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Public Diplomacy Critical at a Perilous Time

by Joe B. Johnson

Distinguished scholar Nancy Snow, who teaches at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies in Japan and holds the Walt Disney Chair at Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University in Beijing, warned against cutting ties with China at First Monday Forum on June 1.

Professor Sherry Mueller introduced Prof. Nancy Snow at the June 1, 2020, First Monday forum.

Professor Snow discussed both the coronavirus pandemic and racial tensions dominating the news in the United States and around the globe. Not only are there hot zones of viral contamination; there are “hot zones in our thinking.  We’re about to close our channels of communication with China,” Snow asserted.

Public diplomacy answers an urgent need at this moment of inequality and pandemic, she continued – “opening minds to understand the other side.”

Calling out political leaders, Snow said, “Right now, at the very top, there’s a lack of empathy and understanding.”

China’s aggressive diplomacy is rooted in the belief that its story has not been shared with the rest of the world, according to Snow. However, her Chinese contacts are worried that China’s Wolf Warrior stance invites “blowback” that will limit the country’s ambitions for technological advancement.

Nearly 100 guests participated in the session via the Zoom conferencing platform. First Monday Forum is sponsored by the DC-based Public Diplomacy Council, the Public Diplomacy Association of America, and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy.

“The global pandemic,” according to Snow, has killed 900 people in Japan, a relatively small number for a nation of 125 million. “If you look around, people everywhere are wearing masks almost universally in Japan as well as in South Korea.”

People in those two countries are serious about prevention measures, which were applied early in Taiwan as well: a remarkable feat for three governments adjacent to the People’s Republic of China, where the disease originated.

Snow summed up:

“Edward R. Murrow warned about the necessity of respect for other societies ….  We can all be change agents.

“These are mournful times, but telling America’s story to the world remains a challenge, and an opportunity to make a real difference. We public diplomacy practitioners can make that real difference through dialogue in many settings, including one-on-one conversations with influential friends abroad.”

Snow co-edited the second edition of the Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy with Nicholas J. Cull of USC. The Handbook came out in January of this year.

Snow fielded questions from multiple participants in the hour-plus dialogue, which can be viewed at

Joe B. Johnson consults on government communication and technology after a career in the United States Foreign Service. He is an instructor for the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, where he teaches strategic planning for public diplomacy. Read More

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