The idea of Sovereignty in Public Diplomacy

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A theoretical question to start with. Is ‘sovereignty’ implicit in the concept of public diplomacy? This question has come up repeatedly in my recent conversations and exchanges with PD analysts and researchers. The question attempts to present a more contemporary narrative to understand international political communication, looking beyond traditional, state centric governmental and public diplomacy. In a globalised world, where people are communicating with each other like never before, it is relevant and timely.

Issues in this interconnected world are not always local. Even if it is, solutions may exist in some other part of the world. In the course of my conversations, what I learned was that, there is a need for diplomats and also other professionals today, to develop skills that help them operate across geographies & cultures with ease - consistently, repeatedly. “Global citizen diplomacy” is what I am hinting at, and it has the potential to dwarf government to government public diplomacy. Anurag Sinha, a PD analyst, drew my attention to this article in the huffington post that talks about 'global competency' as the new skill required today. It talks about problem solvers who are global in communication, knowledge, insights and are less constrained by notions of sovereignty. Read it here: 21st century skills include Global Competency.

(Image from: Supernova, MetroStar Systems blog)
Another dimension to this whole debate is that, with developments in communication technology, including mode and medium of communication, the ‘individual’ is more credible than institutions sometimes. For example, is a government sponsored conference involving intellectuals, policymakers, analysts on, say, a topic like, “Islam and roots of terrorism”  more effective in shaping perceptions compared to an internet chat room  discussion on the same topic? In such a scenario, people to people diplomacy directly play bigger role in shaping perceptions and might overshadow governmental public diplomacy efforts. This is where the notions of sovereignty are challenged.

Zhao Qizheng, spokesman for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), recently stated that most Chinese involved in public diplomacy include those with rich work experience in international trade and communication, leaders of non-Communist parties, heads of MNCs, and, research fellows of international affairs. It needs to be expanded to include ‘people.’ He said, "In such communications, participants from both sides don't need to restrict their talks to diplomatic rhetoric, as neither is there to sign some treaty or make some announcement for their countries," and added that such participants can discuss a wider range of issues relevant to their lives with more active and straightforward expressions.

In my subsequent posts I intend to expand this thought with examples from India’s Northeast.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.


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