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Civilizationism vs the Nation State

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Many have framed the battle lines in the geopolitics of the emerging new world order as the 21st century’s Great Game. It’s a game that aims to shape the creation of a new Eurasia-centred world, built on the likely fusion of Europe and Asia into what former Portuguese Europe minister Bruno Macaes calls a “supercontinent.”

For now, the Great Game pits China together with Russia, Turkey and Iran against the United States, India, Japan and Australia. The two camps compete for influence, if not dominance, in a swath of land that stretches from the China Sea to the Atlantic coast of Europe.

The geopolitical flashpoints are multiple. They range from the China Sea to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Central European nations and, most recently, far beyond with Russia, China and Turkey supporting embattled Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.

On one level, the rivalry resembles Risk, a popular game of diplomacy, conflict and conquest played on a board depicting a political map of the earth, divided into forty-two territories, which are grouped into six continents. Multiple players command armies that seek to capture territories, engage in a complex dance as they strive for advantage, and seek to compensate for weaknesses. Players form opportunistic alliances that could change at any moment. Potential black swans threaten to disrupt.

Largely underrated in debates about the Great Game is the fact that increasingly there is a tacit meeting of the minds among world leaders as well as conservative and far-right politicians and activists that frames the rivalry: the rise of civilisationalism and the civilizational state that seeks its legitimacy in a distinct civilization rather than the nation state’s concept of territorial integrity, language and citizenry.

The trend towards civilisationalism benefits from the fact that 21st century autocracy and authoritarianism vests survival not only in repression of dissent and denial of freedom of expression but also maintaining at least some of the trappings of pluralism that can include representational bodies with no or severely limited powers, toothless opposition groups, government-controlled non-governmental organizations, and degrees of accountability.

It creates the basis for an unspoken consensus on the values that would underwrite a new world order on which men like Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Victor Orban, Mohammed bin Salman, Narendra Modi and Donald Trump find a degree of common ground. If anything, it is this tacit understanding that in the shaping of a new world order constitutes the greatest threat to liberal values such as human and minority rights. By the same token, the tacit agreement on fundamental values reduces the Great Game to a power struggle over spheres of influence and the sharing of the pie as well as a competition of political systems in which concepts such as democracy are hollowed out.

Intellectually, the concept of civilisationalism puts into context much of what is currently happening. This includes the cyclical crisis over the last decade as a result of a loss of confidence in leadership and the system; the rise of right and left-wing populism; the wave of Islamophobia and increased anti-Semitism; the death of multi-culturalism with the brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang as its most extreme expression; the Saudi and Russian alliance with ultra-conservative Christian groups that propagate traditional family values; and Russian meddling in Western elections.

Analysts explained these developments by pointing to a host of separate and disparate factors, some of which were linked in vague ways. Analysts pointed among others to the 2008 financial crisis, jihadist violence and the emergence of the Islamic State, the war in Syria, and a dashing of hope with the rollback of the achievements of the 2011 popular Arab revolts. These developments are and were at best accelerators not sparks or initiators.

Similarly, analysts believed that the brilliance of Osama Bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Towers and the Pentagon in Washington was the killing of multi-culturalism in one fell and brutal swoop. Few grasped just how consequential that would be. A significant eye opener was the recent attack on the mosques in Christchurch. New Zealand much like Norway in the wake of the 2012 attacks by supremacist Andre Breivik stands out as an anti-dote to civilisationalism with its inclusive and compassionate response.

The real eye-opener, however, was a New Zealand intelligence official who argued that New Zealand, a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance alongside the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, had missed the emergence of a far or alt-right that created breeding grounds for violence because of Washington’s singular post-9/11 focus on what popularly is described as Islamic terrorism. That remark casts a whole different light on George W. Bush’s war on terror and the subsequent war against the Islamic State. Those wars are rooted as much in the response to 9/11, the 7/7 London attacks and other jihadist occurrences as they are in witting or unwitting civilisationalism.

The global war on terror has become a blueprint for violence against Muslims. When there isn’t a shooting at a mosque, there’s a drone strike in Somalia. When one Friday prayer goes by without incident, an innocent Muslim is detained on material support for terrorism charges or another is killed by law enforcement. Maybe a baby is added to a no-fly list,” said human rights activist Maha Hilal. Scholars Barbara Perry and Scott Poynting warned more than a decade ago in study of the fallout in Canada of the war on terror that “in declining adequately to recognize and to act against hate (crimes), and in actually modelling anti-Muslim bias by practicing discrimination and institutional racism through “‘ethnic targeting,’ ‘racial profiling,’ and the like, the state conveys a sort of ideological license to individuals, groups and institutions to perpetrate and perpetuate racial hatred.”

The same is true for the various moves in Europe that have put women on the frontline of what in the West are termed cultural wars but in reality are civilizational wars involving efforts to ban conservative women’s dress and endeavours to create a European form of Islam. In that sense Victor Orban’s definition of Hungary as a Christian state in which there is no room for the other is the extreme expression of this trend. It’s a scary picture, it raises the spectre of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations, yet it is everything but.

Fact is that economic and geopolitical interests are but part of the explanation for the erection of a Muslim wall of silence when it comes to developments in Xinjiang, the Organization of Islamic Countries’ ability to criticize the treatment of Muslim minorities in various parts of the world but praise China for its policy, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s alliance with a man like Victor Orban and his joining the right-wing chorus that has turned Jewish financier and philanthropist George Soros into a bogeyman or the rise of militant, anti-Muslim Buddhism and Hinduism. In fact, the signs of this were already visible with the alliance between Israel and the evangelists who believe in doomsday on the Day of Judgement if Jews fail to convert to Christianity as well as the recent forging of ties between various powerful Islamic groups or countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the evangelist movement.

Civilisationalism is frequently based on myths erected on a falsification and rewriting of history to serve the autocrat or authoritarian’s purpose. Men like Trump, Orban, and Erdogan project themselves as nationalist heroes who protect the nation from some invading horde. In his manifesto, Brenton Tarrant, the perpetrator of the Christchurch attacks, bought into the notion of an illusionary invader. Muslims, he wrote, “are the most despised group of invaders in the West, attacking them receives the greatest level of support.”

He also embraced the myths of an epic, centuries-long struggle between the white Christian West and Islam with the defeat of the Ottomans in 1683 at the ports of Vienna as its peak. Inscribed on Tarrant’s weapons were the names of Serbs who had fought the Ottomans as well as references to the battle of Vienna. To Tarrant, the Ottomans’ defeat in Vienna symbolized the victory of the mythical notion of a world of inviolable, homogeneous nations. “The idea that (medieval societies) are this paragon of unblemished whiteness is just ridiculous. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so awful,” said Paul Sturtevant, author of The Middle Ages in the Popular Imagination.

Much like popular perception of the battle for Vienna, Tarrant’s view of history had little relation to reality. A multi-cultural empire, the Ottomans laid siege to Vienna in cooperation with Catholic French King Louis XIV and Hungarian Protestant noble Imre Thokoly as well as Ukrainian Cossacks. Vienna’s Habsburg rulers were supported not only by Polish armies but also Muslim Tartar horsemen. “The Battle of Vienna was a multicultural drama; an example of the complex and paradoxical twists of European history. There never has been such a thing as the united Christian armies of Europe,” said historian Dag Herbjornsrud. Literary scholar Ian Almond argues that notions of a clash of civilizations bear little resemblance to the “almost hopelessly complex web of shifting power-relations, feudal alliances, ethnic sympathies and historical grudges” that shaped much of European history. “The fact remains that in the history of Europe, for hundreds of years, Muslims and Christians shared common cultures, spoke common languages, and did not necessarily see one another as ‘strange’ or ‘other,’” Almond said.

That was evident not only in the Battle of Vienna but also when the Ottomans and North Africa’s Arab rulers rallied around Queen Elizabeth I of England after the pope excommunicated her in 1570 for breaking with Catholicism and establishing a Protestant outpost. Elizabeth and her Muslim supporters argued that Protestantism and Islam were united in their rejection of idol worship, including Catholicism with its saints, shrines and relics. In a letter in 1579 to Ottoman sultan Murad III, Elizabeth described herself as the “most mighty defender of the Christian faith against all kind of idolatries.” In doing so, she sought to capitalize on the fact that the Ottomans had justified their decision to grant Lutherans preferred commercial treatment on the basis of their shared beliefs.

Similarly, historian Marvin Power challenges the projection of Chinese history as civilizational justification of the party leader’s one-man rule by Xi Jinping and Fudan University international relations scholar Zhang Weiwei. Amazon’s blurb on Zhang’s bestselling The China Wave: Rise of the Civilizational State summarizes the scholar’s rendition of Xi Jinping’s vision succinctly: “China’s rise, according to Zhang, is not the rise of an ordinary country, but the rise of a different type of country, a country sui generis, a civilizational state, a new model of development and a new political discourse which indeed questions many of the Western assumptions about democracy, good governance and human rights.” The civilizational state replaces western political ideas with a model that traces its roots to Confucianism and meritocratic traditions.

In his sweeping study entitled China and England: The Preindustrial Struggle for Justice in Word and Image, Powers demonstrates that Chinese history and culture is a testimony to advocacy of upholding individual rights, fair treatment, state responsibility to its people, and freedom of expression rather than civilisationalism, hierarchy and authoritarianism. Powers extensively documents the work of influential Chinese philosophers, writers, poets, artists and statesmen dating back to the 3rd century BC who employed rational arguments to construct governance systems and take legal action in support of their advocacy. Powers noted that protection of free speech was embedded in edicts of the Han Emperor Wen in the second century BC. The edicts legitimized personal attacks on the emperor and encouraged taxpayers to expose government mistakes. The intellectuals and statemen were the Chinese counterpart of contemporary liberal thinkers.

In a lot of ways, Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church have understood the utility of civilisationalism far better than others and made it work for them, certainly prior to the Russian intervention in Syria. At a gathering several years before the intervention, Russia achieved a fete that seemed almost unthinkable. Russia brought to the same table at a gathering in Marrakech every stripe of Sunni and Shiite political Islam.

The purpose was not to foster dialogue among the various strands of political Islam. The purpose was to forge an alliance with a Russia that emphasized its civilizational roots in the Russian Orthodox Church and the common values it had with conservative and ultra-conservative Islam. To achieve its goal, Russia was represented at the gathering by some of its most senior officials and prominent journalists whose belief systems were steeped in the values projected by the Church. To the nodding heads of the participating Muslims, the Russians asserted that Western culture was in decline while non-Western culture was on the rise, that gays and gender equality threaten a woman’s right to remain at home and serve her family and that Iran and Saudi Arabia should be the model for women’s rights. They argued that conservative Russian Orthodox values like the Shariah offered a moral and ethical guideline that guarded against speculation and economic bubbles.

The Trump administration has embarked on a similar course by recently siding in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women with proponents of ultra-conservative values such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq and several African countries. Together they sought to prevent the expansion of rights for girls, women, and LGBT people and weaken international support for the Beijing Declaration, a landmark 1995 agreement that stands as an internationally recognized progressive blueprint for women’s rights.

The US position in the commission strokes with efforts by conservative Christians to reverse civilizational US courts decisions in favour of rights for women, minorities, members of the LGBT community, Muslims and immigrants and refugees. It is what conservative historian and foreign policy analyst Robert Kagan describes as the war within traditionally liberal society. It is that civilizational war that provides the rationale for Russian meddling in elections, a rational that goes beyond geopolitics. It also explains Trump’s seeming empathy with Putin and other autocrats and authoritarians.

The US alignment with social conservatives contributes to the rise of the civilizational state. Putin’s elevation of the position of the church and Xi’s concentration of absolute power in the Communist Party strengthens institutions that symbolize the rejection of liberal values because they serve as vehicles that dictate what individuals should believe and how they should behave. These vehicles enable civilisationalism by strengthening traditional hierarchies defined by birth, class, family and gender and delegitimizing the rights of minorities and minority views. The alignment suggests that the days were over when Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov trumpeted that the West had lost “its monopoly on the globalization process” because there was a “market of ideas” in which different “value systems” were forced to compete.

Similarly, conservative American author Christopher Caldwell asserted that Orban’s civilizational concept of an authoritarian Christian democracy echoed the kind of democracy that “prevailed in the United States 60 years ago” prior to the civil rights movement and the 1968 student protests. Orban’s Hungary epitomizes the opportunism that underlies the rise of the civilizational state as a mechanism to put one’s mark on the course of history and retain power. In Orban’s terms, civilizational means not Christianity as such but those Christian organizations that have bought into his authoritarian rule. Those that haven’t are being starved of state and public funding.

Civilisationalism’s increased currency is evident from Beijing to Washington with stops in between. Trump’s and Steve Bannon, his former strategy advisor’s beef with China or Russia is not civilizational, its about geopolitical and geo-economic power sharing. In terms of values, they think in equally civilizational terms. In a speech in Warsaw in 2017, Trump declared that “the fundamental question of our time is whether the west has the will to survive” but assured his audience that “our civilization will triumph.”  Bannon has established an “academy for the Judeo-Christian west” in a former monastery in the Italian town of Collepardo. The academy intends to groom the next generation of far-right populist politicians.

It is initiatives like Bannon’s academy and the growing popularity of civilizational thinking in democracies, current and erstwhile, rather than autocracies that contribute most significantly to an emerging trend that transcends traditional geopolitical dividing lines and sets the stage for the imposition of authoritarian values in an emerging new world order. Interference in open and fair elections, support for far-right and ultra-conservative, family-value driven Western groups and influence peddling on both sides of the Atlantic and in Eurasia at large by the likes of Russia, China and the Gulf states serve the purpose of Bannon and his European associates.

Civilizationalists have put in place the building blocks of a new world order rooted in their value system. These blocks include the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that groups Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The grouping is centred on the Chinese principle of non-interference in the sovereign affairs of others which amounts to support for the region’s autocratic regimes. The SCO’s Tashkent-based internal security coordination apparatus or Regional Antiterrorist Structure (RATS) has similarly adopted China’s definition of the “three evils” of terrorism, extremism, and separatism that justifies its brutal crackdown in Xinjiang.

Proponents of the civilizational state see the nation state and Western dominance as an aberration of history. British author and journalist Martin Jacques and international relations scholar Jason Sharman argue that China’s history as a nation state is at best 150 years old while its civilizational history dates back thousands of years. Similarly, intellectual supporters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) project India as a Hindu-base civilization rather than a multi-cultural nation state. Modi’s minister of civil aviation, Jayant Sinha, suggests that at independence, India should have embraced its own culture instead of Western concepts of scientific rationalism. Talking to the Financial Times, Sinha preached cultural particularism. “In our view, heritage precedes the state… People feel their heritage is under siege. We have a faith-based view of the world versus the rational-scientific view.”

Arab autocracies like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have stopped short of justifying their rule in civilizational terms but have enthusiastically embraced the civilizational state’s rejection of western notions of democracy and human rights. One could argue that Saudi Arabia’s four decade long global propagation of ultra-conservative strands of Islam or the UAE effort to mould an Islam that is apolitical and adheres to the principle of obedience to the ruler is civilizational in nature.

Islamic law scholar Mohammed Fadel argues that one reason why Arab autocracies have not overtly embraced civilisationalism even though they in many ways fit the mould is the absence of a collective memory in post-Ottoman Arab lands. To explicitly embrace civilisationalism as a concept, Arab states would have to cloak themselves in the civilizational mantle of either pan-Islam or pan-Arabism, which in turn would require regional integration. One could argue that the attempt by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to impose their will on the Middle East for example with the boycott of Qatar is an attempt to create a basis for a regional integration that they would dominate.

The rise of the civilizational state with its corporatist traits raises the spectre of a new world order whose value system equates dissent with treason, views an independent press as the ‘enemy of the people’ and relegates minorities to the status of at best tolerated communities with no inherent rights. It is a value system that enabled Trump to undermine confidence in the media as the fourth estate that speaks truth to power and has allowed the president and Fox News to turn the broadcaster into the United States’ closest equivalent to state-controlled television.  Trump’s portrayal of the media as the bogeyman has legitimized populist assaults on the press across the globe irrespective of political system from China and the Philippines to Turkey and Hungary. It has facilitated Prince Mohammed’s effort to fuse the kingdom’s ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam with a nationalist sentiment that depicts critics as traitors rather than infidels.

In the final analysis, the tacit understanding on a civilisationalism-based value system means that it’s the likes of New Zealand, Norway and perhaps Canada that are putting up their hands and saying not me instead of me too. Perhaps Germany is one of the countries that is seeking to stake out its place on a middle ground. The problem is that the ones that are not making their voices heard are the former bastions of liberalism like the United States and much of Europe. They increasingly are becoming part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Edited remarks at Brookings roundtable in Doha

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Jerome Polin and New Diplomacy in The Modern Era

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Rooted in the expansion of the two diplomacy pathways, the concept of citizen diplomacy is known as a way for ordinary citizens to contribute in international diplomatic interactions. Citizen diplomacy was born due to Joseph Nye’s adoption of the soft power concept and one of the essential diplomacy concepts in the current era of globalization. In the practice of citizen diplomacy, a citizen can promote and engages in interactions that are not only based on politics but also have a role in the broader focus or topic of international diplomacies, such as peace, education, culture, language, culinary, economic cooperation, and so on. The practice of citizen diplomacy is not always tied to the state’s interests, but a citizen diplomat can also represent his interests.

In contrast to public diplomacy, non-state citizen diplomacy actors tend to stand alone. This means that these non-state actors are not bound by the participation space provided by the state. Citizen diplomacy actors can voice their opinions, participate, and be responsible for international diplomacy efforts. They—citizen diplomacy actors—can be artists, musicians, YouTubers, speakers, motivators, business people, teachers, students, and ordinary citizens. Meanwhile, Paul Sharp divides the roles of each actor through his activities. The division consists of actors former professional diplomats, actors as representatives of economic interests, actors with roles in changing specific government policies, actors capable of building global awareness to create a new order, and actors acting as autonomous agents—these actors do not represent any party, but himself. By using the concept of the role of a non-state citizen diplomacy actor as an autonomous agent, this paper will explore the practice of diplomacy carried out by an ordinary citizen named Jerome Polin.

Jerome Polin is a young man born in Surabaya on May 2 1998. Five years ago—through his personal YouTube account—Jerome started actively sharing his daily and motivational video blog. Until now, there have been hundreds of videos that he has uploaded on his YouTube channel. Jerome, who is currently known as a YouTuber to many people, is also a Mitsui Bussan scholarship awardee and studied at Waseda University, Japan, with a major in applied mathematics. Since childhood, Jerome has been enthusiastic about participating in math olympiads and strongly desires to study abroad. Thanks to his perseverance and persistent determination, Jerome is now widely known among young people, especially GenZ and Millennials.

Starting his career as a student in Japan made Jerome even more challenged to continue his interest in producing videos. Until now, the number of YouTube subscribers for this young man is 9.5 million subscribers. Through his creative, educational, and entertaining content, Jerome has a desire to provide exclusive benefits to his loyal audience. Jerome’s specific content at the beginning was famous for being related to mathematics. Still, now he produces much more diverse video content, such as cultural, culinary, and travel themes. Jerome is also not alone when making videos. He was accompanied by four native Japanese friends named the ‘Waseda Boys’. Together with Waseda Boys, Jerome introduced a lot of cultures, food, and the Indonesian language. Not infrequently, they also exchange knowledge about their respective countries.

Currently, Jerome Polin can be classified as an autonomous agent of a non-state actor. Departing from the five roles of non-state citizen diplomacy actor by Paul Sharp, this actor’s role is not tied to the interests of other parties or the state. He acts to represent his interests. Jerome can make efforts and international diplomatic interactions related to his status as one of the recipients of the Mitsui Bussan scholarship, which Japan pioneered.

As we know, Indonesia and Japan have gone through unpleasant and tense times due to colonialism decades ago. One of Jerome Polin’s content on his youtube channel entitled “August 17th Contest with Japanese Friends! Special for the 76th Indonesian Independence Day, Independence!” showed the enthusiasm of his friends who are Japanese citizens to take part in celebrating the birthday of Indonesia, one of the countries that their country had colonized. Through the content “Ask the Japanese”, Jerome also shared information and education about colonialism in the past. In addition, Jerome actively introduces Indonesian food, such as tempeh, pop chicken, nasi padang, fried duck, Indomie, and so on. This, of course, is a form of branding for Indonesian products and culinary specialities in the international arena.

In the last few months, Jerome and Waseda Boys visited Indonesia. They toured several provinces. Jerome introduced the area’s culture, traditions, language and social environment. The provinces they visited were Bali, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Jakarta and Papua. Through this visit, Jerome invited his friends to try the unique cuisine of each province. Guess what? The Waseda boys really like Rusa Rica-Rica from Papua! They also try traditional clothes, watch art performances, and make local handicrafts. In fact, The Waseda boys—some of them—are pretty fluent in Indonesian.

Currently, the young man who was born in Surabaya 24 years ago is spreading his wings even more. Activities that can be classified as diplomatic interactions are not only channelled by Jerome through his content, but he has started to build a talent agency business that houses international talent and influencers. He founded Mantappu Corp in 2018 with his older brother, Jehian Sijabat. This talent agency contains content from international creators and influencers who aim to maximize digital communication and digital marketing in the era of globalization. Currently, Mantappu Corp has managed Japanese talents and influencers, such as Erika Ebisawa, Hitomi, Ryoma Otsuka, Takuya Ohsawa, Tomohiro Yamashita, Yuzuke Sakazaki. There is also Jang Hansol, who is a content creator from South Korea. In addition to diverse talents and influencers, Mantappu Corp has collaborated with many large companies from Indonesia to abroad! Thus, the presence of Mantappu Corp is a form of a diplomatic effort to strengthen Indonesia’s cooperative relations in the international system.

The presence of non-state actors in international relations allows for different diplomatic practices. The concept of diplomacy can go hand in hand with the convenience of information and communication technology in this era. Like what Jerome Polin did, science and technological advances were used to carry out efforts that were classified as diplomatic interactions. In this case, every non-state actor with the capacity within himself can actively participate in diplomatic exchanges in international relations. They—international relations actors—can represent themselves or other parties and interests. However, the diplomacy carried out, of course, remains focused on common interests.

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Celebrity Diplomacy: What prompted Biden to invite the K-pop group BTS?

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Image tweeted by @POTUS

Recently, President Biden met with the world-renowned K-pop music group BTS. At the White House, they talked about the importance of tackling anti-Asian racism and showing respect for the Asian communities. This was against the backdrop of having a flux of racism incidents in the US.

However, the invitation of the South Korean group raises questions as to the underlying strategy and motives. Logically, President Biden could have sought the same assistance from local Asian American stars who belong to the affected communities, or, e.g., British Asian stars who have similar first-hand experience with the issue. In fact, many celebrities from Hollywood and other fields have already voiced against the rise of the anti-Asian cases. The US government has also taken a number of notable measures, such as introducing the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act. It can therefore seem a bit puzzling as to why President Biden had to ask for help from foreign citizens – who may be perceived as slightly less representative for the domestic Asian American situation.

The intuitive explanation for the collaboration would be that the US wishes to utilise the overwhelming star power of BTS and the Korean Wave (“Hallyu”). It is not an overstatement to suggest that BTS can potentially be even more appealing and impactful than domestic celebrities to certain specific groups of audience. The BTS holds a few World Guinness Records for their popularity, such as being the music group that has the most followers on Instagram. Moreover, the BTS has demonstrated their capabilities in public diplomacy. They previously appeared as South Korean diplomatic envoys in the UN General Assembly in 2021, where they raised awareness over the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). In the UN’s YouTube channel, it can be seen that the clip with the highest number of views is the one where BTS appeared.

However, the above explanation does not fully capture the benefits that can be derived from the collaboration. Also, by comparison, having the BTS at the UN easily makes sense because South Korea is part of the UN and has member state responsibility to implement the SDGs.

The better explanation is that President Biden did not only have the domestic racism problems in mind. Rather, his tactic also targeted Asia, especially Southeast Asia. According to some surveys, BTS’s fan base comes predominantly from the Asian regions – with India, Indonesia and the Philippines ranking top – which even outnumbers the fans from South Korea and the US. To put this into context, President Biden is very keen on establishing closer relations with the regions, as discerned from recent developments such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and the US-ASEAN Special Summit in May. The collaboration with BTS builds on top of these initiatives, and is a gesture of President Biden showing friendliness, care and solidarity to Asian groups and communities beyond the US border. This form of celebrity diplomacy sends political messages transnationally and directly to the general public, as compared to traditional diplomacy which exchanges at the governments’ level.

Besides, the selection of BTS further shows that President Biden is eager to get the attention of young people. By confessing to be a “fan” of BTS, Biden draws himself closer to younger generations. It was surveyed that 50% of BTS fans are below 18 years old, and with another 40% belonging to the 18-29 age group. Getting the support of young people – who generally have high engagement with social media – can easily multiply the local and global reach and impact of any political message.

This highly skilful move connects the US and South Korea together by co-curating this latest addition to the diplomatic arsenal for global good. Ultimately, this strategy sheds positive light on President Biden, showing that he is a leader who is willing to go beyond the borders and explore non-traditional means in order to resolve problems.

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Can BRICS Underpin a New World Order?

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Amid an unprecedented spike in global geopolitical risks, the world is becoming increasingly aware of the fact that the architecture that underpins the old world order is giving way to a new configuration of international relations and regional blocs. The countries of the Global South are establishing their own institutions, alliances of regional integration, and payment systems, with them turning into a crucial force in the transforming global economy. The largest developing markets, primarily the nations of BRICS, are among the leaders here. In March 2022, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Ryabkov said that BRICS will form the foundation of a new world order, saying “I think that the BRICS states, totaling almost half of the world’s population and accounting for a large chunk of the global GDP, will be among the backbones of the new emerging world order.”

However, for the BRICS states to become the foundation of a new world order, the bloc has to offer other countries in the world economy new paradigms of development on a global scale. Such areas in the new economic architecture may include relaunching globalization on a platform of new states and regions, establishing a new institutional system for modernizing nations engaged in the global economy, agreeing on a new reserve currency pool with currencies of developing countries, creating a global development track as an alternative to the one promoted by the West, and forming new regional blocs and platforms to coordinate and develop those blocs.

Virtually all possible global-scale paradigms could be implemented within the broad BRICS+ format that offers BRICS states various options for cooperating with other states in the global economy. Spearheaded by China in 2017, BRICS+ still has to acquire its tangible development outlines in many ways, although some possible models for cooperation within BRICS+ have already been announced by representatives of the BRICS states. China’s 2022 BRICS presidency forms a favorable foundation for facilitating BRICS+, with China’s representatives having stated that they are considering the options of developing the BRICS+ concept within interactions, among other things, between regional integration alliances of the countries of the Global South.

As regards the idea’s implementation, a format that appears most suitable for BRICS+ is an alliance of three pancontinental alliances: the African Union, CELAC (the community of Latin American states), and the SCO/SCO+ in Eurasia. Such an alliance spans the largest possible number of countries across the Global South, while it requires no in-depth and complex economic integration or alignment of economic interactions across all three continents. Such an extended format offers developing countries an opportunity to coordinate interaction on the international stage, advancing the Global South’s priority agenda in sustainable development.

This year, we are seeing quite favorable conditions for the emergence of such an extended circle of interactions between developing states: Argentina, currently presiding in CELAC in Latin America, has recently stepped up its efforts to set up interactions with BRICS. Brazil suspending its CELAC involvement in 2020 is a limiting factor, though, but it will mostly likely be temporary. Uzbekistan, now presiding in the SCO throughout 2022, is increasingly involved in integration processes in Eurasia following a period of being closed off. The African Union presidency of 2022 has passed to Senegal, a nation that actively promotes coordination and cooperation of regional integrational alliances and builds tangible interactions with BRICS states, primarily with China.

A platform for interactions between regional integration blocs involving BRICS states could become another track of interaction within BRICS+. Such a platform could include priority projects of regional integration involving BRICS states, such as MERCOSUR, SACU, BIMSTEC, the EAEU, as well as the RCEP or the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area. All these regional blocs could cooperate in coordination, moving toward aligning their standards and creating a more open economic space for trade and investment by BRICS states and their regional partners. It is important to notice that most BRICS states currently choose to shape their foreign policies in the form of regional integration blocs (Russia – the EAEU, Brazil – MERCOSUR, South Africa – the SACU), and, consequently, BRICS+ based on “integration of integrations” is the only possible format for economic integration and for opening markets between BRICS states.

The spirit of multilateralism and of building a new architecture that suits the interests of the entire Global South is important in establishing such platforms. Attempts to base BRICS solely on the narrow national interests could adversely affect the development prospects of BRICS+ as such and of other multilateral initiatives spearheaded by BRICS states. As a new format of interaction between BRICS states, BRICS+ hinges for its success on multimodal interaction formats within BRICS+ that would account for the entire range of national interests and priorities for BRICS states and their regional partners.

Therefore, BRICS+ could shape two tracks for interaction between nations of the Global South: the SCO + the AU + CELAC, the most inclusive one geared toward broad interactions between developing states within international organizations; such a format may possibly reflect predominantly China’s vision its Minister for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi announced back in 2017 when he proclaimed BRICS+ to be the most inclusive interaction platform for developing states. A platform for “integration of integrations” between regional economic groups led by BRICS states may become another development track for BRICS+. This format is a better reflection of Russia’s BRICS+ concept that Sergey Ryabkov announced in early 2018, “We suggest that our partners consider BRICS+ as a platform for developing what could be termed an ‘integration of integrations,’” Ryabkov said. If China’s vision of BRICS+ provides the broadest horizontal span of the Global South, Russia’s vision of BRICS+ prioritizes the depth and alignment of integrating BRICS states’ priority regional projects.

Generally, the number of tracks and formats for interaction between developing countries may be far greater, reflecting the globalizing vision of every BRICS member. In other words, unlike the unipolar approach to integration in developed states, BRICS+ may serve as a foundation for diversifying the models and platforms of development and economic integration. In this regard, in order to develop BRICS+ as part of diversifying development models, it is important for India, Brazil, and South Africa to also present their visions of BRICS+ and of globalization in the Global South and outside it. It is possible that India, Brazil, and South Africa see a more appealing option in expanding the membership in BRICS’ New Development Bank by admitting regional partners; this paradigm has been used after Egypt was admitted to the NDB as South Africa’s partner in the African Union, Uruguay was admitted as Brazil’s partner in MERCOSUR, and Bangladesh as India’s partner in BIMSTEC and the South Asian Free Trade Area.

Improving the functioning of BRICS Provisional Monetary Reserves Pool (PMRP) could also be a direction of ramping up international activities of BRICS. Recently, BRICS’ PMRP has stepped up coordination with other regional financial organizations (RFOs) within regular consultations the IMF holds with RFOs. At the same time, BRICS’ PMRP was significantly less active in its responses to crisis phenomena in BRICS states compared to BRICS’ NDB. Another option is considering, as part of BRICS+, the possibility of bolstering BRICS’ PMRP’s mandate to monitor the macroeconomic situation in BRICS’ states, to develop coordinated anti-crisis measures, and to interact with other RFOs from developing states and BRICS states’ regional partners. In particular, there could be formed a regular coordination mechanism including BRICS’ PMRP, the Eurasian Fund for Stabilization and Development (EFSD), ASEAN’s Chiang Mai Initiative and their regional partners (CMIM), and Latin American RFO FLAR. Another area here could be expanding BRICS’ PMRP membership by admitting BRICS states’ regional partners, including several states admitted to BRICS’ NDB.

On the whole, the prospects of transforming the world economy today are tightly bound to coordinating the activities of the largest countries of the Global South, primarily the BRICS states. However, a global restart of global economic development requires a larger interaction format, BRICS+, that will make it possible to engage other developing countries in the process. In this case, the process of reformatting the world economy will become truly inclusive and stable. The “integration of integrations” format involving cooperation between regional integration blocs of the Global South may become an important tool in scaling the global economic transformation. China’s 2022 BRICS presidency may give an additional impetus to building platforms for interactions between regional groups of developing states.

Progress achieved by the BRICS nations in moving toward new platforms for cooperation between alliances of developing states may form the foundation of a common cooperation platform for all the states of the Global South. This expanded platform could advance inclusivity and openness in the development of the Global South countries, accelerate dynamics and structuring of the integration processes, could fill the gap and the lacunae on the map of integration processes in the developing world. So far, we can but state that developed countries are far better provided with dynamic and well-structured integration alliances than the countries of the Global South.

From our partner RIAC

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