Monday, August 13, 2018

New Zealand's Pacific reset: the case for cultural diplomacy

Simon Mark,; article contains an additional illustration

Image from article, with caption: Recognising and supporting Pacific culture here and in the Islands is one way to reconnect with our neighbours.

OPINION: The May announcement by New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters, of a Pacific reset included an extra $150 million of additional operational spending over four years for his ministry and additional funding for New Zealand's aid programme of $714m over a four-year budget cycle. How should this best be spent?

The redacted Cabinet paper setting out arguments for a refreshed New Zealand approach to the Pacific notes that a "dizzying array of problems in the region … and an increasingly contested strategic environment" are challenging New Zealand's ability to pursue its interests and are "eroding our influence".

The new approach should include "developing deeper partnerships", adopting five "principles of engagement" (including understanding, friendship and mutual benefit), and "seeking to bolster the influence of 'likeminded partners".

Recognising and supporting Pacific culture here and in the Islands is one way to reconnect with our neighbours.

The Cabinet paper notes a greater focus on soft diplomacy, public diplomacy [JB emphasis] and people-to-people measures, all aimed at increasing New Zealand influence and connections. Neither "soft diplomacy" nor "public diplomacy" are defined. The focus on New Zealand influence, using an approach distinguished by understanding, friendship and mutual benefit, strongly suggests a prominent role for cultural diplomacy, the deployment of a state's culture in support of its foreign policy goals or diplomacy.

Cultural diplomacy's activities include scholarships and visits, language training, cultural performances, exhibitions, film festivals and sport.

The practice comes in two types. The first, cultural branding, focuses on showing a positive, cultural, and hopefully appealing aspect of a country in order to advance its interests. This type has little genuine collaboration – the aim is mostly transmission. Broadcasting, for instance, is invariably one-way transmission, but need not be.

The second, far less prevalent type of cultural diplomacy, is based on collaboration; less concerned with showing off, and more about collaboration and advancing joint interests. This is the type that best matches the principles underpinning the reset.

When done well, cultural diplomacy has the power to enhance understanding, strongly connect people from different cultures, and make lasting friendships. It is perfectly suited to the bolstering of New Zealand influence and contributing to the reset's principles of understanding, friendship and mutual benefit. New Zealand is a Pacific nation, a significant percentage of its population has Pacific ancestry and the domestic links to the region are substantial.

If the Government wishes to expand its influence in the Pacific through increased cultural diplomacy, there is a good base on which to build. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's (MFAT) recent cultural diplomacy in the region has included a wide range of activities: scholarships through the New Zealand Aid Programme; film; dance; literature; music; comedy; art; fashion and education; a strong focus on sport. Immediate gains could be made by increased funding for scholarships, academic and students exchanges, museums, art galleries and libraries, sport and cultural events. These should be based on reciprocity rather than showing off New Zealand.

The Government's only dedicated cultural diplomacy fund, the CDIP, managed by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, should be recalibrated to support the reset's goals. That $2m-a-year fund, aimed at boosting New Zealand's profile and its economic, trade and other interests, apparently has a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. However, only one CDIP event has taken place in the Pacific since 2009.

In addition, if the reset is to succeed two important changes will be required:

First, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) will need to change the way it engages with the Pacific. Too few New Zealand diplomats have served in the region; of the 11 members of the MFAT leadership team, for instance, only one seems to have actually served there, according to their website profiles. All New Zealand diplomats should serve in the region at least once. A three-year stint living in the Pacific is a powerful way to make friends and influence people.

Second, as one well-placed Pacific-based commentator notes, the reset needs to be far broader than MFAT. New Zealand needs to recognise that "the Pacific" doesn't just mean Polynesia, and face up to its responsibilities in Tokelau. New Zealand ministers need to carry through on the promise made in the reset that there will be "frequent ministerial travel into the region" and a "high degree of political access" to Pacific leaders who visit New Zealand. When Pacific ministers pass through New Zealand border control, they should be shown respect rather than a demand to prove that their visa is current.

Simon Mark is a Senior Advisor Strategy and Policy in the Pro Vice-Chancellor's Office, College of Creative Arts, Massey University.

- The Dominion Post

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