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Viet Nam’s cultural diplomacy: International integration and national interests
19/11/2015 15:24' Send Print
The exhibition “Connecting culture and history of Viet Nam and France” at the French Cultural Center. Photo: VNA

The deployment of Viet Nam’s policy of cultural diplomacy has been identified as one of three major foreign policies which include also political and economic diplomacy. In practice, Viet Nam has used cultural diplomacy as cultural tools to establish, maintain and develop external relations in order to achieve the objective of national fundamental interests including development, security and expansion of its international influence.

Cultural diplomacy and national interests

In the history of world diplomacy, cultural diplomacy appeared very early in various forms of expression in each country. Although at present, cultural diplomacy has its own mission, but there is no denying that, culture and diplomacy have very close ties. Many scholars, particularly Western theoretical analysts reasoned that foreign policy need to politicize culture (1), and cultural diplomacy is seen as political activities serving national interests under the cover of culture (2), while culture is considered as one of the three pillars (along with security and economy) of the foreign policy of a state (3). American foreign policymakers, during the Cold War, understood the link between engagement with foreign audiences and victory over ideological enemies and considered cultural diplomacy vital to national security. (4). It can be seen that historical traditions and culture of a nation is the mainstay and strength of diplomacy. At the same time, diplomatic activities in some ways are exposure and exchange of cultural values and ideas, thus diplomacy is also considered cultural activities serving national interests.

However, in the context of globalization, culture becomes more important in the meaning of "soft power" in the national synergy. Culture has strong penetrating power, and can achieve goals that political and military measures can hardly gain. Therefore, countries have increasingly paid more attention to cultural themes, such as cultural diversity, dialogue between cultures and civilizations and culture of peace. Cultural channel has been used as an effective means of support to political, security, economic relations. On a global scale, the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) is a typical case of cultural diplomacy communication with the central role of coordinating activities of collective cultural diplomacy. The organization boasts 193 member states, with headquarter located in the capital city of Paris (France), and more than 50 field offices and several institutes and centers all over the world. At the regional scale, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with the goal of building Cultural community besides Social Security- Political Community and Economic Community is one among them. Thus, culture does not merely serve political interests as traditional scholars have recognized, but is also linked to comprehensive national interests. The reality of international integration in global scale now shows cultural diplomacy is considered a typical evidence of soft power, the appeal of culture, values and values and institutions as opposed to hard power which is accompanied with conquest or coercion through military power (5).

As a special area of diplomacy, cultural diplomacy involves using culture as target and mean to achieve major objectives of national foreign policy, create good image of the country, and promote national culture and language in the world. At the same time, cultural diplomacy is also a field relating to establishing, developing and maintaining relationships with other countries by means of culture, art and education. This is a proactive process of external activity, aiming at promoting the institutions, nature, values and unique cultural identity of a nation to the world at bilateral and multilateral levels, thereby enhancing the "soft power" to heighten the position of that country.

Thus, as a cornerstone of diplomacy whether economic diplomacy or cultural diplomacy, political factor is still the mainstream. For any country, to promote external economic activities, culture or other international relations, diplomacy must start from foreign policy, national interests based on the world and regional situation. National interests themselves should also be based on those conditions. Therefore, it is possible to notion that cultural diplomacy is a form of diplomacy through cultural tools to establish, maintain and develop external relations in order to achieve the objectives of national interests.

Cultural diplomacy is implemented through multifaceted interaction between many different stakeholders, including government agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organization. Normally, the state will set a broad boundary for cultural policies, negotiate cultural agreements with other countries, create organizational framework to attend international events as well as projects relating to culture.

Viet Nam’s cultural diplomacy in the context of international integration

Consistently implementing the foreign policy outlined at the 11th Congress of the Party with the motto “independence, self-reliance, peace, cooperation and development, multilateral and diversified relations, proactive and positive international integration, being a friend and a reliable partner and responsible member of the international community for national interests and for a strong and prosperous socialist Viet Nam”(6), Viet Nam’s cultural diplomacy is geared toward two goals, which are to create favorable conditions for diplomatic activities and national cultural development. In particular, the aim to facilitate diplomacy is to contribute to ensuring national security, socio-economic development and enhance national position in the international arena.

Cultural diplomacy has made contribution to the implementation of overall political objectives and strategies on foreign relations of the State and Party. However, given its unique characteristics and strength, cultural diplomacy has generated specialized “active channels” to reach these goals. In terms of security, it has helped enhance “positive” knowledge and understanding for diplomatic activities, ensuring good relations. As far as socio-economic area is concerned, cultural diplomacy is a way to promote the country's image and economy, accompanied by marketing the products of its economy, economic services and culture.

For specific objectives, cultural diplomacy has contributed to improving the correct and deepened understanding and about the country, people and culture of Viet Nam. At the same time, cultural diplomatic activities have also falicitated assimilation of quintessence of human culture, enriching and deepening the traditional cultural values of the country. Through cultural exchange, external cultural information channels such as newspapers, radio, television, conferences, and symposiums cultural diplomacy has contributed to build confidence for development of cooperative relationship and lasting friendship between Viet Nam and other countries in the international community.

Viet Nam’s cultural diplomacy is manifested in the following major areas:

First, it constitutes a factor promoting international cooperation. Cultural diplomacy is more favorable in establishing empathy and trust, enhancing mutual understanding and acceptance to create a peaceful and stable environment for cooperation for development. When political and economic relations meet with obstacles, cultural diplomacy helps to remove these obstacles, acting as a bridge, a catalyst promoting political and economic relations of Viet Nam with international friends.

Second, it helps introduce guidelines and policy of the Party and State, and promote the image of the country and people of Viet Nam to the world. Cultural diplomacy works towards improving correct understanding, appeal to sympathy and support of international friends, oppose sabotage schemes of hostile forces and protect national security. Besides, promotional activities instigate and develop patriotism and national pride of the people at home and abroad; thereby, encouraging the preservation and promotion of cultural values and national traditions.

Third, it is an advocacy tool. When the work of promoting the country's image faces problems, cultural diplomacy will support and accompany to overcome these difficulties. Through cultural activities with the aim of introduction, cultural diplomacy leads to more accurate and positive recognition of a country’s image and culture.

Fourth, selective absorption. With similar nature as culture for external relations, cultural diplomacy also works selectively to absorb cultural essence, humane ideology, values, knowledge, advanced science of the world to enrich, and modernize the national culture and make it more beautiful. At the same time, cultural diplomacy also contributes to maintaining and promoting cultural identity, and orienting the development of a culture.

Thus, cultural diplomacy in Viet Nam is one area of diplomacy, as “the spiritual foundation of diplomatic activities”(7), implemented through different forms of culture, art, history, ideology, cultural traditions, and information in order to achieve the basic objectives of national foreign policies, create good image of the country, and promote cultural and national languages to enhance its prestige, position and influence of Viet Nam to the world in the context of current globalization. Cultural diplomacy is becoming one of the three main foreign policies, along with political diplomacy and economic diplomacy, as the 11th Congress of the Party pointed out: "Closely combine Party’s external relations with State foreign relations and people-to-people diplomacy, between political diplomacy to economic diplomacy and cultural diplomacy "(8).

Viet Nam’s cultural diplomacy serves national interests

In recent years, Viet Nam’s cultural diplomacy has marked a new development, contributing to the overall success of the diplomatic sector.

First, cultural diplomacy has initially linked to political and cultural diplomacy, contributing to promote and strengthen mutual understanding between Viet Nam and international friends, and build confidence for the development of lasting friendship. Cultural events have been often associated with visits by high-ranking leaders. In particular, achievements of the renovation, the stable political environment, peaceful nation, friendly people, landscapes, cultural heritage, unique traditional festivals, among others are image and information often disseminated and advertised attracting the interest of many countries in the region and around the world. It is possible to mention that the role of Viet Nam as Chairman of ASEAN 2010 has been strengthened through the organization of numerous promotional activities, not only to enhance mutual understanding among ASEAN member countries, but also introduce Viet Nam’s profile to the world. As a member of the Executive Council of UNESCO for the 2009-2013 tenure, Viet Nam contributed significantly to the signing of the Framework Agreement on Cooperation between ASEAN and UNESCO. By 2013, Viet Nam was one of 22 countries elected to the Intergovernmental Committee for the 1972 Convention for the 2013-2017 tenure. In addition, Viet Nam Cultural Week, and Cultural Days have become important cultural diplomatic activities of Viet Nam in many countries.

Second, cultural diplomacy of Viet Nam has actively advocated for nomination for world cultural heritage inscription. For example, within the framework of cultural and artistic activities to celebrate 1000 years of Thang Long-Hanoi, the Director General of UNESCO presented the certificate to inscribe the Central part of Thang Long Royal Citadel as a World Cultural Heritage bringing to the world the image of a capital with cultural tradition. Ha Noi was the first city in the world with three heritage inscribed by UNESCO in one year. Also in 2010, Dong Van Karst Plateau in Ha Giang province was registered by UNESCO as a member of the Global Network of National Geoparks (GNN). Thus, today in Viet Nam has 19 world heritage, including two natural heritage, five cultural heritage, eight intangible cultural heritage, three documentary heritage and one global geopark. This is not only the pride of the people of Viet Nam, but also an opportunity for the international community to share and enjoy the cultural spiritual values of Viet Nam.

Third, through cultural diplomacy activities, other countries’ values, cultural essence and knowledge have been selectively absorbed enriching the culture of Viet Nam and improving the quality of people’s spiritual life while incorporating many ideas and big programs of the United Nations and UNESCO in national action programs, such as building a learning society, information society, and education for all.

However, as compared with some countries in the region, there remain constraints in cultural diplomacy activities of Viet Nam, such as investment is not on par with potential and advantages of a nation with thousands-year-long cultural history. Although the war has long past, peace has come to the people of Viet Nam for decades, but here and there in the world people know Viet Nam only as a country of “hero in combat,” but still in poverty and backwardness. They have not really known the new position of a country which “has changed every day,” a country with a strong will of going forward, a friendly and safe destination, open policy, and liberal environment for investors. Meanwhile, the legal framework for the conservation and promotion of national cultural identity, and regulations on international cooperation in the field of culture have not yet been completed which is evidenced by the degradation of some cultural works or the unselected integration of foreign cultures. The promotion of the country’s image has not been regularly and strongly implemented, and the potential of “exporting Vietnamese culture” is limited. Thus, the influence of Viet Nam’s position and strength to other countries has fallen short of expectation.

On the basis of awareness of the important role of cultural diplomacy, Viet Nam has taken many specific actions to promote this positive and effective form of diplomacy. Currently, cultural diplomacy has been integrated in curricula of many major universities. Cultural diplomacy program aims to strengthen cultural cooperation opportunities globally and is the bridge between Viet Nam to the world and vice versa. However, cultural diplomacy and promotion of Viet Nam’s image can only succeed with aggregated strength. In the future, the nature of the cultural diplomacy program will change under the influence of the media and especially the Internet, the increasing people-to-people diplomacy, together with new trends in cultural diplomacy including the growing number of regions, countries and cities with dynamic cultural diplomacy programs and strengthened multilateral cultural diplomacy.

On the basis of the country’s development goals and international commitments, it is necessary to complete the system of synchronized policies on cultural diplomacy in the comprehensive diplomacy of Viet Nam. The Strategy on Cultural Diplomacy of Viet Nam will facilitate diplomatic activities in the next decade to raise the understanding of the international community about Viet Nam, and strengthen ties with other countries, thereby together with the overall diplomacy build strategic trust between Viet Nam and the international community.

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This article was published on Communist Review, No. 875 (September 2015)

(1) Mitchell, J.M. (1986): International Cultural Relations, London: Allen & Unwin

(2) Taylor P.M. (2007): Global Communications, International Affairs and the Media since 1945, London and New York: Routledge, p. 79

(3) Morgenthau, H.J. (1978): Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (5th ed.), New York: Knopf, pp. 64-67, 77-91

(4) Helena K. Finn: “The Case for Cultural Diplomacy: Engaging Foreign Audiences,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 82, No. 6 (Nov-Dec 2003), p. 15-20

(5) Nye J., (2002): The Paradox of American Power, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 8

(6) Document of the 11th Party Congress. The National Political Publishing House-Truth, Ha Noi, 2011, pp. 235-236

(7) The Strategy on Cultural Diplomacy to 2020

(8) Document of the 11th Congress, p. 139

Pham Ngoc Anh, PhDInstitute of People's Security