Relaciones Internacionales – Comunicación Internacional

Cultural diplomacy in international relations

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Public and Cultural Diplomacy 3 A group blog by students at London Metropolitan University


Cultural diplomacy plays a crucial role in building relations among states in contemporary international relations, as it might serve as an effective instrument in supporting national foreign policy objectives or a constructive channel at times of political difficulty. According to the American scholar Milton Cummings, it can be defined as “the exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding” (2003, p. 1). In practice, cultural diplomacy is often seen as a subset of public diplomacy or the operation of a state’s culture in support of its foreign policy goals, to combat stereotyping, develop mutual understanding, and advance national reputation and relationships across the board (Mark, 2009, pp.9-15).

It is argued that culture keeps doors open in difficult times, as there are numbers of cases where cultural diplomacy provides a safe and constructive forum for relationship-building or easing relations when they are strained. For instance, in 2005 London’s Royal Academy of Arts collaborated with the Palace Museum in Beijing to open an exhibition on China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795, which not only attracted many attention of the British public on Chinese culture but also provided an appropriate setting for the visit of the Chinese president Hu Jintao to open the exhibition alongside the Queen (Royal Academy of Arts, 2005). On the other hand, at times of tension, when formal diplomatic negotiations are incapable, culture can ‘keep doors open’ until the relations improve. For example, when the UK-Iran bilateral relations were strained due to the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005, British cultural institutions were able to continue operating in Iran, the British Council appeared to be more trustful on the part of Iran rather than the BBC, and thereby keeping open doors between the two countries. As one former British diplomat in Iranput it “our cultural institutions certainly have more access to the wheels of power than the UK’s ambassador does at the moment” (Bound, Briggs, Holden and Jones, 2007, p. 55).

Recognising the importance of cultural diplomacy, many countries aim to advance and extend their cultural institutions abroad as part of their diplomatic strategies.India, for example, is setting up its Council for Cultural Relations in Washington and Paris alongside the 18 existing offices as a strategic project of the country’s growing power on the global stage. Similarly, France has around 436 overseas cultural institutes, of which 283 are the Alliances Francaises focusing on promoting French language and culture to the world, with most of the cultural diplomacy activities funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (France Diplomatie, 2005).

In summary, cultural diplomacy is an important aspect of foreign policy, which contributes effectively to the dynamic integration and relationship-building among states and their cultures. (by on March 4, 201)

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