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People Diplomacy in East Asia and Europe

“The ideas from society should be heard in order to narrow the gap between government and the people”. These words from Kwagjin Choi, Korean diplomat and co-architect of South Korea’s People Diplomacy sum up why, in the view of this guest speaker at ISGA, foreign ministries should pay much more attention to their domestic public. The best ideas should find their way to policy-making.

In his interactive lecture for a mixed group of academics, diplomats and graduate students with the courage to take a break from thesis writing, Choi clarified that paying attention to home publics in diplomacy may seem odd, but has a long tradition in East Asian culture, including Japan, China, and indeed South Korea.

Against the political backdrop of the Korean international controversies, as well as Park’s impeachment in 2017, domestic engagement has become a priority in Korean diplomacy and foreign policy. In the ensuing discussion chaired by Jan Melissen, ISGA Senior Fellow and Editor-in-Chief of The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, Choi however argued that this is a much broader development. For instance, Brexit has made it clear for all to see what kind of a dramatic impact the electorate can have on domestic society and the country’s foreign relations.

New diplomatic trend

Choi’s key takeaway gleaned from the most recent diplomatic evolution is the persistent emergence and incessant enlargement of the people’s power. He stressed the necessity to write a book that will review how ‘people power’ has unfolded historically and ideographically. People diplomacy, as Choi suggested at ISGA, can be seen as a new diplomatic trend. It aims to facilitate increased engagement in the process of developing new foreign policy by way of collecting the people’s opinions with digital tools. Most importantly, though, people diplomacy provides creative platforms for the people’s participation in various diplomatic processes.

Choi is contemplating on writing a book on the subject that does not stop at the Korean experience. In a lively discussion at ISGA, important contrasts surfaced between the wider public’s interests in foreign policy issues in Korea and Europe. Searching questions from Dutch government officials and students made clear that cross-cultural learning in diplomacy is a two-way street.

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