The purpose of cultural diplomacy is to develop an understanding of a nation's ideals and institutions, by exchanging ideas, information, art, language and other aspects of culture, in an effort to build broad support for economic and political goals among other nations. In the age of globalisation, this tool is being heavily used by big nations to legitimise their foreign policies, to dilute the effects as well as repair the image of the state, writes, MD Talebur Islam Rupom
UNTIL my teenage, I thought that contributing to diplomacy was only possible by joining the ministry of foreign affairs. But the world is rapidly changing so the states are coming up with new strategies to implement their goals in foreign countries.
In the last four years, after participating in six foreign conferences, forums and scholarship in several countries with direct or indirect sponsoring of different governments has allowed me to see and experience foreign policies differently.
Nowadays, due to technological accessibility, it is very common for people especially young to find opportunities overseas. Knowingly or unknowingly, people become part of public and cultural diplomacy which happens to be one of the prominent tools in international relations in modern days to achieve cultural, economic and political gains among the countries across the world.
Adaptation of this type of diplomacy is fastest than ever. Though our foreign policy is not much concentrated on cultural diplomacy, rather focusing on mainstream diplomacy mostly, participation of foreign countries with the people of Bangladesh is comparatively higher. Rhetorically, what is public and cultural diplomacy?
Public diplomacy can be any kind of multifarious government-sponsored efforts aimed at communicating directly with foreign public to establish a dialogue designed to inform and influence with the aim that this foreign public supports or tolerates a government’s strategic objectives. Whereas, cultural diplomacy is a type of public diplomacy and soft power that includes the exchange of ideas, information, art, language and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding.
Ostensibly, the purpose of cultural diplomacy is for the people of a foreign nation to develop an understanding of the nation's ideals and institutions in an effort to build broad support for economic and political goals. In this century, many countries have been adapting this strategy to implement their overseas policies, creates stigma and repairs image of the state.
Cultural diplomacy is also known as ‘track two’ or ‘second track’ diplomacy. It can be done directly by the government or indirectly by the sponsoring and endorsing of the government by any non-governmental platform. Usually, youths are the target group for implementing cultural diplomacy because of their enthusiasm to learn new culture although it does not have any age limit. It depends on the ulterior agenda which would be chased. On top of that, it can serve many purposes at a time and sustain more than any other overseas influence.
First and foremost idea is to promote and exchange culture, arts and tourism among the foreign people which is indispensable and incredible. In the micro-level, it can be used to repair the national image of a state and earn the credibility of foreign people.
I am having first-hand experiences for the last few years on public and cultural diplomacy by representing Bangladesh in India, Indonesia and Nepal. These programmes were on youth development, sustainable development goals, peace, human rights and cultural diplomacy. All of them were enlightening experiences to excel myself individually. Besides, it opens up scopes to work at large scale and see the function of public and cultural diplomacy closely.
Last year I was granted Indonesian Arts and Culture Scholarship 2019 organised by the ministry of foreign affairs of Indonesia and its public diplomacy department. It was a three and a half months programme on Indonesian language, arts and culture where the awardees get chance to learn about their culture and also experience the most remarkable places of Indonesia. The government of Indonesia did their best to make the programme fruitful for the participants whom they call as the friends of Indonesia.
The programme was inaugurated by the vice foreign minister of Indonesia, but most interestingly, in the presence of all the designated ambassadors or their representatives of the foreign states. It certainly helps to make a strong bond not only with the states but also its mass people and create a humble and favourable position to negotiate.
According to a report published in the News Age, bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Indonesia would increase by fivefold to around USD 10 billion in the next 10 years as the trade between the two countries grew by 48 per cent in 2014-2018. Investments in railway and upswing number of tourists in recent years are also noticeable.
The study quoted in the report says Indonesia has availed more opportunities for the youth to engage mass people of Bangladesh in the last decades in different kinds of programmes offered or subsided by the Indonesian government.
Indonesian Arts and Culture Scholarship have been given to Bangladesh from 2018 to gear up its relations. Indonesia is performing great with this effective initiative not only with Bangladesh but also other countries with whom they have diplomatic ties. They also have other programmes too which are very great platforms to promote the diversities of their people and their preserved arts, multiculturism, language and many more.
Like Indonesia, many countries have dedicated cells to work for public and cultural diplomacy. Indonesia can be a good model for Bangladesh. Bearing that in mind, neighbouring India has been increasing the engagement of this diplomacy in multiple levels. From teenage to veteran professionals, all are being involved. Though boarder killings have been going on for decades, they also repair their image through cultural and public diplomatic tools by engaging Bangladeshis with numerous opportunities.
Hence, In September 2019, I attended the International Youth Forum on health, peace, social justice and SDGs held in Chennai, India under Chennai Youth Fest as a Peace Ambassador. Ministry of health and welfare, Tamil Nadu state, India was one of the organisers and sponsors of the programmes. These types of programme give them more exposure and connect the foreign people directly. Similarly, I participated in Global Partnership Summit, New Delhi in December 2017 and a youth forum in Kathmandu, Nepal in 2018. The summit was organised by India-Japan global partnership but it connected representatives across the world.
So, these sorts of programmes allow the governments to make partnership across nations. Similarly, other countries such as Japan, China, South Korea and other Asian countries are implementing similar strategies. Besides, Chinese Lunar new year is becoming more popular which earns both cultural and economic objectives and reaches more people as China is creating Belt and Road Initiative (New Silk road) and making Chinese mainland as the principal economic hub in the world.
Initially, cultural diplomacy started to be an important component among the powerful countries during the cold war. The USA, the UK, Soviet Union and some others are the old players of it. All of these countries are even successful in this century too.
Through the department of states, the USA keeps organising a great number of cultural exchange and educational programmes every year. After 9/11, they emphasised even more on it than before. Actually, many countries have arranged interfaith dialogue to increase the tolerance of their hard-foreign policies.
The UK is also utilising the Commonwealth to spread the British culture and keep cultural dominance and a good image on the previously colonised countries even after hundreds of years of colonisation. Cricket should be a good example which has become an integral part of the Commonwealth nations and its cultures. As a result, the world is hegemonised in a polite and subtle way. The effects last more than public diplomacy.
ASEAN is another example in terms of coherent diplomacy. Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN countries are having its best time in terms of cultural, political and economic collaboration. It shows the strength of regionalism. Public and cultural diplomacy coheres this bonding. OIC is also trying to tread on the same path.
Henceforth, it is undoubted to say that cultural and public diplomacy opens a new window to work collaboratively for the benefit of all the parties and takes the overseas policies to the foreign people which eventually bring people close to each other in the era of globalisation. Rather than opposing, it is high time to adapt public and cultural diplomacy to implement our foreign policies too.
In South Asia, SAARC was supposed to play its part like ASEAN does. It is believed Bangladesh has a great chance to be successful by fetching public and cultural diplomacy in our country which can also promote our culture and people to put forward to have one of the fastest economic growths in the globe.
MD Talebur Islam Rupom graduated from University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh
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