Diplomatic Mannerisms: Nepal on the brink

Sisir-devkotaBy Sisir Devkota–Public Diplomacy in Nepal is vibrant. The amount of public participation in the process of public diplomacy is staggering. What is public diplomacy? Public Diplomacy is a platform that strengthens foreign relations via the public hierarchy; excluding the ruling elites. An athlete representing Nepal at the Olympics or a common man working for an organization with foreign agendas inside Nepal; both signify the essence of public diplomacy practices. “Private Diplomacy” as such holds no meaning but diplomacy in real-“realist” terms is a sad drama on the contrary. For Nepal’s national interests, such a mix is catastrophic.

Diplomacy is a complex set of mannerisms and practices, before it can ever be used as a foreign policy tool. Sadly, Nepal’s diplomatic conduct is laughable. The tarmac at the Tribhuvan International Airport has witnessed many of Nepal’s diplomatic blunders. Not knowing where to stand or when to greet while receiving foreign dignitaries is an old joke. The new one as reported in various media platforms was how the Nepali Prime Minister kept Xi Jinping, the President of China, embarrassingly waiting for five minutes. The Prime Minister of Nepal, five minutes late to his planned visit with another world leader is five thousand million times worth embarrassing. In Diplomacy, this is a fail without the option to make it right again. After casually being late, the PM of Nepal while in his BRICS-BIMSTEC trip to India, as reported; fondly asked President Xi of why he does not visit Nepal. It sounds silly but is alarmingly naive on the Nepali PM’s part. President Xi had  cancelled his visit to Nepal earlier this month.

There is no point asking a question to your guest when he decides to cancel his planned visit. PM Prachanda was expected to convey the message clearly; that Nepal was impassioned by his aborted stopover. Or, if he really wanted to get President Xi to Nepal, his fellow circles at the Nepali Embassy in Beijing could have possibly suggested how President Xi’s wife has openly stated her desire to visit Lumbini. Xi Jinping would have been more charmed and that would have been a point scored on diplomatic execution. The point is about being prepared to attend a diplomatic atmosphere. It is true that we would never know what Prachanda spoke with the Chinese President; had journalists understood how a diplomatic meeting needs to be covered. Underlining the fact of how it would affect Nepal’s image at home and abroad. But, that is a tertiary problem.

The secondary-second problem lies among lower level diplomats, academicians, public speakers and leaders of interest groups. There seems to be a genuine confusion among the second tiered representatives on how to carry themselves while addressing diplomatic sessions. The national dress or the general formal attire inside the colors of black and white, with the national icon clearly visible is the diplomatic norm to represent one’s tribe. Again, it might sound silly, but diplomatic codes demand it. It even requires a perfect fitting of the tie, the tone or calculated physical gestures.

There are visible evidences of our second tier representatives wearing uniforms that represent other nations, not Nepal. Addressing such second tiered forums have also been a major challenge for them. But, the lack of perspective on what modern diplomacy is; runs even deeper. Modern diplomacy is no longer a closed door event where secret talks are held on how the world is run; and later the press are given a vague information on the meetings, often to create the aura of suspicion and curiosity. Conversely, this is not true. Modern diplomacy is free from such perils. If it was not so until late, whistleblowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have changed the game. Diplomatic issues are no longer hidden from the masses and the exercise of public diplomacy is an example. Modern diplomacy is clear and succinct. It is effective and lethal.

The downside of such a mess within diplomatic culture in Nepal has created such a vacuum that public diplomacy is gaining the upper hand. This is not good news. Public diplomacy at the least is an exhibition to engage citizens from different nations. At most, it is a fatal playground of foreign interests. The evidence of thriving playground was evident during the earthquake humanitarian aid that poured into Nepal in 2015. Diplomatic leadership comes from the top but success depends of how the second and third tier play it along. Representing Nepal is a responsibility that can be driven by passion not lethargy.

(Devkota is pursuing Masters in Democracy and Global Transformations at the University of Helsinki, Finland.)

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