Friday, 20 May, 2022

Public Diplomacy and Our Diplomats

A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

Public Diplomacy and Our Diplomats
A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

Diplomacy, though not in the present form, existed in the society from the very beginning of human civilization. With time and development of state system, diplomacy started getting newer shape. In the primary stage, it was more political or military-related. Diplomacy, once, was much concentrated on power supremacy (yet it exists in various forms) and we had experienced that during the cold war period. We are well aware of the nature of diplomacy when the world was divided into capitalist and socialist blocks. However, the mechanism or technique of its application has gone through a continuous process of changes with world’s political and economic equations and understandings.

We know that economic power constitutes a fundamental dimension of national power in contemporary times and at present it is used more effectively for attaining foreign policy goals. That’s why, economic activities, keeping the political strength at the back, have come into limelight in the diplomatic affairs. Our diplomats, like their counterparts of other countries, are well aware of the importance of economic diplomacy and are, therefore, keeping themselves engaged in proving their capabilities investing much of their times and endeavours to meet the economic target set by our government.  

The advent of information technology has brought the world people much closer than before. The global communication system has eased sharing or exchanging a person’s activities or thoughts with others without no time and obstacle. Nowadays, reaching others is the easiest thing. Such ways of interactions, as are already thought by the foreign policymakers and operational diplomats, would be the new tool to deal many issues out of traditional diplomacy. The idea is to communicate directly to the citizenry in simple terms. And that new means of diplomacy is nothing, but public diplomacy.

A core difference between public diplomacy and other forms of diplomacy is that the direct object of public diplomacy is the people, rather than governments, of other countries. Public diplomacy presupposes an open communication process, which is based on the principle of publicity and is trying to speak to the public, as opposed to the traditional diplomacy, the characteristics of which are secrecy and exclusivity (Tuch, 1990). Public diplomacy in the sense of content as activities in the field of informing, education and culture, which are directed to foreign countries with a purpose of influencing foreign governments through influencing their citizens (Gilboa, 2001). The purpose of public diplomacy is to create and strengthen within the targeted public a positive relation towards the communicated policies and with that to consolidate recognizability, positive image, reputation and the international position of the home country.

Technological advances allow people from one corner to the other instant communication and the means of such communication like Facebook or Twitter are being increasingly used by the world community, including leaders and diplomats. Undoubtedly, the contribution of ‘Social Media’ in transforming public diplomacy more substantive and productive is unparallel. Bangladesh is no more behind in ensuring the existing technological facilities to its people with the same space like in many developed and developing countries. 

We know that diplomats, as specialists, play an important role in carrying messages and negotiating adjustments in relations and the resolution to problems between countries and peoples. Their weapons are only their words, which they use by dint of their diplomatic skill as well as the backing of the country or organization they represent. They help their host countries’ leaders to understand the attitudes and actions of foreigners and to develop strategies and tactics that shape the behaviour of foreigners, particularly foreign governments. However, the wise use of diplomats at the time of need is key to successful foreign policy. The diplomats of Bangladesh, like others, are carrying out similar responsibilities to attain the goals set by the government.

The present-day public diplomacy is understood as an integral network concept that is fundamentally operating mostly in cross-section with other dimensions of foreign policy and international processes (economical, cultural, communication-media, scientific, educational, etc.). The base of Bangladesh diplomacy is the foreign policy formulated by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1972. ‘Friendship to all, malice towards none’, ‘respect to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of other states’, ‘non-intervention in the domestic matter of any state and ‘world peace’ are the principles of Bangabandhu’s foreign policy. Thus, his foreign policy as well as his personal and official interactions with world leaders and people was the main actors in the establishment of Bangladesh’s bilateral and multilateral relationships with the world community. Bangladesh believes in peace and therefore, maintains all its interactions with other countries through soft power.

It is said that a soft power resource is the material premise of soft power. The main resources are a country’s culture, political values and foreign policies. Public diplomacy plays an important role in the process of transforming soft power resources into soft power. We have to make a list of our soft power resources. In fact, our economic resources, which are dealt under economic diplomacy, might also be handled through public diplomacy. Even, some political issues could also be looked after by public diplomacy. Recognizing the actuality of globalization and the importance of public diplomacy in achieving foreign policy goals, our government has rightly thought of giving more thrust on public diplomacy.

As diplomacy and diplomats are the main tools for maintaining a country’s foreign relations, the role of our diplomats counts a lot for Bangladesh’s position in the world community. They, on one hand, will strengthen the political relationship of Bangladesh with other countries and will enhance economic transactions between two countries and their peoples on the other hand. Both these political and economic aspects are the major resources of our public diplomacy. Let’s find out what resources we have in Bangladesh to transform as the power to use while performing public diplomacy.

I would like to highlight here some of the resources, which could be considered as useful elements to attract people all over the world: (1) The history of our war of liberation is highly respected by the world people. It might be one of the important elements of our public diplomacy to strengthen our image in other countries, if it could be rightly placed. (2) Bangladesh is a multi-religious country. There are Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists. For obvious reasons, a good number of religious sites or holy places exist all over the country. Even ‘Tablig Bishwa Ijtema’, might be an element of our public diplomacy. These need international media coverage. (3) Understanding on cooperation between various trade bodies of Bangladesh with their counter organizations of other countries will not only help enhancing trade activities, but will establish direct contact among traders. (4) Our political parties might think of going for some kind of cooperation framework with other countries’ political parties, which would help establishing people to people contacts. However, they should not be involved in any kind of activities that can tarnish our country’s image and creditability. (5) Our music, dance, artworks, etc. could also play an important role in our public diplomacy, if those elements can attract peoples of other countries. ‘Asian Art Biennale’, organized by Bangladesh is an example of such efforts. These might have very positive effects on the foreigners’ attitude towards Bangladesh. (6) Education sector could be a tool of our public diplomacy. Our educational institutes could attract foreign students, at least from neighbouring countries, if they are able to provide international standard education.  (7) Our cuisine could be another aspect of our public diplomacy, if explored and presented in a right way. (8) Our diasporas, including the Bangladeshi migrant workers, who are spread across all continents and have established their position and influence in the local political, economic or cultural arena, can contribute to the promotion of our foreign policy goals. They might do remarkable work in lobbying local parliamentarians and politicians in forging Bangladesh’s relation with those countries, even if there is any misunderstanding. (9)  Our sports, particularly cricket, would also be an element of our public diplomacy. (10) We have many attractive archaeological establishments and historical monuments across the country as well as world’s longest sea-beach. Our tourism sector should be organized and developed to a level so that Bangladesh becomes an attractive choice for foreign tourists. This sector is also an important tool of our public diplomacy; and (11) Bangladesh, being the top contributing-country in the UN peacekeeping forces, has already earned high reputation from the world community. This is one of the ways our peacekeepers maintain people to people contacts in their countries of destination. It can also be used to enhance our public diplomacy efforts in newer forms. Anyway, Bangladesh has enormous resources that can increase country’s attractiveness to others. Our authority must think all of those.

Change, being a continuous process, is on all over the globe and we must note those within no time considering our needs. At the same time, our leaders and diplomats have the responsibilities to shape our diplomatic tools to serve the desired purpose. As countries work to make sense of the rapidly changing context and adjust strategies accordingly, our resources of public diplomacy are needed to develop with the same objective. Yes, our public diplomacy has to adopt a communicative, creative, striving and perspective way of operation, if we really wish to achieve our foreign policy goals in the present-day global competition. Nobody will cook for you; you have to do that with your own hands. There are challenges, both at home and abroad, the preparation of products and their distribution, we have to face and shoulder as the country is walking towards a developed nation. 


The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary