PORT MORESBY - Later this year, Papua New Guinea will host the APEC leaders’ summit, a platform which government officials are will showcase PNG.
In recent times we have seen a flurry of events staged including sporting carnivals, multilateral summits and regional cultural festivals and are now accustomed to the argument that such occasions are necessary to display our country to the world.
But really how effective are they as methods of conducting diplomacy? What criteria are used to assess their outcomes? For instance, do they make more positive the attitudes and behaviour of foreigners towards PNG?
PNG bankrolls the staging of these events in the hope of demonstrating its offerings to the world. But another important avenue are public diplomacy initiatives.
Well targeted public diplomacy can be a cost-effective alternative to expensive public occasions. And it seems that the practice of public diplomacy is not very well understood by Papua New Guinean officials.
PNG currently does not have any coherent guide itself to what its global audience might be. In the absence of this kind of information, it stages events that are hard to measure against clearly stated objectives and hard to quantify in terms of their true effectiveness.
This year’s APEC summit could be used to initiate a comprehensive review of how PNG conducts its diplomacy in general and, more specifically, how it established its public diplomacy priorities.
The aim of public diplomacy is to positively communicate a country’s image to a foreign audience using a variety of communication tools. It is intended to build relationships: understand the needs of other countries, cultures and peoples; communicate our own points of view; correct misperceptions; and look for areas where we can find common cause.
It is concerned with a “nation’s influence on the international stage and its image in the mind of international stakeholders”.
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans once said, “the images which others carry of us influence their attitudes towards us – not in a general sense but also with regard to our security requirements, to our goods and services, to our appeal as a place to invest in, to migrate to, to visit and so on”.
Public diplomacy is relevant to PNG because, in certain sections of the global community, we are still associated with cannibalism, lawlessness, sorcery-related killings, corruption and other negative connotations.
These days, modern technology ensures that whatever transpires within the borders of PNG is quickly impressed on the minds of foreigners. And often these impressions are not positive.
According to a 2014 report, PNG has one of the lowest ratios of tourist revenue to GDP in the world. As well as income, this also denies us opportunities to learn about the global community and the global community to learn about us.
Most foreign affairs ministries use internet technology to make their countries accessible to a global audience. Public diplomacy requires internet savvy. It can be argued that PNG’s official internet-based communication platforms need improvement.
PNG’s foreign affairs department should use web-based communication for practical activities such as data gathering or engaging with foreign audiences on foreign policy positions or global issues.
Currently PNG lacks the most basic baseline data in understanding our reputation and credibility globally. So we rely on hosting events to showcase the country in the hope that people will like and respect us.
But knowing precisely one’s target audience matters if we are to be serious about influencing global perceptions.
More importantly, PNG must not be constrained by its smallness in the international system. In public diplomacy, there are major contributions by small states in ideas, knowledge and innovation.
Small states like Estonia punch above their weight in contributing global public goods. The Estonian government has created a national brand around the idea of innovation and technological improvement. This is the niche that defines Estonia as much more important than its size might suggest.
Currently there is an emphasis on how global sustainable development goals can be achieved by signatory states. PNG has the ability to initiate initiatives on climate change, ocean management, forestry conservation and cultural resources. These could be PNG’s niche in global cooperation and an area for the conduct of public diplomacy.
A practical way to promote PNG would be through facilitating the work of non-government organisations establishing knowledge hubs, biological resource centres and other facilities for scientific research.
Research and scientific hubs are now preferred means of information-sharing. Resource-driven economies such as Norway and Botswana are transitioning from exporting natural resources to preparing human capital for an innovation and knowledge-driven economy. Qatar is investing in education and research and promoting educational hubs as the best medium for cross-cultural dialogue and understanding.
These are just a few cases of how public diplomacy can exercise a transformative affect on even the smallest countries.
If small states are lacking traditional measures of power, the ideas and values they promote on the global stage can still elevate their influence and stature.
It is not beyond us.
Patrick Kaiku is a teaching fellow in the Political Science Department at the University of Papua New Guinea