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Citizens central part of diplomacy

‘Ordinary citizens’ are featuring more prominently in foreign policies which has already resulted in some unexpected outcomes such as Brexit. Jan Melissen, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA) conducts research into the societisation of diplomacy. He is interested in innovations in diplomacy in Europe and East Asia, and has pitted himself against Eurocentrism. On this topic, he believes, we can learn a lot from the ongoing debate in South Korea. As a result of the presidential crisis in 2016-17, social engagement has become a vital part of their international policy.

The Korean diplomat Kwang-Jin Choi will be a guest at ISGA next week, only a stone’s throw away from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Melissen met Choi in Seoul during his stay as Visiting Scholar at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP), a Korean think tank, in 2018. Choi is the founder of the new People Diplomacy Centre at the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an experiment in ‘people-centred diplomacy’ which is also of interest to politicians and policy makers in the Netherlands. Choi’s lecture at ISGA will provide an unique opportunity to learn from the methods and experiences in Korea.

Wider trend

What is happening in South Korea is part of a wider trend: diplomacy has historically always been associated with maintaining relations with foreign countries, but nowadays the interior is crying out for attention. That attention is also being provided by those who are increasingly framing ‘all things foreign’ as a threat to their own constituencies. The American President Trump, for example, only recently withdrew his support for the UN Arms Trade Treaty during his speech at the annual meeting of the influential American National Rifle Association. One of the most prominently featured topics during the election debates prior to the provincial council elections in the Netherlands was the unwanted foreign pressure, in the form of ‘Brussels’ or the refugee crisis in Europe.

Political support

Dutch diplomacy is more dependent on its own society than ever before and is more willing to participate in debates while looking for knowledge and support. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is increasingly making an effort to justify its diplomacy, because political support in the Netherlands for an internationally oriented approach is no longer self-evident. The work of diplomat Choi and his colleagues shows how South Korea is tackling the challenges put forward by its own society and the questions that are raised about the relationship between government and civilians.

The Hague diplomacy

Melissen stresses the importance of diplomacy as a civilising influence during turbulent times and as a contributor to international stability and mutual understanding. Peace and Justice – The Hague’s city motto – do not stand a chance without diplomacy. This makes The Hague the logical destination for Melissen’s interests and for students from all over the world who come to our city to enrol in ISGA’s Master’s programme ‘International Relations and Diplomacy’. Melissen also works for the Clingendael Institute and is the founder of the ‘The Hague Journal of Diplomacy’, which will be celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2020.

Kwang-jin Choi

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