Dr Daniel Woker is the former Swiss Ambassador to Australia, Singapore and Kuwait and now a Senior Lecturer at the University of St Gallen.
We like The Interpreter, right? That's why we keep reading it, and sometimes feel compelled to contribute our two bits. In my case it's the daily Linkages I like best. They are fast and funny and yet often profound and thought-provoking when you take the time to read, watch and listen to them.
How so? Take yesterday's Linkages. They covered some pretty important topics not only of the day but of our age, from China and the EU to US politics, and from music to ediplomacy.
Last things first: the well-done Singapore fertility video on the one hand and the embarrassing Media Corp of Singapore ditty on the other show how small the edge is whereupon authorities balance when they want to be cool. It can work, but rarely does, and especially not when you don't have any attractive goods to sell.
The larger point is, why should authorities use tools clearly crafted and used by those in opposition to the establishment? It is neither expected of them nor useful. A minister, an ambassador, or anybody in a clearly established position can only lose by twittering, as he or she needlessly cedes ground to those opposed, not necessarily to him or her, but to the position as such.
I would disagree with the author in these pages who deplored the non-use of Twitter by Ian Kemish, Australian High Commissioner to PNG, to counter baseless allegations spread by Twitter. Any Twitter response would have met with even more outrage and nonsense. The Romans saw that one right: 'Si tacuisses'; sometimes silence is golden.
So, no ediplomacy at all? That would go too far, but as a communications adviser to anybody in a position of authority, and thus inevitable opposition to it, I would draw the line before Facebook and Twitter, at least as an active producer. Both are social phenomena which will come and go as others before. A totally different question is the use of social media in those societies where other ways and means of communication are impossible or dangerous. But even there social media are but a tool than can be used to both good and bad ends.
The same basic point goes for Boogying Hillary (Clinton) and Rapping Karl (Rove), also from yesterday's Linkages: they are dancing on a knife's edge (which we all can only enjoy thanks to YouTube, I am glad to admit).
Full political disclosure here: I have a lot more sympathy for the lovely lady than the portly gentleman who for many people is still the incarnation of the most evil part in W's past empire. To see him croak a few words to a beat is downright embarrassing because so evidently 'faux'. Karl clearly hails not from Chicago's South Side (or wherever Eminem first came from). Hillary's swaying in South Africa, on the other hand, while clearly not on a par with the Miriam Makeba double opposite her, struck me as quite genuine. After all, the Congress of Vienna danced, too.
The weightiest point in Thursday's linkages however was the Australian admission that Europe is a reality. Finally! Taken together the EU is indeed miles ahead of China (and the US) in raffling precious metal at the London Olympics. And what Sam missed: If you add the (admittedly few) medals won by European Non-EU members Norway and Switzerland, the tally becomes even more lopsided.
There is a serious and much larger point here which often gets overlooked in the Asia Pacific, especially in Australia. With the exception of strategy and defence policy, Europe as a whole is still, by a large margin, Asia's (and especially Australia's) main partner in some of the most important areas of international interaction.
This holds true particularly in economic terms (all EU members, plus Norway/Switzerland, taken together — which is entirely appropriate as they form an economic block — are still Australia's most important trade partner, outpacing China; this is not to speak of investments, where Europe ranks way before the US and Japan as Australia's main source of capital) as well as in academic terms (more connections between European and Australian tertiary and scientific institutions than between US and Australian unis). In cultural terms it might be more of a toss-up between the US and Europe but only because of Hollywood.
This does not mean Australians should all of a sudden learn to love the poms (particularly unfair at a time when the latter are winning more Olympic medals then the former) or that any sensible European would seriously question the ever growing Asian identity of Australia. But it does mean that the mild pity at best, and the open derision at worst, for all things European so often encountered in Australian (especially Murdoch) media is misplaced and unwise. In many areas, and despite its natural riches, the way Europe goes, so goes Australia.
Photo by Flickr user Extra®Ordinary.