Public Diplomacy

Confucius Institutes continue to increase in number and funding, despite growing criticism against the institutes in the United States and a questionable impact on China’s soft power, reports The Economist.

The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs has posted information and FAQs regarding the ongoing efforts to fully restore its global database for issuing travel documents and visas. This database crashed last week, causing an “extensive backlog” for U.S. passports and visas worldwide.

The Fulbright Program was awarded today with the 2014 Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation, as announced by the Prince of Asturias Foundation. The Prince of Asturias Award is widely considered to be “Spain’s Nobel Prize” and aims “to reward scientific, technical, cultural, social, and humanitarian work carried out at an international level by individuals, institutions or groups of individuals or institutions.” Prior award recipients include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Red Cross, and Nelson Mandela.

James Costos, U.S. Ambassador to Spain, and Ramon Gil-Casares, Spanish Ambassador to the U.S., nominated the Fulbright Program for this prestigious award. More than 20 other nominees were up for the award, including individuals and groups from Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Ireland, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Portugal, United Kingdom, and Spain.

A proposed $30 million cut to the Fulbright Program would “rob the United States of one of its greatest, most lasting, and cheapest diplomacy bargains,” writes Rebecca Schuman in a recent column for Slate:

“Sometimes the soft power of cultural and educational exchange is more effective than official diplomacy, because it involves…a demonstrated interest in the host culture, full cultural immersion, and actual personal connection with localsIt’s for this reason that now is the absolute wrong time to cut the Fulbright program.”

“As tensions escalate with countries that were once touchy allies, what we need are more Fulbright grantees in the world, not fewer.”

In his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama stressed the administration’s efforts to expand people-to-people exchanges as a tool to promote a “strong and principled [U.S.] diplomacy.”

The President said:

“You see, in a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power including strong and principled diplomacy.”

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) yesterday approved by voice vote President Obama’s nomination of Richard Stengel to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Stengel, the former managing editor of Time magazine, is now awaiting confirmation by the full Senate.

Starting next week on November 12, the Department of State will recognize International Education Week, the annual worldwide celebration of the value of international education and exchange. First held in 2000, International Education Week is now celebrated in more than 100 countries worldwide.

At his Senate confirmation hearing today, Richard Stengel, nominee for Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, stressed his long-time commitment to public diplomacy and pledged to advance international exchanges.

Stengel said he would focus on a number of issues he considers vital to U.S. national interests, including the advancement of “public diplomacy’s focus on youth, including girls and underserved communities,” as well as the promotion of educational exchanges:

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Richard Stengel, former Managing Editor of Time magazine and President Obama’s nominee for Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) this coming Thursday for his confirmation hearing.

Committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will preside over the hearing, which will be held at 10:30 am in room 419 of the Senate Dirksen building.

A live webcast will be available here.

The Senate confirmed earlier today the nomination of Evan Ryan to be Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the Department of State, CQ.com and The Hill both report. President Obama nominated Ms. Ryan for the post in early July, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held her confirmation hearing on July 30. The SFRC approved her nomination last week, leading to today’s full Senate confirmation. 

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