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M. Lama: Address to Peace Summit 2023, Session VII-B

Address to Peace Summit 2023
May 2-5, 2023


The end of the Cold War, intensification of globalization, emergence of new global players highlighting “Asianism” and deep inroads that have been made by innovation-led popular communication technologies are the salient undercurrents.

International relations are no longer anarchy-driven and led by dominant military states, as propounded by the realist school of thought. Simmering tensions that have gripped the Bretton Woods institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund; the increasing limits and inefficacy of the United Nations to negotiate, intervene and build confidence to restore peace and order in various conflicts; the marginalization of the  basic principles with which the present day World Trade Organization (WTO) was established; and the setting up of parallel institutions, like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, have given a new twist to the liberal school’s viewpoint that international relations are essentially market centric.

What is becoming pertinent is what the constructivist school vociferously advocates: the issue of identity and interest as the core intent in the interactive matrices of two or more countries. At the same time, there are the indicators and behavior of states, which can never be captured and explained by what we read in standard textbooks of theories. For instance, no theory would be able to capture the nuances of borderland-based cross border relations between India, with its variety of borders, and its neighboring countries. [While there is an] open and porous border with Bhutan and Nepal, how do we theoretically account for the five different aspects of the 4,086-kilometer border between India and Bangladesh: the bazaar-based, riverine frontier-based, barbed wire- and fence-based, Channawalas and Jhalmuriwala (snack sellers)-based and land customs-based. India’s bilateral treaties like that signed in 1950 with Nepal and in 1949 with Bhutan have worked pretty smoothly in maintaining open borders, whereas its 1,600 plus-kilometer border with Myanmar remains largely porous and unregulated. India’s borders with Pakistan and China have been a major reason of its conflicts with these two countries in the west and the north. 

As international relations courses started taking newer routes, their interpretations too started acquiring innovative terminologies. We moved from borders as geometric lines to hard and soft borders, from the discourse of meeting basic needs to human security, from key economic indicators to human development indices; and planning and development to sustainable development goals. Traditional government-to-government diplomacy then mutated into public diplomacy and national power renegotiated into military and soft power. David Ricardo’s classical “comparative advantage” is today the “core competence” explained by C.K. Prahlad and Garry Hamel in Harvard Business Review.  In moving towards these new popular jargons, we tend to ignore the fact that the core values and fundamental principles of all these practices actually always existed in this form or in that design. For instance, it is not that the non-state actors were never active in international relations, but what is new is the reinterpretation of the role of these non-state actors.

Rabindranath Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana was adopted as the Indian national anthem and his poem Aamar Sonar Bangla was made the national anthem of Bangladesh. Tagore had a visible influence on his student Ananda Samarakoon at Visva-Bharati University, who later composed Sri Lanka’s national anthem Sri Lanka Matha.  Ambar Gurung, an Indian Gorkha from Darjeeling, shifted his base to Nepal and composed the music for Nepal’s national anthem Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka Hami.  All three of them were perfect and effective instruments of what we call today public diplomacy and soft power. The immeasurable influence of non-state actors in India’s diplomacy happened outside the tight frame of orthodox state-to-state diplomacy. However, in terms of India’s huge and penetrative traditional bastions of cultural panorama, these acts were no new normal.

This, in fact, has been the core of Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon and Dr. Hak Ja Moon’s consistent initiative and strive to imbibe and nurture a culture of peace and tranquility at the local and global levels. As sagacious and courageous non-state actors, both of them have protractedly and doggedly propagated the value of peace and have spread the message of the beauty of peaceful living and established the charm of collective coexistence in conflict afflicted countries like Nepal and Sudan, in cultural ecologies that have witnessed disruptions in democratic values like Myanmar and China, and in accomplished countries where families are getting fragmented and societies scattered like the U.S. and Brazil.  Their instruments of negotiation have been intense persuasive powers, their last unit of addressing points has been the family, and their institutional tools have been the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), which attracts [everyone, from] a worker in a remote and deprived village to national and global leaders and mobilizes a widow from the death traps of a conflict zone to the most revered religious leaders.

Therefore, when celebrated scholar Joseph Nye introduced the concept of soft power in his book, “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power,” he, in fact, gave reincarnation to the already existing visible and intangible practices used by various nations to achieve their national interest goals and solidify their national power. What was new in Nye’s idea are the conceptual expressions like “the ability to obtain preferred outcomes through attraction rather than coercion or payments” and “soft power [is] the power associated with attracting others and getting them ‘to want what you want’.”  Yes, we reassert that hard power involves an exorbitant price at the cost of development, its destruction capacity is very extensive and intensive, and its very intent is to damage and destroy self-existence. Whereas in the advocacy of soft power, the very intent is to create, harmonize and coexist.

In the conduct of diplomacy, nations draw from their intangible heritage and tend to use “culture as a wild card” and as a “navigational compass.” Japan steadily moved from a geo-political to geo-economic framework and finally to what we call in Sanskrit Tesro Aayam, the third dimension, that is, geo-civilization or geo-culture. However, India started with geo-culture as the very first dimension and comparative advantage and tried not to accept the American and Soviet practice of “net security provider” in its initial diplomatic history. That is why our mythologies, scientific feats and knowledge heritage pervaded a significant part of the world. And that is why for so many decades in its post-independence period, India triggered the principle of peaceful coexistence and non-alignment remained the dominant idea and discourse in most third world countries.

Today, Indians can take pride in the fact that during the 1950s to 1980s, India actually shaped global opinion on North-South negotiations through institutions like Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Group of 77 (G-77) and UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). It galvanized the Global South, which facilitated the submission of the Pearson Commission Report in 1969, the Brandt Commission Report in 1980, and the resolution of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) in the UN General Assembly in 1973. Its presidency of the Group of 20 (G-20) today is an open confirmation that it continues to remain a peace builder, a strong actor in bridging North-South gaps and differences, and a cogent player in democratic practices.

Replication of Violence

Soft power has its own flow; we never know where it strikes the most. Everybody wonders how the eruption of an essentially people-centric conflict to bring substantial transformation in the traditional social structure, political composition and economic orientation of Nepal came to be known as a “Maoist movement.” This movement was one of the most violent movements during 1996 to 2006. Everyone also wonders how Mao figured in villages and societies of Nepal, particularly when the literacy rate in this essentially inward-looking country in the 1960s and 1970s was so low. Possibly very few would know about Mao. Why a Maoist movement, and not a Leninist, Marxist or even Fidel Castro-like one? It possibly has its partial origin in Chinese aid projects—road, irrigation, power and industry, and social projects—that were carried out in Nepal in the 1960s and 1970s. 

China wanted to influence Nepal ideologically. My own study showed that Chinese aid project teams lived a very frugal life and used local raw materials and workers. However, in some of the remotest parts of Nepal where some projects were, the project team would distribute lapel pins with an image of Mao on them. This introduced simple Nepalese folks to Mao, who was leading the Cultural Revolution in China then, from 1966 to 1976.

In the case of the foreign economic assistance China provided to Nepal in the 1960s and 1970s, no one would have imagined the impact economic assistance would have as a soft power instrument in this manner. The account of Kanu Sanyal, the famous Naxal leader, and his three friends Khokhon, Khudan and Deepak, secretly traveling to China via Kathmandu and Tibet to meet Mao Tse Tung and Chow en Lai in Peking in October 1967 is simply fascinating.

The use of symbols as soft power instruments has been a crucial aspect of global diplomacy. Images of Yankee Americans or Uncle Sam, the Russian Bear, the Chinese Dragon, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Tigers, the Indian Elephant, Kabuki, Coke, and KFC have mesmerized [people] globally. Korean, Chinese and Japanese diplomacy is full of symbols and brand names. My encounters with various symbols and objects in the famous Jianchuan Museum in Chengdu, China took me back to what I found in my Nepal-China study. The Chinese “official seal” guangfang is a symbol of power.

During the Cultural Revolution, besides a variety of seals like the “Seal of Revolutionary Committee” consisting of mass, cadre and army representatives, calligraphy was used extensively and clocks,  mirrors, badges, mugs, plates, bowls, sculptures, tea pots, jars, vats, plaques and new China porcelain were made and  used for propaganda. Every mirror and clock I saw in a household had on them a poem and message of “Chairman Mao” and that of grand historical events like Sino-Soviet friendship, the Great Leap Forward and war to resist U.S. aggression. All of these quietly became the critical aspects of soft power that China used in its global reach and influence.

International Migrants: Subtle Means of Global Harmony

International migration has emerged as a major soft power instrument. Today, India and China are the countries that receive the highest remittances in the world, more than $90 billion each year. In 2022, Indian migrants numbered 32 million, and Chinese, 50 million. The migrants from India and China compete in the world. For example, in the U.S., Chinese migrants make up 21 percent of all migrants, while Indian migrants make up 20 percent. In Australia, 29 percent of migrants are Indian and 21 percent are Chinese, and in Canada, 27 percent of migrants are Chinese and 24 percent are Indian. However, in Japan, 41 percent of migrants are Chinese, whereas Indian migrants comprise a very small share.

Both these countries are seeking a much more liberal migration regime under the Demand for Temporary Movement of Natural Persons (TMNP-Mode 4) of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) under the WTO. They are also fighting against the increasing securitization of migrants in the Global North. The five destinations where 87 percent of migrants of both countries go to are Western Europe, North America, Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Oceania and developed East and Southeast Asia.

India and China have gained in terms of a reduction in domestic unemployment, skill acquisition of its population, technological and social change, and reduced pressure on their lands. The national exchequer gains through private transfers. Migrant remittances have become a powerful source of capital and support for millions of households, with direct impact on poverty reduction.

Migrants and diasporas are considered potential agents of development, contributing to human, social and economic development through investment, remittances, expenditure on goods, entrepreneurial activities and the application in their home country of newly developed skills and newly acquired knowledge and technology. In the initial years of China’s economic reforms, 70 percent of the foreign direction investment (FDI) in China came from the Chinese diaspora. The migrant population is an important source of demand for home country products, and for India, this is wherever there are sizeable Indian communities. Even during the very initial phase of Indian migration to the Middle East, India’s exports of food, beverages and tobacco to these countries increased from about 20 percent per year during 1976 to 1977 to close to 50 percent per year during 1984 to 1985.

Migrants have also made huge contributions in their destination or host countries. Of all the patents that were filed in U.S. in 2015, over 50 percent were held by foreign nationals. At least one immigrant was the co-founder of half of the 1 billion or more startups (unicorns) like Uber, Space X, M4 Sigma, Cloudea and We Work. These are the quiet yet huge wonders of soft power instruments.

The Heritage Angle

Chinese President Xi Jinping,  while invoking ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu in his address in Berlin in 2014, stated that “a big country should be like the lower reaches of a means that a big country should be as inclusive as the lower reaches of a river that admit numerous tributaries. China is eager to strengthen dialogue and exchange of views with the rest of the world and listen to the voices of other countries with an open and inclusive mind.”

India is endowed with an unparalleled basket of cultural, social and intellectual treasures. No country has as many choices that can be adopted in the world as a constituent of diplomacy. Explorers, travelers, scholars and pilgrims were always flabbergasted by its richness and variety: slow food of northeast India, the traditional medicinal systems of the Himalayas, naturopathy and folk traditions of tribes exist side-by-side with the Garba of Gujarat and Bhangra of Punja, Ramayana and Sufi poems and hilsha fish of Bengal, coconut chutney of Kerala and bindalu curry of Goa and kushti of Haryana and dhanukad of Arunachal Pradesh. We have what multi-cultural scholar Geert Hofstede called “culture one” and “culture two” to compete with the war of ideas that erupt in international politics. We have evolved a pretty intense sense of what Francis Fukuyama calls “the sociability of culture or social trust” and “the level of trust inherent in the society” in his book “Trust: Social Virtue and Creation of Prosperity”.

What we have not done is to re-emphasize, reorient and reposition our institutions. Like the U.S., UK and China, the conduct of our foreign affairs should be more inclusive with diverse partners drawn from academia, the private sector, civil society, media and other non-state actors. Given the geography of India where 15 out of 29 states have an international border, the changing character of its neighbouring countries, and the presence of a multiplicity of players, we must rethink and reorganize the design and practice of our Delhi-centric foreign policy.

Music and Food

There are some quick ways of deploying soft power. How do you stop Russian expansionism to Asia, and how do you thwart Chinese influence? The British India government had this serious geo-strategic challenge in the entire Himalayan region. The stumbling block was religion. Christianity of the British India government and Buddhism in Tibet were two strikingly different faiths, beliefs and value systems. How do you reconcile this? In an effort to enter into Tibet, they first used coercive tactics like the famous Younghusband Mission in 1903. However, it was just necessary, but not sufficient. Therefore, they supplied modern gadgets, such as ham radios, wrist watches, hunting guns, parker pens, binoculars and cameras to attract the Tibetan elites. For the first time, Tibet, an essentially orthodox society, witnessed football and cricket games being popular.

In public diplomacy, the most potent instrument has been to highlight connectedness. This is invariably done through cinema, radio, teleseries—such as soap operas—and singers like BTS of Korea, religious practices, knowledge sharing and even science and technology. India had a range of foreign languages broadcast. Today, the Chinese broadcast pervades the entire Himalayan region and world with the message of “peaceful rise” (hepingjueqi). The Chinese people know India more through Amir Khan’s “Three idiots,” “PK” and “Dangal,” yoga and Ayurveda. Amir Khan and also Bahubali have earned millions for India, and the Vietnamese through teleseries such as “Balika Badhu.” When Pratyusha Banerjee, the actress who played the lead role of Anandi passed away, all of Vietnam offered their condolences. Korean teleseries like “Winter Sonata” became the favorite of almost every household in Japan, and its kimchi and K-pop are the craze in our Northeast region. Japan’s NHK provides “web-based news service in 18 languages, from Arabic to Vietnamese” containing downloadable video clips and podcasts.



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