Challenges facing digital diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region

In 2017, a simple tweet or status update can have far-reaching consequences for a country’s foreign policy and the geo-political dynamic of a region.

Digital technologies and new media are at once disrupting and transforming the nature, conduct and intensity of political dialogue in today’s world, in ways that impact directly and profoundly on all aspects of diplomatic practice.

Griffith Asia Institute (GAI), in collaboration with the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), will host the second annual Brisbane Roundtable on Diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific: The Digital Challenge on October 26.

The 2017 dialogue builds on the previous Brisbane Roundtable held in May 2016 and will be led by the Griffith Asia Institute Director, Professor Caitlin Byrne, and Professor Jan Melissen, Senior Research Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ in The Hague and Professor of Diplomacy at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. Professor Melissen is a global expert in trends and innovations in diplomacy.

The 2017 Roundtable will bring thirty-five diplomats and academics together from fifteen nations across the region to address the theme digital diplomacy. The purpose is to deepen regional and diplomatic networks, and to create opportunities for collaboration on shared regional themes and issues.

“People are more connected to more of the world, more of the time,” said Professor Byrne.

“They are more informed and expressive through new media. They expect, more than ever before, that their views will be taken into account in shaping global outcomes.”

New media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Whatsapp and WeChat give public audiences greater visibility, a stronger voice and a more active and coordinated role in global dialogues.

World leaders, increasingly aware of the significance of their global reach, are conversing with each other and their constituencies in 140-character bursts through the Twittersphere.

Professor Byrne said: “Nowhere is diplomacy’s digital challenge more striking than in the dynamic and diverse Indian Ocean-Asia-Pacific (Indo-Pacific) region. The current take up of digital technologies, mobile devices and social media across the region continues to set new records. People, businesses and governments in this region are more connected than ever”.

This striking rise of digital technologies and the spread of influential networks across the region presents new challenges and opportunities for the practice of diplomacy.

Following the Brisbane Roundtable, Professor Melissen will deliver a public lecture in Canberra on October 30 in partnership with ANU Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy, where he will interpret digital diplomacy in the context of wider innovation and change in diplomacy today.