Ever since the global spread of the COVID-19 virus, claims have been made of the pandemic causing a massive impact in global politics and international relations. In the pre-pandemic era, international relations were defined by increasing bipolarity, greater isolationism, greater trade protectionism and increasing nationalism. While the West led by the US was gradually adopting a protectionist attitude, the East led by China in particular, was looking towards increasing multilateral cooperation. Alongside this, international organizations were seeing their roles diminishing. Moreover, populist leaders and authoritarian governments were gradually gathering influence globally, in stark contrast to a decline in democracy and neo-liberalism. These trends could be seen most clearly in the US/China conflict that has dominated most international relations rhetoric of the 21st century.
Although China had been hit with the pandemic first, through extreme lockdown measures, quick responses, mass screenings, targeted monitoring and an effective socio-political response, the country quickly reversed course and had flattened its curve by March, depicting the resilience of the country. With a mere 87,000 cases as of December 2020 in a country of 1.4 billion people, China’s effective policies to deal with the pandemic can hardly be sidelined. Nevertheless, as the virus had been identified in China first, this triggered a massive backlash from the West, particularly the US, where President Trump blasted China for covering-up details about the virus. Rumors were spread by the White House itself about the virus originating from a Wuhan lab, and the virus was labeled the Wuhan Virus – a move discouraged by the WHO. This inflammatory language worsened relations between the two countries. Going even further, President Trump terminated US involvement in the World Health Organization, claiming it to be controlled by Chinese authorities.
With this move the influence of the world’s most important health organization was weakened, further showcasing the decline of the liberal international world order, due to a diminishing trust in international organizations. Thus, the pre-Covid trend of a lack of trust in international organizations, continued during the COVID-19 pandemic as well. With Trump advocating for closed borders with his “We need the wall more than ever” expressions on Twitter, and similar far-right leaders like France’s Le Pen ruing the “religion of borderless-ness” for the pandemic, the West’s protectionist, nationalistic ideas showed no signs of abating even during a global crisis.
In stark contrast, the East led by China continued on its path of greater cooperation and interdependence, through bilateral and multilateral engagements. With the US leaving a void in the global leadership spot for handling the pandemic, China stepped in and offered to assist other countries in handling the outbreaks in their respective countries. China’s foreign ministry’s spokesperson, Hua Chunying, even stated that they would like to share China’s good practice and experience.
Furthering its charm offensive, China started shipping out masks and ventilators to countries that were very badly hit by the pandemic, like Italy, Spain and Serbia. With the countries of the European Union shutting down their borders and hoarding domestic supplies, despite Italy’s pleas for help, Italy turned to China for aid in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. This “mask diplomacy” along with China’s Health Silk Road has served to strengthen global public health governance, as envisioned by China.
Undeniably, the pandemic’s effects in the short-term have been wide-reaching, especially in the social and technological domain. However, expecting global politics and international relations to undergo a transformational change in the long-term, solely due to the COVID-19 pandemic is relatively far-fetched, especially if current global trends are assessed.
The virus may or may not have taken its toll on international diplomacy in the traditional context, but it has certainly shaken many things if not stirred them completely.
Soft Power Projection of the U.S. vs China
Soft power is the ability to coopt rather than coerce others in shaping the preferences of others with the unique ability of attractive ideas and healthy attractive appeal. The currency of soft power includes culture, values, political ideas, foreign behaviors, especially diplomacy, and conduct in apparent situations. According to the proponent of the concept of soft power, Professor Joseph Nye explained it, “The best propaganda is not propaganda”. The theory elaborates on the idea that a country influences and makes attractiveness on the global stage either through military might or economic might, but the concept of soft power has changed the traditional concepts of the powers simultaneously in this regard. There are different domains of soft power dynamics, and the main areas of soft power are cultural and ideals, political values and diplomacy, and media, education, and communication. Nye also gave the ideas behind the defectiveness of soft power, like its credibility, consent, empowerment attractiveness in soft power, and projection of power. In the context of the article of the study, there is a vivid picture of the soft power in the context of the United States of America in the comparison of China which is making the USA position its superior aromas.
Several distinctive factors make the United States appealing and attractive on the global stage propagating the importance of soft power in the new rationalizations of the power corridors. After World War Second, the USA has given projections of soft power materializations in the context of the new paradigm shifts of the powers. Anti-Americanism has been raised in some last decades, especially in the developing world. Seasonal Diplomate Thomas Picking says, “As high a zenith of the anti-Americanism as we have seen for a long time”. A new kind of review raised that the USA is projected as the new imperialist power after fall of the colonialism in the new century. An Australian observer says that the rise of war phobia in the elite mechanism of the USA is raised by the loss of the soft power projections of the United States of America. But at the same time, there is no denying the fact that the ultimate distinction that makes the USA an obvious result of the superiority index in the comparison of the rising China is only its soft power projection superiority ranks in soft power projection is vivid at the multiple tiers. At social levels, the values of the freedom of the people, the freedom of women, genders, and the freedom of the social values of the most versatile and complex social mechanism that is one of the attractive levels of soft power projection by the USA. At the political groundsheet is the values of democracy, democracy which is one of the most beautiful inventions of the human mind for the best projections of the highest stages of the civilizations in the modern world and the USA is currently the leading state of democracy in this context.
At economic tiers, the development of capitalism and then the success of capitalism in the modern century are speaking volumes for it. Religious freedom and the global diplomacy structure of the United States of America are another valuable proportion of the soft power projection in the context of the United States. Like that the USA’s role in the fighting against global menaces like terrorism, climate change, and poverty alleviation its role in the development of the global south is highly appreciable. The US projection of the soft powers in mass media and communication is also one of the highly appreciable additions to the soft powers’ mechanism.
In the comparative analysis of China with the United States of America in the paradigms of soft power, there can be a comprehensive understanding of the differences in the approaches in this respect. First, Western culture is dominant over the world, like the USA’s specters of the soft power by Hollywood with the massive attraction of the global audience, similarly, American brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald have worldwide recognition. then there is the top priority of the USA is making higher education as most effective pair of the soft power mechanism, The USA boasts the top institution in the world in all the fields that have no comparison in China, research and investment in education are highly appreciable inventions of the soft power by the United States of America. Though China is attracting the youth of the developing states by providing free education at higher levels of study, there are very less chances of getting grounds like the United States of America in this regard.
The international media reach of the United States of America is impeccable soft power production in this case of the comparison with China which distinctive elements of the USA in this way as the CNN, BBC, and The New York Times are the highly recognized sources of the news at the international arena but in the comparison, there is not a single person with common man mobility know about any of the newspaper in China even there is highly censored and controlled news agencies of China and there is again the state-owned media in this respective. Human rights and the flowering of democracy is another important position of the od United States of America that makes impressive footprints of the soft powers’ dynamics, Human rights are also very significant for the social and other developments inside and outside of the USA. On the contrary, there is worldwide news of the concentration camps, forceful conversions of religions, and other human rights violations by China in this perspective of the discussion.
To cut a long story short, there is clear historiography about the importance and the values of soft powers in the changing dynamics of the world, even some analysts think that the new war scenarios would also be fought in the areas of the soft powers’ mechanics. China also understands the importance of the soft powers, During Covid 19, China emerged as an aid provider for vaccines for Covid 19, similarly, it provided financial aid to developing countries in times of despair and especially in the aftershocks of Covid 19. This kind of attitude from China is highly depicting the understanding of China about the importance of soft power concerning hard powers. The changing power dynamics also changed the attractiveness of the common people to reimagining the values, now the values will be counted more than that of hard powers, by this all discussion it is a proven fact that there is a significant importance of soft power, and the United States of America has a vividly superior dialectically valued position in the comparison of China.
From the Mat to the World: How Yoga Diplomacy amplifies India’s Global Voice
The lawn at the United Nations Headquarters echoed with slogans of ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’, as the much-anticipated Yoga event was held on the occasion of International Yoga Day on June 21. The Indian Prime Minister is on a four-day trip to the United States, and the journey begins with leading the Yoga event at the UN headquarters in New York. Ahead of the event, the Prime Minister paid tribute to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the venue. Commemorating the event, PM Modi said that Yoga is free from patents, royalty payments and copyrights. The event was registered in the Guinness Book of world record for witnessing the participation of most nationalities in a Yoga session.
The world is celebrating 9th International Yoga Day and the Indian Prime Minister is leading the event at the UN Headquarters, the venue speaks for India’s rising global clout. And the impressive participation around the world on the occasion stands in depositions to India’s immense reservoir of soft power. Soft Power, as suggested by Joseph Nye is the ability to shape preferences of others through appeal and attraction, or may be through aides. The classic example of implementation of soft power is America’s use of the Marshall Plan. After the end of the second world war, the US pumped billions of dollars into Europe, in order to prevent it from falling to the influence of Communist Soviet Union. Be it educational exchange programmes with countries like China, India or exporting soft-drink and fast food culture. All this has led to an exponential rise in America’s influence in the world.
India has long been an advocate of cultural diplomacy, that is putting soft power to use to propel the nation on the global stage. The event at the UN Headquarters turned global with the participation of over 180 countries, alongside the presence of President of the 77th UN General Assembly Casaba Korosi, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, actor Richard Gere, Grammy award winner Rickey Kej among others. Bringing 180 countries together is a difficult task, given the current political climate. There is visible ghettoisation in the global forums over the Russia-Ukraine crisis. At this juncture, India is proving its ability to bring nations together and bridge gaps through its Yoga Diplomacy, enhancing its soft power.
The importance of cultural diplomacy was first realised by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru along with Education Minister Abul Kalam Azad had set up the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, as early as, in 1950. The ICCR was entrusted with the responsibility to showcase India’s rich civilisational history. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, further, added momentum to the cause by launching Indian festivals around the world. With the LPG reforms, the 1990s saw a growing interest in India’s culture around the world- ranging from Yoga, idea of peace and non-violence, Indian cuisine, Bollywood films and handicraft.
However, with leaders having their credit, the cultural diplomacy could not propel India on to the global stage and complemented with contemporary factors failed to convert India into a major player. The efforts like the expansion of ICCR or establishing a small public diplomacy division within the Ministry of External Affairs (2006) remained pale in comparison with the efforts of the West or China.
For turning India’s cultural diplomacy into its soft power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi relied on two aspects, first mother-language and second Yoga. The first method adopted by the Indian Prime Minister for an outreach to the 25-million strong diaspora overseas, was delivering his addresses in Hindi. PM Modi had directly asked the overseas Indians to join hands and serve Mother India, help him boost India’s international image and bring in foreign direct investments. While Hindi speeches helped him gain traction, Yoga proved to be his bet.
First practised by Hindu sages, in the pre-Vedic and Vedic era, Yoga has now become India’s most popular cultural export. With Prime Minister Modi energetically promoting it, it was his government’s way of stretching India’s influence on the global stage when PM Modi himself persuaded the United Nations to designate 21st June as International Yoga Day during his first address. The resolution was passed unanimously at the UN conference, with countries like China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, the Russian Federation, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and other OIC countries co-sponsoring the proposal. Another testimony to India’s influence was that before the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution, it already had 177 co-sponsors. In 2015, the entire world celebrated the first International Yoga Day. Fast forward to 2023, the world is celebrating its 9th International Yoga Day with the Indian Prime Minister leading the UN event.
As Joseph Nye suggested, there are three pillars of soft power- political values, culture and foreign policy. In today’s era, the countries cannot function in the binary of political values. If a country like America- the preacher of democracy- decided to only align with governments upholding democratic values, NATO would become a thing of the past. With this, India has two ways for attaining global clout, first asserting its cultural heritage-one of them being Yoga and practising independent foreign policy.
Influence in international relations is understood in two contexts, military and economic might. India has already attained the status of fifth-largest economy in the world, and is currently the fastest-growing one. As far as the military is concerned, the Global Firepower Index, 2022 suggests that India is the fourth most powerful military nation in the world. However, Nye argues that successful states need both hard and soft power as hard power (military and economic might) helps the nation exert influence, soft power helps shape long term attitudes and preferences, thus, promising a long-term alliance.
Propagating Yoga- as an Indian contribution to the world for attaining a healthy lifestyle- helps New Delhi achieve the same. PM Modi is strengthening India’s global clout, not by amassing weapons or launching a military operation but by offering a life-changing Indian product called Yoga. In the 21st century, the mode of battle has probably changed- today, battles are waged with soft power which helps countries forge financial and security alliances. Yoga, in the same manner, has helped India capture the minds and hearts of the entire world. While the Indian diaspora participates at the Yoga event at the UN headquarters, they must have swelled with pride.
Any country with only hard or soft power alone cannot achieve a goal it wants to. Like China can flex hard power but enjoys little to no soft power despite its much popularised Panda-diplomacy. On the other hand, Tibet has only soft power and no hard power. India is moving towards achieving a sweet spot in which a mix of both hard and soft power will be used to achieve the ideal goals for the nation. With the world in dire need of a way towards spiritualism- India has placed its bet. The bet to be the vishwaguru- leader of the world paving the way for the future.
Breaking Barriers, Building Equality: Honouring Women in Diplomacy
Today we honour the brave, fearless and dedicated women who have broken through confining norms and stereotypes in order to build peace, equality and human rights through diplomacy and leadership.
While women throughout history have not been given the full recognition they deserve as diplomats, dealmakers, leaders and visionaries, we are half of the global population, with a full potential to unleash.
I think of women leaders in the United Nations: UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell, WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain, UN Women Executive Director Sima Sami Bahous, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming and many more – along with the multiple visionary and bold women leaders who work with me at the ECW Secretariat. I think of the courageous Sarah Brown, Chair of Theirworld, who recently celebrated the 21st anniversary of her organization, which among other things mentors so many young women towards leadership. And I think of Sherrie Westin, President of Sesame Workshop, who has done so much for early childhood education.
I also think of the women who practice a more quiet, but equally important type of diplomacy, mothers and daughters everywhere, teachers, humanitarians, activists like Mother Teresa and Malala, visionary scientists such as Madam Curie and Katherine Johnson, and our own ECW Global Champions: Somaya Faruqi – who defied all odds to lead the Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team; Folly Bah Thibault – world-renowned journalist, who launched her own girls’ education foundation, Elle Ira à l’Ecole; and, Christina Lamb – award-winning journalist and best-selling author who helped bring the stories of Malala Yousafzai and Nujeen Mustafa to the world.
As Amina J. Mohammed so eloquently states: “We must all do everything possible to ensure women are at the table, our voices heard and our contributions valued.” Still – despite progress and innumerable achievements and contributions to our world – that glass ceiling remains. Out of the 193 Member States of the United Nations, only 34 women serve as elected Heads of State. That’s only 17%.
We cannot fail to include women at the highest levels of diplomacy and leadership in today’s era.
Inasmuch as men, women too are the stewards of our planet. Inasmuch as men, women are leaders of policies that lift nations out of poverty and conflict. Still, wide gaps persist in women’s participation and women remain grossly underrepresented in many weapons-related fields, including technical arms control.
The gap in economic rights is also a major barrier. Nearly 2.4 million women globally don’t have the same economic rights as men, according to the World Bank.
More concerning still, women are being denied their human rights in countries across the globe, especially their right to 12 years of quality education. In Afghanistan, steps taken by the Taliban deny women of their access to secondary education, employment and power is one of the most egregious human rights abuses of the 21st century.
We can do better and we must do better.
The answer is education. Education enlightens and evolves humankind, education transcends biases and stereotypes, and it empowers girls and women to reach their full potential. For every dollar invested in girls’ education, there will be US$2.80 in return. Investments that enable girls to complete secondary education could boost GDP by an average of 10%.
We must ensure the next generation of women diplomats and leaders are able to build the confidence, and access the tools, training and opportunities they need and deserve. With education for all, we can shatter that glass ceiling.
About Education Cannot Wait (ECW):
Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. We support quality education outcomes for refugee, internally displaced and other crisis-affected girls and boys, so no one is left behind. ECW works through the multilateral system to both increase the speed of responses in crises and connect immediate relief and longer-term interventions through multi-year programming. ECW works in close partnership with governments, public and private donors, UN agencies, civil society organizations, and other humanitarian and development aid actors to increase efficiencies and end siloed responses. ECW urgently appeals to public and private sector donors for expanded support to reach even more vulnerable children and youth.
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