Aung San Suu Kyi visiting Beijing on 30 November.
In Manila there was the striking juxtaposition of the weakened US President vehemently defending a curious mix of bilateralism and isolationism against recently emboldened Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has been positioning his country as the champion of multilateralism and defender of the existing international order.
Rhetorically, for Trump, the term Asia Pacific has been replaced by ‘Indo-Pacific’: a revival of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s idea of a quadrilateral security arrangement involving Australia, India, Japan and the United States. If the United States cannot be a leader in a multilateralised East Asia, then perhaps it can consolidate three existing bilateral relations to be the first amongst equals.
But if we examine the practice of Trump’s administration, does the United States have the capacity to fulfil even this limited goal? Even further, does it have the desire to?
The breakdown of its Asia foreign policy status quo involves a combination of wilful negligence and discreet sabotage. Abandoning the TPP fell into the first category, while the hollowing out of the US State Department is a combination of both. Ten months after Trump’s inauguration, many senior positions in the State Department still have not been filled. Some one hundred senior diplomats have left and the threat of a one-third budget cut remains. The Trump administration’s gratuitous assault on multilateral institutions and agreements such as the WTO, UNESCO and the Paris Climate Change Agreement is being conducted in the same vein.
Yet while the United States has been seeking to weaken the international institutions it helped establish, China has been creating new international institutions to further its aims. An October 2014 China Monitor suggests some fourteen parallel and alternative multilateral structures with the potential to supplant existing ones. The most visible in Asia is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. At what point a parallel institution supplants an existing one — if that is the objective of the Chinese leadership — is debatable. Still, in terms of articulating a long-term vision, China’s Belt and Road dwarfs anything that Trump seems capable of offering.
The question is whether this new emerging order will involve ‘multilateralism with Chinese characteristics’. Much will depend on whether other powers, notably the European Union, can compensate for the US vacuum to preserve and promote a liberal multipolar international environment.
David Camroux is Senior Research Associate at the Centre for International Studies (CERI), Sciences Po, Paris and Professorial Fellow at the Vietnam National University (USSH), Hanoi.

Most viewed in 2017: Voice of America China Guo Wengui Part I – BBG Watch

BBG Watch Commentary
“Voice of America China Guo Wengui Part I” was the most viewed post on the BBG Watch site in 2017, getting 17,050 website views in addition to any views and engagements on social media. The second most viewed BBG Watch post was Voice of America director cut short Guo Wengui live interview with 9,330 website views.
Senior leaders of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), VOA’s parent federal agency, and VOA’s own top executives seem still determined to fire three Chinese-born VOA journalists and to discipline others for disagreeing with the management’s unfortunate directives to shorten the April 19, 2017 live interview with Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui. These journalists need your support. A phone call, an email or a post on social media could mean a lot to them.
For foreign-born VOA journalists deeply committed to reporting on corruption and human rights violations in their native countries, being prevented from working on the orders of the management of the U.S. taxpayer-funded and U.S. government-run organization, which they have loyally served for many years, is a horrific punishment. This is also especially hard to bear for their families during Christmas and other end of the year holidays. Let these journalists and their VOA colleagues know that you support them.

BBG Watch

Voice of America China Guo Wengui Part I

April 24, 2017

Asleep at the Wheel – A Commentary

Protest against censorship at Voice of America.
The management of the government-funded Voice of America (VOA) was asleep at the wheel when enterprising China service journalists arranged for a rare, exclusive interview with a Chinese businessman Guo Wengui who had found refuge in the United States and offered to expose widespread corruption within the Chinese Communist Party leadership. After the arrangements for a live three-hour mixed VOA TV and social media streaming interview had been completed and publicly announced by VOA, the Chinese government protested and demanded that the interview be canceled. At that point, two top-level VOA executives, both holdovers from the Obama administration and until then practicing hands-off management, suddenly realized that they were dealing with a news story of major importance. They did not see the interview as a major scoop for VOA journalists. After being asleep at the wheel earlier, they started to treat it as a potentially major crisis for themselves. It was already too late when they got involved in what appeared to be last-minute clumsy attempts to put pressure on VOA Chinese Branch journalists who had arranged the interview. They tried to get them to renege on their promise to Mr. Guo to conduct the interview live in three consecutive one-hour segments, the first hour live on satellite TV, followed by the next two hours live on social media platforms. The VOA journalists resisted.
The terms for an interview were admittedly unusual, but the interviewee himself was unusual. What he had to say was potentially of great informational value for the VOA audience in China. Before fleeing to the United States, he made a fortune in real estate and other business deals. He had direct knowledge of major corruption within the upper echelons of the Communist Party. He was blackmailed into working for China’s security services. He had information about their influence buying in the United States and was willing to disclose it.
Guo Wengui would only agree to a live interview with two VOA reporters whom he trusted, Mandarin Service chief Sasha Gong and Fred Wang, both with many years of journalistic and broadcasting experience. He offered to let them examine prior to the interview various documents in his possession allegedly showing that his claims about various corrupt Communist Party officials were true.
Soon after VOA announced that the interview with Mr. Guo would air in a few days, the Chinese government issued a warrant for his arrest. This showed that the Chinese officials certainly feared what he might tell VOA. At this point, a news organization that promised a lengthy live interview with such an individual had no choice but to deliver on its promise or be suspected of censorship. VOA risked tarnishing its reputation, not to mention disappointing its audience.
As it turned out, what could have been a major journalistic scoop and a source of great pride for Voice of America journalists, despite their best efforts turned into an embarrassment as information leaked out that VOA executives reportedly tried to prevent the interview from being broadcast live. Failing to stop the live broadcast altogether and thus killing the interview — which was only avoided due to strong resistance from VOA China Branch journalists — the pressure from the management succeeded in cutting the interview short as the second hour was being live-streamed on social media.
Those who watched the first part of the live interview said that it was not a successfully produced, well-flowing program with new information presented and the beginning, as it could have been if it were better planned and done under different circumstances without pressure from the top management. VOA China Branch journalists looked uncomfortable as if they had to work under great constraints. They did well, however, in providing plenty of balance through the pre-recorded Chinese government statement and pressed Mr. Guo to support his charges of political corruption in China. Despite their efforts, VOA’s reputation among its Chinese audience suffered a serious blow when the interview was suddenly cut short at the beginning of the second hour. The interview failed to live up to what was promised.
None of this had to happen if VOA top and mid-level management had been engaged and competent enough to handle a difficult situation from the very beginning. During the Cold War, VOA knew how to manage and conduct lengthy interviews with highly controversial figures, including at least one former East European communist secret service official and two ambassadors who had sought asylum in the United States. Conducting such interviews successfully requires that the agency in charge has officials with expert knowledge of foreign affairs who are capable of assuring a great deal of internal planning, coordination and supervision.
Why VOA director Amanda Bennett and VOA deputy director Sandy Sugawara were not involved in the initial planning for such a potentially explosive interview can only be explained by general mismanagement and chaos under their watch since they had been selected for their positions by Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing. All three lack prior experience in managing U.S. government media, public diplomacy or foreign policy operations. At the very least, John Lansing should have made sure that VOA director and deputy director consult with their counterparts at Radio Free Asia (RFA) and other China experts to seek additional advice. We have found no evidence of Mr. Lansing’s involvement in managing the interview.
The official Voice of America and Broadcasting Board of Governors statement blamed the whole incident on “miscommunication,” but in reality it was the initial hands-off approach followed by extremely poor handling of the situation by the agency top officials and lower level managers. These BBG and VOA executives and managers should have been directly and intensively involved in the planning of such a critical interview from the very beginning. Some veterans of U.S. international Broadcasting observed that it might have been better if the interview were conducted by much better-managed Radio Free Asia, but Mr. Guo Wengui insisted on being interviewed live by the Voice of America. He may have feared that a recorded interview might be edited or never air. In the end, both he and the Chinese audience were let down despite the best efforts of VOA China Branch journalists to offer a first-rate exclusive interview with a controversial but formerly well-connected and highly knowledgeable figure.
Even more troubling is the appearance that the VOA director and the deputy director may have been responding to pressure from the Chinese government even though there is no direct proof that they did, only an appearance of succumbing to pressure. They both vehemently denied being pressured and told the VOA Chinese Branch staffers that their only concern was with upholding high journalistic standards. Ironically, these standards are being violated on a daily basis under their watch in VOA English news service output and in some VOA foreign language services. Recently, VOA conducted an interview and reported an explosive but unsupported allegation that Russia’s President Putin and Syria’s President Assad conspired to test new chemical weapons on civilians in Syria. VOA director and deputy director cannot hope to sleep walk as these potentially explosive interviews are being planned and hope that everything will turn out well in the end. That’s not how U.S. international media organization works or should work.
Internal e-mails and reports shared with BBG Watch by upset VOA China Branch journalists who are furious about the Guo Wengui incident, show that at the very least, these top VOA officials had a limited understanding of the issues and were unprepared to deal effectively with the crisis too late in the game. The mid-level VOA managers appear equally guilty of an initial lack of engagement and subsequent poor management of the crisis. They were trying to deal remotely from Washington with the situation in New York, where the interview was being conducted. It was all far too distant and far too late in what should have been a meticulous planning process but definitely was not.
While lower-level VOA China Branch managers and reporters can also be criticized for rushing into the interview without negotiating better terms with Guo Wengui and seeking more guidance, they were no doubt responding to Ms. Bennett’s strong advocacy for “investigative reporting.” It was she and her deputy who failed to provide proper leadership, supervision and effective communication channels. The VOA China Branch was not operating on its own. Mid-level managers were informed that the interview was being planned and extensive technical support was provided. VOA lower level managers and journalists fear that, as usual, they might be blamed for the “miscommunication” while the mid-level and upper-level managers and executives will continue doing business as usual.
BBG Watch has received a number of e-mails and reports showing how the incident developed and will present them in three parts, which we tentatively titled: “Asleep at the Wheel,” “All Hell Broke Loose in DC” and “Reputation Damaged.”
Two weeks ago, the preparations for the live Voice of America China Branch interview with Mr. Guo were moving forward, top VOA and BBG officials seemed blissfully unaware or unconcerned about any potential problems, VOA director Amanda Bennett was traveling on official business in Africa, and on air and online announcements about the interview were made. Then the Chinese government expressed its displeasure and everything changed.
On Monday, April 17, Bill Ide, the VOA English Newsroom correspondent in Beijing, was summoned by the Chinese Foreign Ministry and later sent an e-mail to Jing Zhang, the chief editor of the East Asian Division. The e-mail was shared widely within VOA.
He met with Ma Yuanchun, director of foreign media relations and Luo Danzhu – a contact person for foreign journalists at the Foreign Ministry’s International Press Center. Ma expressed deep concern about the announced exclusive interview with Guo Wengui (Miles Kwok) and made it clear that they do not want it to air.
During the discussion, Ma cited a range of concerns and said that by airing the interview it gives them the impression that the Voice of America has some kind of hidden political agenda. She said it concerns them that VOA giving a man, whom she described as a wanted criminal in China, a podium without questioning the allegations that he is making. Both Chinese government officials also expressed concern that this is happening ahead of the 19th Communist Party congress.
Ma also said that this type of interview is seen as interference in China’s affairs. She said that if VOA goes ahead with the interview, they will respond seriously to this kind of reporting. She didn’t elaborate, but alluded to the impact it could have on the renewal process Chinese visas for VOA correspondents. She also highlighted the “conveniences” the Chinese government is providing VOA journalists who have recently visited China.
The VOA Beijing correspondent said that he did not make any promises told them that he would pass their concerns along. They have asked the Voice of America to get back to them as soon as possible.
After that, all hell broke loose among VOA executives and top managers who were previously asleep at the wheel.


All Hell Broke Loose — A Commentary


VOA China Fought Mgmt Push To Limit Guo Wengui Interview — Part III

Reputation Damaged — A Commentary


READ MORE: POLICIES & POLITICS Plug pulled on US interview with wanted Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui, Robert Delaney, US correspondent, South China Morning Post, UPDATED : Thursday, 20 Apr 2017, 10:48PM

READ MORE: CUSIB Asks for Investigation About Why VOA China Service Cut Live-Stream Interview with Chinese Billionaire Guo Wengui, CUSIB, April 21, 2017

READ MORE: CUSIB concerned about partisanship and mismanagement at BBG and VOA, CUSIB, April 21, 2017

The following explanation of the abrupt termination of a Voice of America interview was provided to various media organizations by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency in charge of VOA:


“On Tuesday VOA interviewed Guo Wengui. Guo reacted to an Interpol Red Notice for his arrest issued the day before. He talked about the mistreatment of his family, about being coerced by national security people to work for them, and about his relationship with a senior official who is now in custody. The one-hour interview was simulcast live via TV, radio, web and social media. We had multiple plans to conduct additional interviews with the subject for social media and later in the day made the editorial decision to record this material, edit, and post it in the coming days. In a miscommunication, the stream was allowed to continue beyond the first hour. When this was noticed the feed was terminated. We will release content from these interviews and will continue to report on corruption issues.

The original one-hour interview can be viewed on the VOA Mandarin website:



Guo Wengui is a Chinese real estate tycoon currently living in the U.S. Guo is reported to have irregular business dealings involving senior government officials. On Tuesday Interpol issued a Red Notice for Guo after a local Chinese government issued a warrant for Guo’s arrest.”


While the BBG statement says that the live interview with Guo Wengui was conducted on Tuesday, it was in fact conducted on Wednesday, April 19.
The independent and nonpartisan NGO Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting (CUSIB – is asking for a congressional investigation. CUSIB points out that “miscommunication” at the U.S. agency charged with communicating with the world is in itself a troubling sign of continuing mismanagement.


April 21, 2017
For Immediate Release
The Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting

CUSIB Asks for Investigation About Why VOA China Service Cut Live-Stream Interview with Chinese Billionaire Guo Wengui

The Committee for US International Broadcasting ( has released the following statement:
“In an effort to protect Voice of America China Service from being unfairly influenced or manipulated by outside political sources, the Committee for US International Broadcasting is asking for a thorough congressional investigation about what transpired on April 19, 2017 during a VOA live-stream broadcast of Chinese billionaire Gui Wengui as he spoke about corruption in China.
Guo Wengui was described by The New York Times as a “Chinese-born billionaire who in recent months has publicized allegations of corruption against relatives of high-ranking Communist Party officials is now a wanted man after Beijing asked Interpol to issue a global request for his arrest.” He was in New York doing an exclusive live interview with Voice of America.
CUSIB shares the concerns of Chinese viewers who tuned in to that interview and want to know why it was abruptly cut, thereby damaging the journalistic integrity and reputation of VOA among those viewers. The official explanation from the Voice of America and its parent agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), that it was a case of “miscommunication” is in itself troubling as it shows that the U.S. agency created to communicate with the world continues to be mismanaged.
Was VOA influenced by political powers to cut the live-stream broadcast, and if so, who was involved? More specifically, who in VOA gave the order to censor the broadcast of Guo Wengui, and who may have pressured VOA to censor this special live-stream broadcast?
CUSIB urges VOA’s audience to remain vigilant about this very serious matter and to demand for VOA to remain true to its mission statement to be “accurate, objective, and comprehensive.”
For further information, please contact Ann Noonan at (646) 251-6069 or Ted Lipien at (415) 793-1642.

BBG Watch

Voice of America director cut short Guo Wengui live interview

Amanda Bennett
May 1, 2017
BBG Watch has seen evidence that Voice of America (VOA) Director Amanda Bennett, who is one of several Obama administration holdovers in the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), interrupted her two-week official tour of Africa to send a word to Washington ordering VOA Mandarin Service to cut short their planned three-hour live interview with Guo Wengui, a Chinese businessman turned whistleblower on government corruption in China. One of the justifications given by the VOA director for cutting the live interview short was to limit the risk of Mr. Guo making allegations of corruption against Communist Party government officials in China which later might turn out to be unfounded.
When Ms. Bennett’s order was carried out despite multiple and vigorous protests from VOA Mandarin Service journalists, VOA suffered a major blow to its reputation among its Chinese audience. Many saw it as caving in to pressure from the Chinese government which earlier had expressed its strong opposition to the planned VOA interview and quickly issued a warrant for Mr. Guo’s arrest before the scheduled interview. It was a clear proof that the Chinese government greatly feared what Mr. Guo might tell VOA. Ms. Bennett categorically denies that she was motivated by fear of how the Chinese government might react if VOA presented the live interview as it was initially promised in TV and online promos.
Ms. Bennett reportedly justified her order to shorten the live interview by arguing that Chinese Communist Party officials must be given an opportunity to respond “in advance” to any accusations of corruption. She was supported in her view by her deputy, Sandy Sugawara, also an Obama administration holdover, who was at the time in Washington. Ms. Sugawara put pressure on resisting Mandarin Service journalists to carry out Ms. Bennett’s order.
Both Ms. Bennett and Ms. Sugawara insisted that getting Chinese Communist officials to respond to any allegations first before they would be expressed on the record by Mr. Guo in an interview was good journalistic practice. They vehemently denied to incredulous VOA Mandarin Service journalists that their decision represented in any way caving in to pressure from Beijing.
VOA Mandarin Service reporters argued that the Chinese government had already responded to Mr. Guo’s accusations and that the official Chinese response would be presented during the interview while any unsupported allegations from Mr. Guo, if there were to be any, would be vigorously challenged. Ms. Bennett reportedly said that this is not enough and that she herself as an experienced journalist would never conduct an interview with someone making serious allegations of corruption even against government officials the way VOA Mandarin Service journalists were planning to conduct the interview with Mr. Guo. Chances of Chinese government officials agreeing to respond to specific accusations of corruption in advance are believed, however, to be practically nonexistent. VOA Mandarin Service reporters were insulted by her doubts in their ability to conduct a fair and balanced interview, inside sources told BBG Watch.
Evidence seen by BBG Watch shows that Ms. Bennett ordered VOA Mandarin Service journalists to reduce the length of the interview both on live one-hour TV program and in a live two-hour Facebook broadcast in order to reduce the possibility of Mr. Guo making reckless or impulsive charges. VOA Mandarin Service originally had promised one hour of live TV and two hours of live Facebook interview with Mr. Guo. Ms. Bennett ordered VOA Mandarin Service not to allow Mr. Guo to make allegations about Chinese communist officials even in the course of a shortened interview. She did not explain how this should be accomplished.
Reaction to VOA director’s order among Chinese viewers was swift and almost uniformly negative. Here are three typical comments and a meme created by outside critics of VOA management’s actions:
When I heard Sasha Gong and Fred Wang say: “because of special reasons we must stop our interview…”, my feeling was exactly as same as when I heard the announcement of the Chinese communist government on the eve of 04.06.1989 [the Tienamen Square Massacre]. Tears were in my eyes. I just don’t know if it was for Mr. Guo’s fate, the deaths of 04.06.89, or for the death of VOA –because VOA was my beacon through all the dark nights when I was in China.
When I saw the sudden cutting short of the 3 hour direct broadcasting which VOA announced for several days in advance and promised before and during the program , I said VOA is done for! They are scared to death by the Chinese government !
What made me more scornful of the decision makers was their next day’s explanation read by the lady wearing a white flower . The explanation is a typical lie ! It’s wording is very similar to the speeches of those disgraceful spokesmen/spokeswomen of Chinese Foreign ministry!
Shame on VOA!
[…]It is very sad to see this event happened. When I watched the live VOA Guo Wengui interview program, the program was suddenly cut off. I felt Democracy died in America. Voice of America was the symbol of freedom and democracy. It represented the values of United States: freedom of press and freedom of speech. The cut-short program stopped the Voice of Freedom and Democracy. Today’s VOA is not the VOA I listened to during my youth years in China. It has become the Shame of America: Voice of Silence.

Protest against censorship at Voice of America.
A group of Chinese Americans, former Chinese dissidents and protested last week against censorship in a demonstration staged in front of the Voice of America building in Washington, DC.
Ms. Bennett and her boss, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John F. Lansing have argued that an hour long live interview with Mr. Guo was enough and that the next two hours would have been recorded and any further allegations of corruption made by him against Chinese officials would be checked and presented by VOA to the Chinese government for a response.
The cutting short of the interview, however, meant that it could not continue because Mr. Guo would only agree to being interviewed live.
What Mr. Lansing, Ms. Bennett and Ms. Sugawara also apparently failed to understand was that the act of cutting short the interview alone would raise widespread suspicions and accusations in China that Mr. Guo was being censored by VOA in response to pressure from the Chinese government. VOA and BBG executives apparently did not anticipate that the decision to cut short the interview after promises of a three hour live conversation had already been made to the audience would have a major negative impact on VOA’s credibility and reputation in China. Mr. Guo has a widespread following in China on social media. His tweet about the interview being cut short produced a storm of online criticism directed against VOA.
Neither Ms. Bennett, Ms. Sugawara nor Mr. Lansing has any prior experience in U.S. international broadcasting, managing of government employees and government organizations or in managing U.S. public diplomacy.
Ms. Bennett’s order to cut short an important interview had a negative impact not only on the Voice of America but also on Radio Free Asia (RFA) which had no role in the controversy. Judging from comments on social media, after the VOA incident some Chinese also suspect RFA of caving in to pressure from the Chinese government and suspect the Trump administration of the same thing even though Ms. Bennett, Ms. Sugawara, and Mr. Lansing were appointed to their positions during the Obama administration.
There is no indication that any Trump administration official had a role in the Guo Wengui VOA interview scandal.
Speaking Monday, May 1, 2017, at the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the George Washington University (GWU) School of Media & Public Affairs panel in connection with the World Press Freedom Day, BBG CEO John F. Lansing said in answering a question from former CNN correspondent Frank Sesno that neither he nor anyone at the Voice of America was responding to pressure from the Chinese communist government when the live VOA interview with Guo Wengui was suddenly shortened on April 19. Mr. Lansing stressed that VOA would never be pressured by Beijing.
It appears, however, that VOA director Amanda Bennett and deputy director Sandy Sugawara took action to shorten the live interview with Guo Wengui only after the Chinese government issued its protest. Before that VOA was moving full speed with the interview as it was originally planned by the Mandarin Service in agreement with Mr. Guo. VOA and BBG top executives all deny that they were responding to any pressure and justified their decision by their concern about protecting high journalistic standards.
Mr. Lansing told Mr. Sesno and the audience that he is “still gathering facts on this situation,” but added that in his view a one hour-long live TV interview was more than enough. Many in China disagree, but Mr. Lansing did not seem to understand why.
Neither Mr. Lansing nor Ms. Bennett realized that the shortening of the interview, whether in response to pressure or not, would still be a major blow to VOA’s reputation among its audience in China because it would create an appearance of submitting to pressure. If nothing else, this unfortunate incident shows that both of them, as well as managers advising them, do not understand the impact of VOA’s journalism abroad and have limited understanding of U.S. international broadcasting and U.S. public diplomacy.