Sunday, July 10, 2016

Diplomacy by any other name

Shazelina Zainul Abidin, New Straits Times Online

Image (not from article) from
Diplomacy was traditionally very much a cloak-and-dagger affair, done behind closed doors with everyone practically sworn to secrecy.
In this digital age, where nothing is off-limits, the public needs to be engaged in foreign affairs. At least in the understanding of it.
So, public diplomacy became a staple in every foreign ministry and international organisation. Its function was to inform, disseminate and promote the course of action already taken.
If this sounds remarkably similar to what we used to call a public relations exercise, it is because it is. Similar, that is. Down to a tee.
Public diplomacy is less about managing international relations than explaining it. Members of the public do not really have a say in foreign affairs.
Even this is changing. As demonstrated recently in the Brexit polls, the days when international relations are decided by the public and not by bureaucrats may not be too far off.
Public diplomacy may one day mean what it says on the label.
The writer is attached to the public diplomacy arm of the Foreign Service. She is a research fellow of the University of Sheffield and writes on international affairs.

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