January 18, 2014

Five years ago, Central and Eastern Europe was home to one of the world’s most impressive growth stories. Annual GDP growth was close to 5%, just behind China and India. Foreign direct investment poured into Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia at a rate of more than $40 billion per year. One in six cars sold in greater Europe was being exported from factories in the region. Productivity and per capita GDP were rising briskly, narrowing the gap with Western Europe.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences unveiled a homegrown operating system called COS (for China Operating System) this week, which it called a crucial national security initiative in light of revelations about pervasive online surveillance by the US National Security Agency. But China’s 618 million internet users aren’t buying it.

Paddington Bear is a much-loved children’s character from deepest, darkest Peru. He’s also an illegal immigrant. According to Michael Bond’s classic books, Paddington is an illegal stowaway who entered Britain with no partner or means of supporting himself, then adopted a different identity before staying in the UK indefinitely.

A Twitter war broke out between the Indian minister Shashi Tharoor’s wife and his alleged mistress on Thursday over vague and melodramatic tweets from his account. The social media battle sparked after Tharoor’s account, allegedly hacked, posted emotionally dramatic messages accompanied by the Twitter handle of Pakistani journalist, Mehr Tarar.

The government has been urged to limit consular services for dual citizens who travel on a foreign passport or who live outside Canada for prolonged periods, a report said Tuesday. The proposal was described in briefing books prepared for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Trade Minister Ed Fast, and cited by the daily Globe and Mail.

African politics took on a humourous angle as Twitter users joked about their countries' affairs using high school analogies. The hashtag #AfricanNationsInHighSchool quickly went viral as Africans online weighed in with perceptions of their own nations and their neighbours, referencing everything from common stereotypes to current affairs. Mentions of the hashtag skyrocketed to nearly 50,000 uses in less than 24 hours.

2013 has seen governments in the Middle East and North Africa venture further into the world of digital diplomacy. Some have fully embraced it, while some linger tentatively on the sidelines. No matter what kind of approach governments take, digital is undeniably a vital element in the MENA diplomacy toolbox. Certain countries in the region have already demonstrated an impressive command of digital platforms.

2014 could be the year of public diplomacy, particularly throughout the Middle East where citizens continue to exercise enormous influence over the direction of events on the ground, from Iraq to Syria, and from Israel to the West Bank. Public opinion in the U.S. matters, as does public opinion “of” the United States around the world in an interdependent world.