Since 2009, Vietnam has turned its attention to developing a program of activities that its government defines as “cultural diplomacy” and considers an important strategy supporting the country’s regional and global ambitions.
The program, which is integrated with the nation’s economic and political mechanisms, has identified cultural diplomacy as the most important method of building meaningful international relationships based on mutual understanding.
Hence, cultural diplomacy is ostensibly the driving force in the strategic shift of national ambitions and priorities: from “want to befriend” to “search for friends and reliable partners” to an aspiration for Vietnam to be a “responsible member of the international community.”
The Vietnamese government is confident that this shift demonstrates its ambitions to engage more with the world and to participate in regional and international affairs; and the structural arrangements of Vietnam’s foreign policy – at the levels of both decision-making and implementation – are designed to help realize these aspirations, Gary D. Rawnsley, Professor of Public Diplomacy at Aberystwyth University, and Hanoi-based researcher Chi Ngac said in a research.
Vietnam’s then Ambassador to the UK and Ireland Vu Quang Minh said in an interview in 2012 that the country “does not focus exclusively on the ambition to use its culture to influence and dominate publics abroad, but it prefers to enhance mutual understanding, trust and relationship-building.”
The much-used and broad description claims cultural diplomacy is “the exchange of ideas, information, art and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding.”
So it is worth remembering that cultural diplomacy must serve two masters: it helps promote national interests and it must encourage mutual understanding, tolerance, respect, trust and the existence of shared interests.
In fact, cultural diplomacy is by its very nature an instrumentalist method of conducting foreign relations and by focusing on the instruments of soft power – cultural products.
Vietnam’s cultural diplomacy resonates more with audiences in Asia than in the rest of the world; and this may demonstrate that geographical and cultural proximity – with shared values (especially Confucianism), histories and interests – help identify what might be shared culturally to advance the relationship between neighbors.
This also reflects Vietnam’s commitment to learning from its neighbors and absorbing the way they conduct cultural relations, and Japan has been a particular inspiration.
Deputy Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son affirmed that cultural diplomacy is the central pillar that is most useful for building mutual understanding with other countries and for developing meaningful relationships; it is the fulcrum of Vietnam’s “comprehensive and modern diplomacy.”
This indicates that the government clearly recognizes the potential of cultural diplomacy in furthering Vietnam’s foreign policy agenda.
The Vietnamese government has identified five areas that require a commitment to cultural diplomacy:
(1) Establishing relations with countries that do not yet enjoy formal links with Vietnam
(2) Consolidating existing relationships and facilitating mutual understanding
(3) Projecting Vietnam’s image to the international community
(4) Associating Vietnam’s cultural heritage with UNESCO
(5) Recognizing how Vietnam’s culture may absorb the “essence” of other countries.
Moreover, the same document describes how cultural diplomacy can help preserve Vietnam’s national security and connect with both the domestic constituency and the Vietnamese diaspora to nurture a sense of national identity. These are characteristics that Vietnam shares with its Asian neighbors
So Vietnam, like other regional actors, is confident that the projection of, and engagement in cultural activities will have strong and positive consequences at home and abroad – that the intangibles of cultural engagement can be converted into tangible political and economic benefits; and this is captured in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ strategy on cultural diplomacy through 2020.
Strongly stepping up cultural diplomatic activities is aimed to make the world better understand the Vietnamese land, people and culture, further building confidence of other countries and making relations between Vietnam and its partners more profound, stable and lasting.
Cultural diplomatic activities will also contribute to absorbing the cultural quintessence of mankind, enriching and deepening the national traditional cultural values.
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