U.S. Domestic Politics and Public Diplomacy in Asia

by Steven R. Corman

As Congress is once again behaving badly, I thought I would post a brief note about some interactions I have had while visiting Asia.  Comments here show that what many of us regard as “inside baseball” matters a lot to foreign publics, and it has them worried.

Last week I attended the Singapore Global Dialogue, organized by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University. It was attended by influential people from all over the Asia Pacific region.  Roughly three out of four people I talked to inquired about ongoing political problems in the U.S.  They often asked specifically about the debt reduction circus of this summer, but in many cases conversations expressed deeper concerns.

For example, an international banker asked me if the political system in the U.S. was in danger of collapsing.  He explained how closely people in this part of the world follow our political developments. They look to the U.S. for leadership and depend on us to do the right thing. Accordingly they get very worried–at least as worried as people in the U.S., based on these conversations–when it appears that our system is becoming gridlocked and unable to function.

One academic colleague suggested that ongoing political problems in the U.S. play into skepticism in the streets of countries where our stated goal is promoting democracy: “The average guy hears about this and says: ‘So this is what we get with democracy? Who wants that?'”

All this goes to show that our political problems in the U.S. aren’t just a domestic matter. They have public diplomacy functions too.  At the moment they are sending a very bad message about the U.S. and its viability as a world leader–at just the time, incidentally, when China is seen as ascendent (another big theme at the conference).

One Response to “U.S. Domestic Politics and Public Diplomacy in Asia”

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  1. JG says:

    This is an interesting and informative blog. It at least reveals a few key clues:

    I. The U.S. has been a model/specimen closely watched by many countries worldwide, as a barometer of if its version of democratic system will ultimately work out vis-a-vis other previous and existing human political mechanisms.

    II. The twists and turns on American political theater potentially carry complex, massive tsunami impacts around the world. As “a human experiment” of national building, many people wish the U.S. truly become an alternative to the present national models, others don’t. Be them well-wishers or ill-cursers, both will agree the price of carrying through such a model is not cheap at all, with its end (victorious or otherwise) far from certain or far beyond probably many generations’ visions.

    III. The U.S., though having a not short history and as the sole superpower these days, still has to prove its current leadership is viable and sustainable, now being measured against China’s robust emergence, an ancient civilization which has proved that its Confucian values can cluster its people and political institutions together through ages. After the Cold War, this will another tough, long-term test for the U.S. to show history is on which side.

    Just some prompt thoughts.