THE GENRON NPO FORUMWhat role can civil diplomacy play
in maintaining the international order?

June 12, 2016


Jian Jay Wang
Director, USC Center on Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California

Thomas A. Hollihan
Professor, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, University of Southern California

Seiichi Kondo
Director, Kondo Institute for Culture & Diplomacy,
Former Commissioner, Agency for Cultural Affairs

Yasushi Kudo
President, The Genron NPO
Yasushi Watanabe
Professor, Shonan Fujisawa Campus, Keio University

The Genron NPO co-hosted a forum in Tokyo on June 8 in conjunction with Keio University SFC Research Center. The theme was, "The Destabilization of International Order and the Role of Civil Diplomacy." The forum was made possible through the support of the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.

Four panelists took to the stage to engage in discussion on the diplomatic role of non-state actors and stakeholders, and on how civil diplomacy can contribute to achieving peace worldwide with a focus on Northeast Asia. They were Jian Jay Wang, director of the University of Southern California's (USC) Center on Public Diplomacy, and Thomas A. Hollihan, professor at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, USC, from the American side, and Seiichi Kondo, director of the Kondo Institute for Culture & Diplomacy and formerly Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, and Yasushi Kudo, president of The Genron NPO from the Japanese side.

The forum, as described by Genron NPO President Yasushi Kudo during his introduction, was the second part of a series on similar subjects - a continuation of the March conference during which experts gathered to discuss new challenges to the international order - and Kudo expressed his excitement at being able to take part as a panelist.

Moderator Yasushi Watanabe, a professor of Keio University's Shonan Fujisawa Campus, posed the first question to the panel: what roles can non-state actors and stakeholders play?

Kudo responded first with a brief description of the work that The Genron NPO does and the reason why the organization was founded.

Kudo explained the dilemma that governments face when conducting diplomacy. Governments must protect sovereignty, but pushing too hard can influence public opinion and reduce the effectiveness of diplomatic efforts. He noted that in Japan-China relations, violence has threatened to break out numerous times in recent years, and the government was powerless to do anything. It was in that environment that The Genron NPO created the Tokyo-Beijing Forum to provide a new channel for dialogue between Japan and China that could influence the public in a positive way.

When the first Tokyo-Beijing forum was launched in 2005, there had already been a number of anti-Japan demonstrations in China. The Tokyo-Beijing Forum was designed to serve as a new form of dialogue as government dialogue had been subject to stops and starts that reduced its effectiveness. That dialogue has continued, Kudo added, gathering hundreds of experts together for public dialogue and China's state television and Japanese media now offer good coverage.

Kudo explained why the dialogue is necessary.

"We believe opinions are important," he said. "Opinions that provide solutions have a positive influence, and require people to talk about different ideas. Our Korean colleagues call it 'media diplomacy'. Our Chinese colleagues describe it as 'solution-based diplomacy'. Perhaps it is simpler another form of "Track II diplomacy." Regardless, we wanted our dialogue to be open, on the net and available to anyone; otherwise it wouldn't have a positive effect on government diplomatic efforts. Diplomatic jargon puts the government under constraint, and we didn't want to be bound by such constraints. We represent the people, and since people don't want war, we speak for them. We are aiming for diplomacy at the civil level that is responsible, not emotional."

Jian Jay Wang, director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, described how the definition of public diplomacy has evolved. Many definitions now exist, and to Wang, this is a positive thing. The number of actors who are involved is "prompting the redefinition of the spaces of this area of great importance to global peace."

"Diplomacy today involves more than just governments," Wang said. "Government attitudes and actions have a big impact, but many other actors are part of the process now."

According to Wang, the goals remain the same as before - positive communication, shared understanding and meaning - but now different actors, such as NGOs, cities, the academic community and the private sector, can be more effective in certain areas.

The second thing that has changed is the lack of credibility and a perceived "capacity gap" in government. Wang believes that governments are no longer viewed as credible communicators, even when they have credible information, and they do not have the know-how that other actors have to reach the public in effective manner.

"Our challenge as researchers," Wang continued, "Because the phenomenon is unfolding, is to discover the mechanisms that have an impact. Broadly speaking, non-state actors have three roles: cultivate mutual understanding, cultivate empathy, and find shared meaning."

Seiichi Kondo, director of the Kondo Institute for Culture & Diplomacy, sees public diplomacy as a relatively new concept. It was born after World War II. As new nations were born, people gained their freedom, incomes and populations rose, and more voters had more access to information and could share their opinions.

Kondo believes that governments are naturally an important part of state-to-state relationships, but non-state actors also play an important role. Historically speaking, states controlled everything, but their share control has shrunk as more organizations and individuals have begun to take part.

Kondo asked the panel whether non-state actors can really make a contribution to peace, and explained that to him, it depends on the legitimacy of the non-state actor.

"The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is an example of a non-state actor with a negative influence, but how do we choose only 'good' non-state actors? Do 'bad' ones get in the way?" Kondo explained. "We have to carefully consider which NPOs to promote. Otherwise, we might promote more populist theories or organizations aiming to increase the power of smaller groups of people."

Thomas A. Hollihan, professor at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at USC, noted that achieving responsible diplomacy rather than emotional diplomacy - something Kudo mentioned - is impossible. Humans are "story-telling animals," and our stories "construct our place in the world." They are naturally emotional, and that emotion is required in order for us to cultivate empathy, an emotional response that transcends an argument from the natural interest of tribe or nation, he said.

For the second question of the evening, Watanabe asked the panel what civil diplomacy can do to contribute to setting an agenda for peace.

Kudo was again the first to respond. He described how civil diplomacy conducted by The Genron NPO helped to illuminate some of the issues at hand.

"We saw difference between how Japanese people and Chinese people think," he said. "Polls showed that 60 percent of Chinese thought that Japan was expansionist country, and very few Chinese people thought that there was any sort of freedom of the press in Japan. Very few Japanese think Japan is expansionist. I asked myself why, and realized that we simply do not know each other very well."

Kudo described how the government policy of conducting diplomacy behind closed doors is due to their fear of public opinion, and then expanded on that idea.

"How can we realign to the new dynamic?" he asked. "Even if it's impossible, we have one thing in common between all of us. Across China, South Korea and Japan, people want peace and economic development. Non-state actors must leverage these common values and set an agenda that will help break down the diplomatic stalemate."

Kudo added that it is imperative for non-state actors to win broader support from the public in order to legitimize what they do.

Hollihan noted that there are some obstacles to overcome in exposing people to different ideas. In the past, people read news written by a limited number of people all of whom were exercising editorial judgement. However, now people can set their browsers to give them only the news that reinforces their beliefs. To Hollihan, dialogue is only important if people have the agency to deliberate upon different opinions.

Watanabe asked Wang and Hollihan their opinions regarding diversity of public opinion in China.

Hollihan pointed out that people in every country learn the "government line." Children in the United States learn that the U.S. is "founded upon freedom," but they don't learn about less noble events like those surrounding the Jamestown colony. He noted that the Japanese government shapes textbook policy, too. In China, history books emphasize the country's rich traditions and culture, and then looks at the humiliations suffered at the hands of the Western powers during the Opium Wars, and at the hands of Japan during the 1930s and 1940s.

"Opinions reflect that," he continued. "History dictates the present and affects the future. Public opinion is dynamic, but people aren't blank slates - they read things in light of what they already believe. It's much easier to return to the beliefs you already have than to challenge what you believe," he acknowledged.

Regarding the recent developments in the South China Sea, Hollihan suggested that perhaps the nations should back away from extreme positions, set aside sovereignty, and perhaps set up rules of engagement for the area instead. This would allow them to protect their assertions without increasing the risk of conflict, he said.

Wang followed up on this point.

"Many of us who visit China frequently are surprised to find the range of opinions. The key issue still is that Chinese society has gone through so much so quickly, that China hasn't been able to take a breath and say, 'What is its international identity, what is our role?"

Wang stated that it is "very important for the world to engage China." China's international identity is being shaped today, and how China sees itself now will determine what sort of the world we will have in 2050 - politically, economically and culturally.

Kudo warned that in the United States, Europe, and Japan, populist trends are beginning to overwhelm the dialogue offered by intellectuals and journalists. "Intellectuals should recognize," he said, "that one of their duties is to preserve democracy."

Toward the end of the forum, Watanabe called for questions from the audience.

One of the questions posed was about the influence of social media, which is a hotbed of extremism.

Kondo responded by stating that whereas the extremist comments make up 90 percent of social media statements now, if regular people become more active on social media, they will be able to make those more vicious comments seem less important.

"This is something the government cannot do. Citizens must do it," he said.

Wang commented that while social media is being utilized for ill deeds now, "when you think more broadly, I think it can play a positive role. I'm not so worried about the extreme views. Social media is maturing."

Hollihan responded that social media can radicalize people through message reinforcement, but it's also empowering in a way.

"Some data says that the Arab Spring was influenced because people could look on Google Maps," he said. "(The protestors could) see how rich the connected people were, and then share that information on social media. It's a potential negative, but also creates agency for positives, too."

Another attendee asked whether it is possible to utilize public diplomacy in interacting with North Korea.

Wang wasn't hopeful.

"My litmus test is to ask what role public opinion plays in impacting social processes," he answered. "I would think that public diplomacy efforts are very limited there because public opinion doesn't matter within the country that much."

Hollihan replied that North Korea is, in a way, a hermit kingdom that is apart from the dialogue.

Kondo was a bit more optimistic.

"Perhaps our values are being shared without us knowing it," he countered. "There are 200,000 people of North Korean extraction who live in Japan and they return there every year. Perhaps they are having some influence."

Genron NPO President Kudo wrapped up the forum with a call for future action.

"We are seeing a retrogression of democracy in many parts of the world," he said. "It is best illustrated by the revival of narrow-minded nationalism and the excessive concentration of power in the hands of individual political leaders. Our challenge is to create a positive, cross-border dialogue - based on the support of the public - that contributes to solving global issues. A new movement is needed. A movement that is non-media, non-government and non-academic. A movement of the people."

"The Destabilization of International Order and the Role of Civil Diplomacy" (Japanese Only)

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