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Bhutan – India: A multi- dimensional relationship. interview with H.E. Amb. Ruchira Kamboj

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India and Bhutan have shared an interesting relationship for a very long time. They are geopolitical neighbours, trade partners and friends. In this conversation with Modern Diplomacy, Her Excellency Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj, Ambassador of India to Bhutan sheds more light on the India Bhutan relationship and her work in the Indian Foreign Services.

When did you decide that you wanted to join the foreign services? Tell us more about your journey.

That was quite early I would say – while in school. I enjoyed the pursuit of, and discussions on international relations, and greatly looked forward to actual practice! I guess I was fortunate and quite blessed that this aspiration came true.

The relations between India and Bhutan have been historically significant and more so now when the former’s relations with few other neighbours seem to be muffled with confusion and disturbances. What do you believe will strengthen India – Bhutan’s bond even more?

Bhutan and India are bound together by ties of geography, history, culture, spiritual traditions and centuries old people-to-people interactions.

The special friendship has not only benefited our two nations, it has also created an example for the whole world, an epitome of two nations, of two different sizes, living together for collective growth, bound by an unparalleled friendship.

Both Bhutan and India  have young populations. Both Bhutan and India are rapidly transforming societies. A greater focus on youth-centric activities both sides through enhanced exchanges and connectivities, in particular in those sectors where India brings unique strengths to the table, such as IT, STEM, Start-Ups, could potentially be hugely beneficial for further growth and progress. As one tiny example, this year itself, eight Bhutanese students have entered our IITs against their chosen Masters’ Programmes.

This ties in with His Majesty’s vision and focus on STEM, where technology is rapidly transforming the world around us, and where the pace of scientific advancement is relentless in its pursuit towards creation.

What other plans and bilateral agreements can we foresee other than energy (hydroelectric) and tourism that will be a boon for both the South Asian countries?

The relationship between Bhutan and India today is multi- dimensional encompassing diverse sectors, not being limited to the traditional sectors but opening up to new and emerging spaces such as financial technology cooperation, IT, Start-Ups and Space Science and Technology, for mutually beneficial growth and cooperation.

I am pleased to share and following the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Bhutan in 2019, action has matched talk, and we are well into implementing much of what was envisaged during this memorable visit,     reflective of our commitment to advancing the economic and infrastructural development of Bhutan, per the priorities and wishes of the      Government and the people of Bhutan. 

Speaking of energy diplomacy, what are your personal views on the environment and climate change? What lessons can the world learn from Bhutan’s carbon-negative approach?

There are no two views that the world needs to think and act green, to support sustainable growth. India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi  has embarked upon a massive upward trajectory as we seek to harness solar and wind energy to power our future. The International Solar Alliance is one example -since 2015, this 87 signatory-alliance is propelling Earth to a low-carbon growth path. Similarly, the Coalition for Disaster-Resilient Infrastructure aims at a climate-change and disaster-resilient future for all.

As for Bhutan, you are truly an example to the world, having envisioned the “requirement” to be green in your country’s constitution, and being practically the world’s only carbon negative country. Importantly, you are not just resting on past laurels but  diversifying slowly but steadily into new spaces- into renewable energy such as solar and wind power; towards green transport; the ban on single-use plastic etc. These, among others, are examples of a country that is deeply respectful and committed to the environment. This is without doubt a tribute to the   vision and leadership provided by the Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan, as most recently reiterated at the UN Secretary General’s High Level RoundTable on Climate Action by Lyonchhen Dr. Lotay Tshering.

As mentioned before, both countries have also been focusing on cross-cultural tourism with initiatives like digital payments making the process more convenient. Can you speak more about this and the different contours that need to be strengthened?

We share His Majesty’s vision for harnessing technology towards economic development and towards strengthening our partnership in new areas such as digital and emerging technologies, financial integration etc.

To this end, Prime Ministers Shri Narendra Modi and Dr. Lotay Tshering had launched the first phase of the Rupay Card in 2019. With this , Indian citizens have been facilitated in making payments with their Indian bank-issued debit cards, in Bhutan. A second phase to be launched in 2020 , will enable the use of Bhutanese bank-issued RuPay Cards across Points of Sale terminals in India. This will benefit all Bhutanese citizens who visit India for education, medical treatment, pilgrimage, work or tourism.

This cross border financial integration will further facilitate our warm people-to-people contacts and integrate furthermore the economies of our two countries.

Your father was an Army officer and your mother, a Professor at Delhi University. Do you credit your success to the environment you were brought up in? How important do you think are parents’ support to a child for achieving some feat?

I would agree with you that the early childhood years are critical in shaping future orientation. I was fortunate and blessed in having a vision and values through personal examples from my parents, that have stood me in good stead. I wish that for every child on this planet-that their potential is fully realised in safety and with opportunity.

You seem to have an eye for Bhutanese art and culture. You also have been promoting a film called Lunana recently. Tell us more about that.

It is always a privilege to serve as India’s Representative abroad and to get a rare insight each time into a country’s culture and way of being, so to speak. The more so, with a country like Bhutan, which offers such a rich and unique mosaic, in itself. 

Speaking of “Lunana”, I was personally thrilled that this will be Bhutan’s official entry to the Oscars, an exquisite opportunity for the world to learn more about this singularly unique country.

Tell us about your previous experiences, of representing India at UNESCO and being a high commissioner to South Africa.

There are no two ways about this:  it is an outstanding honour each time to bat for India. It was thus my privilege to serve both as Ambassador of India within the multilateral settings of UNESCO, Paris and as High Commissioner of India for South Africa, a country with which India has a shared history  and importantly and going forward, an equally rich future.

If not Foreign Service, what else would you have pursued?

I am indeed fortunate to have lived my dream, I had frankly only envisaged this as a career.

What is the most important lesson you have learned in the 33 years of your glorious service?

A simple message: lead by example. 

A message to the young Indians who want to represent their country globally.

I would unequivocally and unhesitatingly say this to my Indian friends that if you do wish to represent your country globally, the best way to do so is through the Indian Foreign Service, an opportunity and a challenge, like no other!

Vidhi Bubna is a freelance journalist from Mumbai who covers international relations, defence, diplomacy and social issues. Her current focus is on India-China relations.

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Diplomacy

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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