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Mongolia: dancing between the bear and the dragon

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Since the establishment of a democracy in Mongolia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, foreign interests have attempted to reassert control over the landlocked piece of steppe between China and Russia.

Mongolia’s position, located between two ambitious powers, means that it is the target of Chinese and Russian influence, often to the detriment of the fledgling democracy and its people. Historically Mongolia’s geographical position and nomadic inhabitants (of which there are still many) has made it vulnerable to the influence of its neighbors. Mongolia was subjugated to both Beijing and Moscow at different times and still struggles with the political influence of both powers.

Economics further complicates Mongolia’s diplomatic issues; vast amounts of mineral wealth have been discovered in Mongolia since the early 90’s including large reserves of copper, gold, and coal. Previously Mongolia’s weak economy, based on pastoral products such as beef and cashmere production, meant that it provided very little potential wealth for powers seeking to control it. These discoveries have led to serious interest from a resource-hungry China, which accounts for 89% of Mongolia’s exports, as well as Russia, which faces more competition for resources in an ever more hostile Europe.

Despite the renewed interest from its neighbors, most foreign companies involved in the Mongolian mining sector have been Canadian or Australian, of the 11 foreign companies invested in copper production, 9 of them were Australian or Canadian. In most sectors the primary owners of the mining companies have been Canadian or Australian, with a few from Hong Kong or the UK. These firms often own and operate mines in conjunction with the Mongolian Government, which creates friction when the negotiations go sour, such as with the massive Oyu Tolgoi mine that has seen constant delays from shareholder disputes and concerns over the operating cost.

The access to fossil fuels and raw minerals have given some measure of control over Mongolian politics and makes government corruption all the more dangerous to the Mongolian people. On February 26th the president of Mongolia pardoned 3 foreign nationals involved in the mining industry who had been convicted of tax evasion. The foreign nationals were accused of evading 6.8 Billion USD, a sum so ridiculous that the arrests shook foreign confidence and caused complaints in the UN over human rights violations. The simultaneous state of unprecedented economic growth and unrelenting economic exploitation have left the Mongolian authorities and people with as much resentment for foreigners as gratitude. A former member of Mongolian parliament and minister of foreign affairs stated “It is no secret that small Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese investors are commonly robbed, threatened, and slandered in cases brought on false charges.” An ineffectual and divided Mongolian Government coupled with widespread corruption enables foreign interests to undermine the welfare of the state over the acquisition of its resources.

Submitting to foreign nations for political reasons over economic ones often holds serious financial consequences for Mongolian taxpayers. In 2009 the Mongolian government passed a nuclear energy law, and, under Russian pressure, revoked the uranium licenses of Khan Resources, a Canadian company that owned the Dornod Uranium property. The government then seized Khan Resources’ assets with no compensation, resulting in a lengthy legal battle between the company and the government. On March 2nd an international arbitration tribunal determined an award of 100 million USD to be paid by the Mongolian government to Khan Resources. It is speculated that Russian companies were interested in entering the uranium sector in Mongolia and pressured the government to pass the nuclear energy law and attack the competition, especially since the law came right on the heels of an announced joint venture to mine uranium between the Russians and Mongolians.

The Chinese are also muscling in on foreign companies, especially ones that produce the construction materials that China needs to power its real estate boom. The Canadian mining company, Turquoise Hill Resources, recently sold its entire stake in SouthGobi Resources to Novel Sunrise Investments. Novel Sunrise and its affiliated groups intend to use their logistics and marketing experience to leverage their way into procuring raw materials for construction, iron ore and coal, that companies such as SouthGobi produces. Many of the mining firms in Mongolia are based in Hong Kong and seek a larger share of the untapped mineral wealth.

While most mining companies in Mongolia are not owned by either the Chinese or the Russians, the local geography means that nearly all imports and exports come from those two countries. The next 3 biggest importers, South Korea, Japan, and The United States, account for about 19% of imports combined, nearly 10% less than Russia alone and less than half of China’s imports. These are all major regional players whose imports have been impeded by Mongolia’s dependence on the rail systems through China or Russia to transport goods to and from the pacific. This level of dependency has upset Mongolia, which claims that China takes advantage of its isolation by buying Mongolian coal for less than it’s worth. There is very little competition for Mongolian exports, even Russia only makes up 1.5% of Mongolian export value, preferring to export to, rather than from, Mongolia. Mongolian officials have tried to reach out to other nations, most recently Japan and the DPRK, but the government can only do so much to escape the limitations of its physical location.

Foreign investment in the mining sector has spurred serious economic growth; for a period of time Mongolia had the world’s fastest growing economy, the mines provided better jobs for Mongolians and fostered urbanization to replace the pastoral nomadic lifestyle that remained pervasive throughout the country. However, this massive influx of investment now represents the vast majority of the economy; so in recent times where commodity prices have slumped for Mongolians and international confidence in the Mongolian government is low, growth has been significantly stunted. In response the Mongolian government formed a super-coalition last December consisting of members from all major parties attempting to deal with the economic problems. The main policy goals of the coalition were to alleviate the economic downturn by reducing the government restrictions on mining to get foreign investment back on track while continuing to pursue economic ties with nations outside China and Russia.

This series of policies gets to the root of the Mongolian problem: Mongolia cannot prosper without foreign investment and by opening itself up to political and economic influence from interests that have very little concern for the welfare of Mongolia or its inhabitants. Mongolia’s vulnerability to the economic interests of its neighbors means that its needs from Russia and China translate into political capital that undermines Mongolia’s economic and political independence.

First published by the International Policy Digest under the title Mongolia: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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A new world system, or a world without a hegemon

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The state of the world and, frequently, the course of history depended on the foundation on which peace on Earth was based – either on international balance or on omnipotence of another hegemon. Today, the Atlantic circles of different levels have adopted another propagandist mantra: international relations would be disrupted catastrophically or, worse still, slide into global chaos if the United States moves away (or forced to move away) from global domination.

We have already learned from history that any world order is relative and comparatively short. Starting with Antiquity, the best minds have been dreaming about an ideal world order, perpetual peace on Earth and harmonious relations between states. Reality was and remains different. The history of the world order was written by the bloodshed in big and small wars, the “game of the thrones” for domination, the never-ending replacement of leaders, triumphs of victors, and tragedies of the vanquished.

One cannot but wonder: how come that after so many years of deliberations mankind has not arrived at a common opinion? The variety of historical situations, relevant examples and rich historical experience means that there is no “magic formula” of an ideal world order accepted by all.

World history has clearly demonstrated that peace established under the aegis of a state that claims hegemony is never firm and never long-lived because the potential hegemon pursues plundering and occupation of its neighbors and rivals. The Roman Empire that, having defeated Carthage, knew no rivals in the pre-Christian world but nevertheless collapsed several centuries later under the burden of internal contradictions and external wars.

THE EUROPEAN BALANCE established at the Vienna Congress in 1815 by the powers that had defeated Napoleon turned out to be amazingly long-lived: for nearly 100 years, the Old World lived in peace. It looked as if the Europeans, who still called the tune in world politics, had finally found the key to a firm world order and entered the new age brimming with optimism. They learned the lesson of their past: balance of power should be maintained while disagreements should be resolved on time by diplomatic means.

FOREIGN POLICY of the United States changed to a much greater extent than the foreign policies of all states that had fought in the war.

According to American historiography, the results of World War II transformed the United States, a prewar regional power, into a global power.

In retrospect, the Soviet-American bipolarity in the nuclear age looked as a sustainable variant of the world order despite the risks and the situations in which mankind came too close to a nuclear catastrophe (during the Caribbean Crisis of 1962).

The Cold War was buried with a lot of pomp; America’s foreign policy acquired such new pillars as triumphalism, the liberal world order, the “Washington Consensus,” and globalization under the U.S. aegis.

Very much like many times before, the victor immediately acquired a crowd of enthusiastic supporters convinced that the “benevolent” American guidance would make the world a much safer place.

Very soon, however, many of them realized that the “benevolent hegemon” was in fact egotistical and unmanageable. The old truth – power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely – perfectly fitted domestic and foreign policies and was reconfirmed in the unipolar world. At the early stages (especially under the Clinton Administration), the United States had demonstrated moderation and the readiness to rely on “soft power.” With time, however, Washington was consolidating its domination and tightening its policies.

At the turn of the 21st century and very much in line with the logic of politics based on strength, the United States started using military force in the Balkans, Afghanistan, in the Middle East, and North Africa under the pretext of establishing liberal order and relying on the right to humanitarian intervention.

As could be expected, the unipolar world was becoming increasingly vulnerable: America’s military, financial and economic capabilities proved to be inadequate to keep it safe and intact; meanwhile, new rivaling power centers appeared and were consolidating their strength.

WITH THE HEGEMON prepared to take into consideration the interests of its partners and to trim, to a certain extent, its ambitions for the sake of greater aims shared by all humanity, unipolarity could have developed into a foundation of a new sustainable world order. However, this is an ideal and, therefore, imaginative picture. In real life, the winner is never inclined toward self-restriction; it is guided by the right of the strongest that by definition “takes all.”

Today, nearly thirty years after the Soviet Union’s disintegration, when sovereign Russia as its descendant replaced it on the international arena, we have accumulated enough facts to say that Washington’s shortsighted approach to its relations with Russia was a grave strategic error the repercussions of which have not yet been fully comprehended.

THE 21ST CENTURY is neither an apotheosis of the unipolar world nor triumph of the liberal world order predicted by Washington when the Cold War became history. The U.S. has obviously overestimated its potential and underestimated the progress of other players involved in world politics.

The end of a certain epoch, that at the dawn of American history Franklin compared with sunset, is not the end of the world.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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World Youth Forum: A Reflection of Egypt’s Strong Diplomacy

Abraham Telar Kuc

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photo: wyfegypt.com

It was my pleasure to join and met with  more than five thousand youth leaders from around the globe, thousands of Egyptian youth and hundreds of world leaders, UN, regional,  international affiliated bodies and governments officials, academia, innovators, entrepreneurs, experts,  journalists, public figures  and other influential people including ministers from Egypt and other foreign nations, ambassadors and some  heads of states  who gather at the “World Youth Forum 2018” held in Sharm El-Sheikh city,  Sinai Peninsula, Arab Republic of Egypt from the 3rd to the 6th of November 2018; for the second year the Egyptian government and youth succeed to organize the most successful and one of the world largest international youth conventions hosted and funded by a single country.

Under the auspices of President Abdel Fatah Saeed Hussein El-Sisi the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt and the next coming chairperson of African  Union; the second edition of the World Youth Forum was held under three important themes (Peace, Development and Creativity), were the world youth, experts, policy and decision makers use the forum as a common world platform to discuss and tackle topics, share their experiences, exchange diverse  views and invert new ideas related to building and sustaining peace, the role of world leaders in achieving peace, cooperation and partnership between nations, Euro-Mediterranean collaboration , fighting and countering ideological extremism and terrorism, humanitarian efforts and responsibilities, rebuilding societies and states in post conflict, energy providing, water security and climate change.

Apart from the sideline MAAS summit or Model of Arab and African Summit where youth participants from 67African and Arab nations representing their countries; the world biggest youth gathering also discussed and debated throughout its panel sessions on issues of development, the 2063 African development agenda, enhancing cooperation opportunities between countries, employment opportunities, issues related to women empowerment and how to reduce the gender gap and inequality in the labor market, the rights, empowerment and integration of people with disabilities, role of volunteerism work in societies, building future leaders, role of innovators and  entrepreneurs in global economic growth, the role of arts and cinema in shaping communities, creativity, e-sports and games, the effects of social media, digital technology and citizenship.

The Egyptian visionary president, innovative government, friendly people and its active youth did not only succeed in organizing the biggest international youth convention; but they manage creatively and diplomatically to influence the thinking of the forum foreign attendees, where the organizers introduced “The Seven Pillars of the Egyptian Identity” which is a book written by Dr. Milad Hanna who is an Egyptian author also, the book descript the influential diversity of Egyptian nation and how Egypt manage throughout the different eras  to be a linking point between different world civilizations. And the seven pillars are the Pharaonic pillar, the Greco-Roman pillar, the Coptic Pillar, the Islamic Pillar, the Arabian pillar, the Mediterranean Pillar and the African pillar, in this book the late Egyptian author came through different reasons of why Egypt belong to all this pillars and the connection between the Egyptian and other world most influential civilizations, religious, languages and geopolitical regions.

During the regime of late President Gamal Abdel Nassir Egypt use to be strong and influential country specially in  Islamic, Arabian, African and other third world regions as its political and diplomatic strongest circle, but decades of negligence and ignorance  has changed the geopolitical and diplomatic influence role of Egypt specially in the African continent and Asia;  starting with the regime of late President Anwar El-Sadat and continued during the regimes of  President Hosni Mubark and President Mohamed Morsi whom give up and turn their back to Africa and the third world only to focus their foreign relations to North Africa, Middle East, Arabian, US, Europe and Islamic regions.

The coming of President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi to the power in Egypt was a major turning point for the Egyptian foreign policy to regain its political and diplomatic influence in the global arena, African continent, Islamic world, Arabian region, Asia and in the Mediterranean basin countries as it used to be for many centuries; a  country call itself (the mother of the world or umm al-donya-مصر أم الدنيا in Arabic)Egypt under the leadership of President El-Sisi the is increasingly regaining its world political and diplomatic influence once again.

Through their new foreign policy goals and soft diplomacy strategy  president El-Sisi and his government are repositioning and marketing Egypt regionally and internationally as a strong economy, trade and investment destination, commercial partner, cultural and religious linking point, tourism attraction,  educational and learning hub; Apart from organizing a lots of regional and international conferences and other influential gatherings El-Sisi Egypt’s is hosting thousands of foreign students on his  government scholarships, fellowship and private sponsoring from different countries around the world, visited by millions of tourists and adding to all this the success of Egypt to bring together world youth to its Annual World Youth Forum an initiative which recognize and proof Egypt’s influential and strong diplomacy.

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The role of social media in authoritarian leaders’ nation branding and public diplomacy strategies

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How can Erdogan’s Facebook posts of him holding a baby or shaking hands enhance Turkey diplomatic relations? Why Chechnya strongman Ramzan Kadyrov constantly share photos on Instagram while cuddling animals or working out? Scholarly literature has thoroughly addressed the democratic potential of digital diplomacy as a tool both for citizens to streamline social protest and for national diplomatic services to mediate and multiply the messages to reach the wider masses. Nonetheless, a vacuum still exists on the examination of how digital diplomacy – as Aronczyk suggests – can provide authoritarian leaders with a new tool for engaging foreign public in  a “communication strategy […that] allows governments to better manage and control the image they project to the world.”(‘Nation branding’)

We will see – complementing the debate on how social media may serve as a tool of autocratic stability- how digital diplomacy may be an important tool in furthering a nation’s foreign policy”especially for non-democratic regimes by enabling direct interaction and engagement with foreign publics.

As Hanson argued, the technologic changes involving public diplomacy gave politicians and national diplomatic services (NDS) “the opportunity to influence and speak directly and more frequently to large audiences”.Nevertheless, such ability, alongside the capability to segment audiences may be a double-edged sword since it could boost ‘Digital Bonapartism’– a populist rhetoric aimed at marginalizing the opposition and manipulate public opinion in a subtler manner – of authoritarian leaders.Hence, resorting also to empirical data provided by social media analytics, we will provide a snapshot of authoritarian governments’ engagement and assertiveness in digital diplomacy.

Finally, it is worth recalling that the size and emotional preference of international online public determines to a good share the digital diplomatic strategies of non-democratic regimes.

Digital Diplomacy and Nation Branding

As Hocking and Melissen emphasized in their seminal work, “the propensity towards ‘hype’ in responding to technological change” alongside the tendency to resort to vague and amorphous conceptualizations provides little help in analysing ‘diplomacy in the digital age’.

Accordingly, to shed light on the concept,we will define ‘digital diplomacy’ as “solving foreign policy problems using the internet”, id est, as “conventional diplomacy through a different medium”.On the one hand, some critics held that ‘digital diplomacy’ is not diplomacy but ‘listening and dissemination’.Digital diplomacy is indeed a pivotal element of public diplomacy and traditional diplomacy latusensu, sharing with the latter mechanisms, networks and, most importantly, the task of promoting the States’ interests at the international level.

Firstly, the growing usage of social media is instrumental for countries to achieve foreign policy goals while proactively managing their image and reputation abroad. Furthermore – enlarging Szondi’s analysis of the relationship between public diplomacy and nation branding – we emphasize how digital diplomacy may also prove a useful tool in nation-branding without necessarily accounting for the full range of State’s activities to further its image abroad. Nation branding activities through social media involve an effort to develop and spread “a national discourse for global context”.Therefore, digital diplomacy may be deeply interweaved with ‘public diplomacy’: social media may be serve as the medium to convey messages to international audience, enhance a country’s international image in a broader public diplomacy discourse.In fact, as Fouts argued, “for social media, virtual world and physical interactions […] are part of a broader tapestry of interactions that a country should employ to manage its brand”.

Despite the capability of social media to disrupt the top-down political communication and their potential in harnessing countries’ exposure to nation brand-damaging event,their use in diplomacy could bolster the legitimacy of authoritarian regime by framing the discourse and winning credibility among foreign public.

Authoritarian digital narratives: Liars and Outliers?

Unlike the Juan Linz’s authoritarianism Idealtypus, modern ‘competitive authoritarian regimes’ resort to more subtle mechanisms of repression than their counterparts in authoritarian regimes: the engagement of foreign public through social media fits in a broader strategy aimed at winning credibility on the international stage, mainstreaming ‘digital bonapartism’.

Therefore, framing the foreign policy discourse may help authoritarian regimes’ credibility and boost relationships with third countries in the long run.Whereas several studies have underscored that leaders in democratic countries are more likely to adopt social media, nonetheless no further research has been carried out on the features of autocrats’ use of social media to attain foreign policy purposes.

Moreover,the increasing involvement of Head of States’ in digital diplomacy further shrinks the role of foreign ministries as gatekeepers for other government actors.

This phenomenon is particularly evident when contrasting the digital audiences of the most followed authoritarian leaders with that of the respective MFAs. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)While MFAs are more prolific in delivering messages, their effectiveness in achieving visibility is limited. The claim that the “stimulus to centralization in foreign policy making […] is not evident in the case of digitization” may be revaluated when tackling authoritarian regimes.  In this form of government strong leaders may rely on their pivotal position to convey narratives aimed at offering the international public partisan explanation of complex events.

Twitter, thanks to its brevity and its intuitive interface quickly imposed has the most widely communication tool for diplomacy, allowing world leaders to broadcast short, poignant messages to millions of followers.These inherent features of social medias give leaders an edge: being the digital realm an ‘emotional space’, the rising prominence of emotional expression may clash with the diplomatic tradition with an international public increasing demand for emotional and visual connections.

Furthermore, as clearly shown in Table 1, the ‘digital audience’ of most-followed authoritarian leaders in every region is mainly located abroad, thus increasingly the value of Twitter as a tool for convey foreign policy messages and signals.

Table 1. Followers and Tweets of non-democratic leaders as of February 2018

The data gathered clearly display a massive divide in terms of the number of followers among leaders –communicating through personal accounts – and their respective MFAs.

Furthermore, through social platforms leaders may tailor messages matching contrasting narratives to target different foreign constituencies: the sheer size of messages delivered by MFA accounts -acting as simple sounding boards –  may be instrumental in amplifying the leaders’ messages spreading the ‘official’ narrative set up by the Head of State/Government. Faced with the need for addressing different audiences at different levels, authoritarian leaders are enhancing their effectiveness in delivering through different social platform, resulting more effective where the message is framed in an epigrammatic or visual manner (Twitter and Instagram, respectively) than the more ‘discursive’ Facebook posts.

Table 2. Most Effective World Leaders on Instagram

Conclusion: Emotional Digital Diplomacy?

Digital modes of communication provide a new dimension and challenge to ‘framing’ issues”. As Manor emphasizes, narratives may be particularly important in digital diplomacy since they offer a clear explanation of complex events.

We argued that the very issue of authoritarian leaders’ engagement in social media concerns digital diplomacy’s values as a powerful tool to expand soft power reach in public diplomacy”.

Moreover, digital diplomacy offer a whole new device to convey narratives. The centralization trend allows leaders to play a crucial role in nation branding, in which the authoritarian structure enabling– as Surowiec has illustrated in his case-study – a “commitment to unification and synergy of collective identity projection [that] is hardly viable in any democratic political field”.

Finally, the narrative storytelling framework of social media – characterised by ‘the predominance of emotional content’ – enables non-democratic leaders to resort to a full range of emotional solutions offered, exploiting the tailoring and timing of the communication.

In a radical overturn of social media promise of a more enlightened politics, as accurate information and effortless communication,digital tools represent nowadays a powerful device for spreading biased narratives and influencing the foreign public appealing to the emotional sphere. Therefore, digitally-empowered autocrats are increasingly carving themselves a niche in the ‘attention economy’ of international arena imitating and learning from digital diplomacy strategies of their democratic peers.

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