Saturday, October 30, 2010

People's Daily's reaction to India's Look East policy is alarmist

A columnist at the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, recently suggested that India's Look East Policy means to encircle China as India strives for a more prominent role in East Asia. This observation comes when both India and China are participating in the East Asia summit at Hanoi, Vietnam.  India's "Look East Policy" means "Look to encircle China"? (Li Hongmei, People's Daily Online)

This is an alarmist reaction to India's attempts at integrating better with East Asia. I had written in my earlier posts how India shares a lot in common with East Asia culturally, however, this was never leveraged strategically to integrate India better with the region. India's Northeast shares lot of cultural similarities with Myanmar, Thailand or Vietnam than say a Bihar or UP in mainland India. However, trade and people to people contact between the regions remained low. Similarly sea faring population from South India had strong trade and cultural exchanges from ancient times with East Asia. For a brief period in history the region was also colonized by the Imperial Chola dynasty from South India. The presence of a strong Indian diaspora in countries like Singapore, Malaysia etc is a testament to the historic links between both the regions.

India's engagement with Southeast Asia has made remarkable progress recently. Look East policy of India is just a realization of India's historic role in the region, its strategic priorities and the economic motive to engage proactively in the Intra-Asian trade. India has recently signed several trade pacts with countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. There have been several high level visits from the region in recent times including that of the Japanese Prime Minister last week. The Indo-ASEAN FTA is also the second largest free trade agreement in Asia now bringing within its ambit a market of 2 billion people. It is a course correction from the Cold War era that saw South Asia maintain a distance from the region. I feel another reason may have been the 'north India fixation' of Indian politics and a political leadership dominated by north Indians obsessed with India's western borders. The above observation, coming from the mouthpiece of Chinese Communist Party, is essentially flawed and seems more like a word of caution to Indian leadership as it strives for closer engagement with the region. 

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Public Diplomacy 2.0: Blogs by UK's Foreign Office

UK's Foreign Office has taken to blogging in a big way. Recently the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) observed the multilingual blogging day on September 26th to mark the European Day of Languages. Several FCO "blogger diplomats" are posting in different languages - French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese etc - on diverse topics. Speaking of the initiative, Jimmy Leach, FCO’s Head of Digital Diplomacy said:
"We’re trying to use the internet to communicate and connect across international boundaries – it would be pretty self-defeating if we only did that in English."

In fact, it is really interesting to see how the FCO is trying to use new media to engage with the world. There are some really interesting, informative and useful blog posts by diplomats. The project is called Global Conversations  and is hosted at the FCO's website. Jimmy Leach, in one of his posts say that the aim is engagement. FCO is quite aware that blogging may not be able to solve foreign policy issues but FCO hopes to explain it better to worldwide audiences. Leach believes that by blogging,
"We have, perhaps even inadvertently, created the main public face to public diplomacy and digital engagement." 
Read Jimmy Leach's post on the blogging initiative "Keep the blogs alight." While Pundits and scholars debate the use of social media in Public Diplomacy, there seems to be a growing recognition among practicing diplomats that new media as a platform of engagement cannot be ignored. You need to be where conversations are happening and social media is unique because of the two way communication it facilitates.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur
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