Tuesday, September 1, 2015

New public diplomacy


image from
Jope Tarai
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
Fiji's growing international image and posture has been disseminated in varying ways. One of the most recent means is through social media. This show of international stature can be viewed through public diplomacy. However, it is important to critically observe public diplomacy and how it can conceal realities in a country.
Public diplomacy has been argued as, the means to influence international perceptions, attitudes and policies through communicating with foreign publics. International relations and political scholar Joseph Nye once described public diplomacy, as being a means of "soft power", where images are projected to "win hearts and minds" through diplomatic practitioners.
Since 2011, Fiji has begun reforming its image to foreign public, through a variety of strategies and methods. Apart from the usual means of disseminating information through traditional methods such as the media, social media has increasingly become a centre piece in projecting Fiji's image to influence international perceptions.
How did it all begin?
After the 2006 coup, Fiji's image was battered and provided a realistic representation of the restrictions that were stringent at the time. Coupled with pressure from the unions and Fiji's expulsion from the Pacific Islands Forum, Fiji was seen as a pariah state that was strongly gripped by the military.
Efforts were made to project a reformed image and persona, which necessitated the Fijian Government's engagement with Qorvis, the international public relations company. This took place in 2011, which has seen Fijian taxpayers, pay $US40,000 ($F86,261) per month for Qorvis to help project a new narrative, for the Bainimarama Government.
This included, among other typical public relations services, social media accounts, encompassing Facebook and Twitter, featuring prominently the prime minister, his government and their agenda. Fiji's new public diplomacy, has expanded beyond the formal boundaries of state-state relations, with the use of social media.
How do we see this new public diplomacy?
On Sunday, August 23, 2015, featured on the Fiji Sun's front page, was Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama's second selfie with his Indian counterpart Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. This was Mr Bainimarama's second selfie with PM Modi, since their first one in November, 2014. The first selfie was the most popular post of the Fijian Government Facebook Page, in the year 2014, totaling over 1897 likes and was shared over 205 times.
These two incidents are representative of Fiji's new public diplomacy which employs a strategic use of "personality" and "relationship". The use of an accommodating personality is evident, for both leaders in welcoming one another to their respective countries. However, with social media, the personal touch to the relationship is captured through a simple selfie.
While to many it may seem like another friendly picture, it actually is a strategic placement for Mr Bainimarama. When taking a picture with the leader of the world's largest democracy, it provides Mr Bainimarama with a large and expansive audience of Indians, not limited to those in India itself but also to those who have settled around world.
On Twitter for instance, Prime Minister Modi is the third most followed leader of the modern world with over 10,902,510 followers behind President Obama and Pope Francis.
The advantage of accessing Prime Minister Modi's followers and audience was seen when the first selfie was taken in 2014, it was favourited over 2122 times and retweeted over 720 times, not on Mr Modi's Twitter account but on Mr Bainimarama's Twitter account.
Considering the fact that Fiji had just come out of its first election since 2006, this small friendly posture, captured on a selfie was a strategic means of projecting, the new Bainimarama Government's image and brand. An image and brand that is far removed from what was originally a militarised approach, attitude and posture towards state to state relations and publicity.
Public diplomacy vs reality
On the matter of relationships, Fiji's public diplomacy exploits the new narrative of the "fight against the coalition of the selfish" on climate change through calling on relationships to be strengthened and maximised. This component has been widely touted by Mr Bainimarama, in a way projecting another facet or brand to the Bainimarama Government as an environmentally conscientious international state citizen.
Even with the recent selfie with Mr Modi, the follow-up news script was calling on the Indian Government to join Fiji and the Pacific in their calls for the reduction in carbon emissions. While this proceeds, Fiji's Green Growth Framework has been also worked into the mix of branding Fiji's international environmental image. It has already been stated that Fiji's National Development Plan would have its core contents within the Green Growth Framework despite consultations still being underway across the country.
It would appear that as part of Fiji's public diplomacy, green growth is being exalted as the unchallengeable plan forward for a developing country like Fiji. However, despite the growing expanse of public diplomacy, the realities of environmental exploitation of mining in Bua and Namosi, contradict the touted tenets of "green growth". It would seem that simply labelling ambiguous efforts in an "environmental colour" makes for good publicity. Additionally, it does lay to question Fiji's intent, in its public diplomacy efforts for environmental pursuits.
Fiji's new public diplomacy is certainly a powerful tool for branding and publicity. However, a closer and critical observation is always necessary to provide a balanced and realistic interpretation of what public diplomacy would convey and conceal.
* Jope Tarai is a graduate student and researcher. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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