Wednesday, July 12, 2017

National interest best served when diplomats work with civil society organisations

Rajvinder Singh,

KUALA LUMPUR: National interest will be best served when diplomats work together with civil society organisations and NGOs to advance shared interest as they are amongst the most significant players in the international realm today, said Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah (pix).

He said working with NGOs may not always be easy, especially in the domestic scene.

"Things can get uncomfortable when governments become sensitive to critical scrutiny by assertive and vocal NGOs.

"This is especially the case in developing countries with authoritarian tendencies or where democratic practices are still evolving. The existence of genuine political and socio-economic issues can aggravate the matters further," Sultan Nazrin said in his Royal Address themed "21st Century Diplomacy" at the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations (IDFR).

He said NGOs have mushroomed across the world in the past three decades and are active in a wide variety of areas including in support of humanitarian causes such as education and health, environmental protection and poverty eradication, elimination of corruption, and the promotion of democracy and human rights, among others.

He pointed out that the large majority operate in the domestic sphere but they are a constituency to be reckoned with internationally while there are about 40,000 NGOs that operate internationally.

He cited Amnesty International, CARE International, OXFAM International, Doctors Without Borders and Mercy Malaysia, all make invaluable contributions to the alleviation of human suffering and the improvement of livelihoods.

He said initial focus by NGOs on non-political issues and less sensitive areas can help reduce trust deficits, and contribute to a stronger culture of cooperation between government and civil society.

Sultan Nazrin urged the government to give priority to training diplomats in public diplomacy, and the development of skills in media management as well developing language skills.

He pointed out that one important feature of the environment of diplomacy and foreign policy in the 21st century is the media.

"The media has become a tool of public diplomacy and today diplomacy is largely conducted in the open by a variety of actors.

"Modern media, with its instant global penetration, is a powerful force in international politics. The most dominant media organisations are from the West," he said.

Sultan Nazrin said diplomats from emerging nations have to make the best of this media environment and it pays to cultivate the mainstream Western media as well as other important media.

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