Prof. Cinnamon Dornsife (Associate Director, International Development Program at Johns Hopkins University; USA)

18.05.2011 - Interview conducted by Katie Dickmeyer

Q1. During the US Presidency of Bill Clinton, he felt that there was a sense of decline in US importance in the eyes of Asia. When commencing his presidency, he also did not inherit a coherent Asia policy, but rather a series of strained bilateral relationships with several countries, particularly with Japan and China. Now, with America in the hands of President Barack Obama, do you feel that Asian-Pacific relations have changed significantly and if so, for better or for worse?
Yes, they have changed significantly and for the better. As you know president Obama spent a significant part of his childhood in Indonesia although he was born in the United States in Hawaii and he has strengthened relations with China through the strategic and economic dialogue that was started under secretary Paulson who worked for the then president Bush but what’s interesting about what President Obama has done is that he has broadened it to be not just economic but also strategic and has brought in officials from the department of state so it is co-chaired by Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton and Secretary of Treasury, Tim Geithner. It is very broad based and is moving forward at a great rate. Another thing is that he has a strategic dialogue with Indonesia and this is important because Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world and as I mentioned if you’re defining the bricks as “bricks” with Brazil, Russia India, Indonesia, China and South Africa then this is a very strategic move. He’s also strengthened relationships with other Asian countries notably India and Russia so I think he’s done a fantastic job with improving and strengthening relations with significant Asian countries.

Q2. It is often said that understanding politics allows us to make good investment decisions. Taking into regard today’s international banking crisis, do you feel that understanding cultures, as well as politics, will allow us to make even better investment decisions? Will stronger cultural diplomacy between countries help work towards solving the banking crisis as well as strengthening international relations?

Yes, one of the things at the International Development Program at SAIS, where I’m the acting director, this was the design of my predecessor Francis Fukuyama who’s now at Stanford University, but we have three tracks: Politics and Governance, Finance and Development and Human Development and the message is: Ignore any one of those at your risk, ignore politics at your risk. So yes, understanding politics is very important to understanding outcomes, as is culture and so I think I really applaud the work of the ICD in terms of stressing the cultural aspects; if we don’t know one another deeply, how is it that we can really understand the most effective ways of working together. So I would say, knowing each other well is very important.

Q3. The concept of soft power has shaped a lot of international political and diplomatic thinking in recent years. How do you think cultural diplomacy as a soft power tool is being used to negotiate and recalibrate international relationships in a fast-changing and sometimes dangerous world?
That’s an excellent question. I am on the board of advisors for the US-Indonesia society and one of the things that they have undertaken as part of the strategic dialogue between the US and Indonesia and that was in fact building on the work done by prior presidents, president Obama has lifted it to a higher level of importance and significance but one of the important things is educational exchange between Indonesia and the US. The Ford foundation invested in something in the 60’s called the Berkley Mafia, who are technocrats that have significantly contributed to sound economic policies. It is therefore a call by those of us that care about Indonesia to deepen educational partnerships. I mentioned India’s educational exchange program and so these both show the value of soft power, I think Education where we understand one another more deeply is a way of contributing to cultural diplomacy and understanding. That said I am an amateur musician, and I think also that musical, cultural, poetic, artistic and literature exchanges are very much a part of this as well. I am an economist by training but by avocation I guess I’m a musician so I would say that’s equally important.

Thank you very much.