Of course, public diplomacy is, in reality, no other than legitimate propaganda based on the truth, credibility and honesty. In the case of Nepal, which does not have any hard power worth the name, public diplomacy carries a significant value in promoting its national interest and building up an image of a responsible member in the international community
Apparently, public diplomacy makes journey beyond the limit of conventional diplomacy. Experts reckon that public diplomacy encompasses the ambit of interaction and cultivation with private groupings and private entities in the country of accreditation.
Its prime objective is to reflect the true image of the country abroad and, in the meantime, to gain favourable opinion of the people and influential private organisations of the foreign country, which, in turn, could make a benign impression on their government.
In recent years, the popularity of public diplomacy has been gaining traction perceptibly. The West, especially the United States, is responsible for its steady evolution since the early sixties of the past century.
The term notably got its cognizance in 1965. This author recalls how former U.S. President John Kennedy had launched the program of the Peace Corps as part of its public diplomacy during his administration, albeit the termis not formally used. The author happened to be a student of Bachelor of Arts at Trichandra College in 1963/64. A U.S. political science lecturer, as a member of the U.S. Peace Corps, was assigned to Nepal to teach the U.S. Constitution to the students here. The primary objective was to enhance the image and influence of the United States in Third World countries by repelling misconception about the U.S. government's behaviour in the young generation in Third World countries.
Consequently, the junior Bush administration boosted the re-activated launch of public diplomacy after the devastating effects of 9/11 of 2001 when al Qaida attacked the United States, particularly in Washington and New York.
Although U.S. public diplomacy is mainly conducted to win favourable opinions in the Muslim world and the Middle East, it has now become a normal conduit of keeping foreign people informed about policies and strategic objectives, not only by the United States, but also by other nations.
Of course, public diplomacy is, in reality, no other than legitimate propaganda based on the truth, credibility and honesty. It is also a strategic tool to use soft power for diplomatic activities. In the case of Nepal, which does not have any hard power worth the name, public diplomacy carries a significant value in promoting its national interest and building up an abiding image of a well-behaving and responsible member in the international community. Its tactful and strategic use could be helpful in enhancing bilateral relations and also facilitating a creative role in regional and multilateral forums. Inherently, the deft handling of public diplomacy demands some explicit skills and quality from envoys. A convincing communication skill equipped with good public relations ability would exponentially serve the desired purpose in a foreign ambience and foreign culture.
An extrovert nature with a polite and friendly behaviour is another virtue to win the hearts and minds of the people even in an exotic environment. Good knowledge about the local culture and social behaviours would enormously help them in their endeavour. It would also be better if they are proficient in the local language, while tactful media handling would assume an added advantage.
To perform all that, envoys need to be well equipped with the facts and figures to strongly object to contradictory and harmful news items. Cocooned in the narrow walls of the office room and tied to the office desk would not help the envoys to efficiently conduct public diplomacy.
Agility and legerity are essentially needed to perform the businesses of public diplomacy.
Surprisingly though, the outbreak of COVID-19 has brought circumstantial change in the diplomatic dealings of national societies and international behaviour as well. During the entire year of 2020 and until the first half of 2021, the pandemic virus heavily struck down the social cohesion and international diplomatic dealings.
It is now felt that engaging in public diplomacy is difficult and not simple to handle with ease, heralding a baffled situation to conduct delicate and sensitive diplomatic businesses.
More so, handling public diplomacy demands a well-crafted and proactive approach. Experts point out that "relationshipbuilding has always been a cornerstone of public diplomacy".
True, in the private domain, they suggest that envoys need to think about a network view with a holistic approach by considering and attending to how relationship (in private sphere) influences change and evolution of other relationships (at the official level). That could empower and enable envoys to make productive conduct of public diplomacy.
Evidently, COVID-19 has indeed pushed back the usual public diplomacy to the backburner. Instead, digital diplomacy has advanced irreversibly. Hence, there are suggestions that an integrative conduct of onsite and online diplomacy should move together to effectively and successfully cope with the pandemic-pounded situation.
Furthermore, state-tostate diplomacy concentrated in the hands of the central authorities should make a distinct shift to the sub-state and municipal levels also by giving more space to those agencies other than the central authorities, thus making public diplomacy centrifugal.
That, in turn, would facilitate the conduct of public diplomacy in a decentralised and broader manner.
Finally, it is logically argued that envoys engaged in public diplomacy should own in person legerdemain (display of new skills) to marshal it in turbulent times with dexterity and versatility.
Truly, envoys should exhibit their intrinsic quality to refute the comment of former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who provocatively remarked at the Versailles Palace Peace conference in France in 1919that "diplomats were invented simply to waste time". Will Nepal's envoys go a step forward to animate public diplomacy in troubled times?
A version of this article appears in the print on June 29 2021, of The Himalayan Times.