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Cultural Diplomacy

Due to globalization, states can no longer exist individually. Therefore communication must also work horizontally between them, not just at political-diplomatic levels, but also at other, less conventional levels. Considering the irrefutability of the economy as a primary force in interdependence, communication should be approached with this in mind.  But it is important not to forget the role of culture and education. 

Public Diplomacy 

In contrast to traditional diplomacy, which involves interactions between governments, nowadays, states’ diplomatic efforts are targeted at people as well. This form of diplomacy which targets the masses is commonly referred to as public diplomacy. Public diplomacy is defined as “an international actor’s attempt to manage the international environment through engagement with a foreign public”. The goals of public diplomacy are “to inform, engage, and influence global audiences…to reach out beyond foreign governments…”.

 Public diplomacy manifests itself in a broad range of programs that employ people-to-people contacts; print, broadcast, and electronic media; and other means.

One important and central aspect of New Public Diplomacy is cultural diplomacy, i.e. the use of a country’s culture to reach out to foreign audiences and to project a positive image in the international arena.

What is Cultural Diplomacy?

 Cultural diplomacy can be defined as a track II, non-conventional diplomatic practice, aimed at identifying cultural patterns of behavior as well as the commonalities of two or more competing groups in order to find a common ground of dialogue, while preserving culturally sensitive aspects. 

Alternatively, Cultural diplomacy can be defined as “the exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples to foster mutual understanding”.

Cultural diplomacy includes exchanges between people in different countries, through which individuals are able to visit foreign countries and learn about the culture and society of the foreign country. It includes the study of another country’s language, traditions, and lifestyle. Culture is an exceedingly broad term, thus contributing to the vast range of areas that fall under the definition of cultural diplomacy. For instance, culture includes literature, the arts in general, customs, habits and traditions, humans’ behavior, history, music, folklore, gestures, and social relationships. Thus, any interaction or exchange between the people of two countries in any of these areas is considered cultural diplomacy, as is the study of these fields as they exist in a foreign country.

Sharing culture can lead to mutual understanding and acceptance of another’s identity.

While some nations and communities involved in conflicts may abide to internationally brokered peace agreements, in depth there often still a lack of understanding and acceptance of each other’s differences. By enforcing non-conventional diplomatic practices through state and non-state actors, one can move from rejection, disintegration, segregation and isolation to acceptance, understanding, celebration and integration in societies torn by internal, ethnic and religious conflicts.

Although less glamorous and heavily under-represented in the global media, cultural diplomacy has worked well at both grassroots and middle level decision making, in regions with a diversity of ethnicities and religions, rich histories and cultures but torn apart by war, frozen conflicts or dictatorships such as the Balkans, the Caucasus/Central Asia or the Middle East and the Arab world. 

Why is cultural diplomacy important?

Cultural diplomacy is essentially a two-way communications process that involves efforts to promote a nation’s image and values amongst other foreign audiences as well as to try to understand the culture, values, and images of other countries and their people. Cultural diplomacy is a means through which governments can increase respect and understanding of themselves amongst other countries in the world. The benefits of cultural diplomacy programs are large in number.

1. Cultural diplomacy programs create forums for interaction between people of different countries, thus laying the groundwork for the forging of friendships and strong connections between people of different nationalities.

2. Cultural diplomacy helps create a “foundation of trust” with other peoples. Policy makers can build on this trust to create political, economic, and military agreements.

3. Cultural diplomacy can succeed in reaching influential members of foreign societies who cannot be reached through traditional embassy functions. For instance, cultural diplomacy programs expose businessmen and investors to the economy, society, and people of another country, which may result in these individuals making significant economic investments in the country to whose culture they are exposed.

4. In today’s age of globalization, many businesses export to overseas markets and maintain business connections with overseas counterparts. Without appropriate foreign-language skills and cultural knowledge, businesses will have smaller chances of success. Further, many of today’s global business challenges necessitate global teams which are comprised of individuals of different nationalities who work together across cultural barriers and time zones for extended periods of time.

5. Cultural diplomacy programs are often aimed at young audiences. Increased cultural interaction with youth in foreign countries allows a country to have a positive impact on individuals who may one day become highly influential leaders in their respective countries. 

6. Cultural diplomacy programs are able to counter misunderstandings, ignorance, and baseless hatred that people in other countries may bear toward a certain country.

7. Education and academic institutions are considered the backbone of cultural exchange. Around the world, cultural diplomacy has penetrated the field of education in the past and continues to do so today.

8. As part of cultural diplomacy programs, countries may send artists abroad to display their exhibits in foreign countries or may host foreign artists at international exhibitions on their own soil. Such interactions enhance knowledge and correct stereotypes, preparing the ground for a more open environment for diplomatic and political relations.

India’s Cultural Diplomacy

Independent India recognised the importance of cultural diplomacy, as an instrument for people to people connectivity. Ministries of External Affairs and Culture share the responsibility for promoting cultural diplomacy. India has signed 126 bilateral cultural agreements and is currently implementing 58 Cultural Exchange Programmes with other countries. Bilateral Agreements, however, are not prerequisite for the conduct of cultural diplomacy.

To achieve this objective, India set up a nodal body, called the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in 1950.  Since its creation, ICCR has used a number of instrumentalities, like Cultural Centres, Festivals of India, Chairs of Indian Studies, etc. in promoting not only cultural but broader linkages with countries across the world. 

In an endeavour to strengthen its relationship with Southeast Asia, India has actively used culture as an important instrument of its Look East Policy (LEP). Unlike in the past when cultural diplomacy was largely viewed as India's veiled effort towards cultural dominance, the renewed thrust on the cultural diplomacy has received genuine appreciation from Southeast Asian countries.

An important aspect of India's cultural diplomacy is cultivating the 6.4 million Indian diaspora living in Southeast Asia. Except in the Indo-China countries, every country of Southeast Asia has a sizeable population of Indian diaspora, who are not only sizeable investors but also opinion-makers in their respective countries. They also hold important posts in the government and in vital non-government bodies. The Indian government has taken a number of policy initiatives in order to engage this diaspora. The Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, begun in 2003, is held every year in January. The Indian government is also working towards setting up a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) University in India and India Development Foundation, which can facilitate the development of human resources. 

India has signed formal cultural agreements with almost every Southeast Asian country. Though a majority of these agreements are several decades old, it is only now that the Indian government has begun implementing various components of these agreements. Indian embassies in Southeast Asia regularly organize cultural programmes by Indian artists. The government also facilitates the visit of cultural troupes to various countries. Besides, film festivals are organized at regular intervals considering the growing interest in Indian cinema.

The major thrust of India’s cultural diplomacy is fostering better trade and economic relations and at the political level. The important aspect includes –

1. Know India Program – to help familiarize Indian Diaspora youth, in the age group of 18-26 years, with developments and achievements made by the country and bringing them closer to the land of their ancestors. KIP provides a unique  forum for students and young professionals of Indian Origin to visit India, share their views, expectations and experiences and to develop closer bonds with the contemporary India.

2. Annual “Pravasi Divas” – to connect India to its vast Indian Diaspora and bring their knowledge, expertise and skills on a common platform. 

3. “Brand India” image as part of its outreach to a global audience.

4. Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) – The ICWA organizes events, including organization of Academic Conferences.

5. Religion – The emphasis is on spiritualism rather than on religion per se, on yoga, vegetarian food, meditation and mental peace. 

6. Indian films

7. Indian music and dance

If India is to graduate from being a regional power in South Asia to a great power in the Asia-Pacific, the Indian Foreign Policy establishment has to effectively tap all available resources and seek ways of projecting the country’s soft power. Leveraging cultural diplomacy is key for this purpose.



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