Background to the early description, cultural diplomacy was



This paper entitled “Cultural Diplomacy in
ASEAN: Collaborative Efforts” was written by Ratih Indraswari Ma from the Parahyangan
Catholic University, Bandung in 2015. As the topic suggested, this paper
examined the implementation and initiatives to promote cultural diplomacy among
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states. This paper
further discussed about the ASEAN approaches to cultural diplomacy; the mechanism
to maneuver cultural diplomacy in the region; and the expected role of the ASEAN
Community in fostering close relations and cooperation among the member states.



Indraswari (2015) suggested that cultural
diplomacy provided substitute solutions in catering international relation
issues by advocating culture as the basis for soft power. As compared to the
early description, cultural diplomacy was just a potential of cultural
expression through the exchange of ideas and information among the nations’
communities in developing common respect. She further highlighted that in
modern concept of diplomacy, it offers involvement of the non-state actors.
Therefore in the ASEAN concept, culture diplomacy might be an appropriate
instrument in forging regional integration. Indraswari further elaborated that
cultural diplomacy was not limited into the inter-state affairs, but also
reaching the public masses, and it offered new methods in creating an awareness
among the society of the member states towards a regional identity which was a core
fundamental for the establishment of ASEAN Community in 2015.


Cultural Diplomacy

Indraswari cited from the US Department of
States that cultural diplomacy as a “direct and continuous engagement between
people of different states in order to form a better environment of
international trust and understanding in which official relations can operate.”
She argued that some people tried to define or align cultural diplomacy as a
manipulation of cultural elements for spreading propaganda, while some might
understood that it is a part of public diplomacy which is used to outreach the
public masses through cultural means. Therefore, in this paper Indraswari
proposed to interchangeably use both cultural diplomacy and public diplomacy
due to both similar characteristics in driving the policy such as trainings,
conferences, exchange of communications and media access. She also agreed that
cultural diplomacy as a smart power tool, which was defined as a hybrid of hard
power of using pressure and compensation with soft power of attraction and
encouragement. Through the attracting function of smart power, cultural
diplomacy may offers alternative channel for negotiation if political, economic
or military approaches could not; and persuasive ability using culture, values
and thoughts. Indraswari also discussed on cultural diplomacy’s advantages in
which it promotes an interactive, two-way communication instead of using
forces; it provides dialogue platform for trust-building; increases
understanding between people and culture; and it can be implemented for a
sustainable, long-term period which can engage people from conflicting sides
during crisis or negative relations and may become as the only channel for
solution when conflict took place.

Diplomacy: the ASEAN’s Approach

Although the member states holds different and
unique political, economic and social progress it does not stop them to attain
their common plan in becoming as a single community with a shared regional
identity and a people-centered integration. Indraswari raised two arguments on
how cultural diplomacy could provide options in advocating integration motion
and what type of cultural diplomacy do ASEAN adopt. The first argument would be
on cultural diplomacy could foster the integration process, in which by
allowing the culture socialization process to take place, it would assist in
creating a conducive platform to address the ASEAN culture and identity to the
ASEAN people. Thus, a positive engagement will emerge and driving forward for
regional cooperation and relations. For the second argument, Indraswari pointed
out comparative analysis from three school of thoughts. The first school viewed
cultural diplomacy was led by state, meaning that culture is a tool of state
policy. The second school viewed that cultural diplomacy is operating without
political intrusion, by combining the roles of both state and non-state actors.
While the third school viewed cultural diplomacy is operating beyond the state
influence, which means that diplomatic activities are organized by non-state
actors, culture of a country is promoted by the people and the activities are
not limited by state policies and concerns. She further elaborated by agreeing
to the second view as the type of cultural diplomacy recently implemented by
the ASEAN.

obligation to promote cultural diplomacy undertaken by ASEAN comprises of two
main components, firstly the deliverance of programs are financed by the ASEAN
member states, and alternatively is by coordination of ASEAN agencies either by
the ASEAN Secretariat or the ASEAN Foundation. In order to understand cultural
diplomacy from the ASEAN perspective, Indraswari cited the definition of
culture by the ASEAN Declaration of Cultural Heritage 2000, where culture is a “composite
varieties of spiritual, intellectual, emotional and material features that
characterize a society”, which consist of arts, human life, norms and values,
creativity, knowledge, traditions and faiths. ASEAN style of cultural diplomacy
emphasized mostly on culture and art shows, subject to the region’s renowned
diverse religion and ethnic backgrounds with vast natural resources. It wished
to connect people by exchanging ideas and building capability through education


the ASEAN’s Cultural Diplomacy

The author further examined the organizational
function of the ASEAN, whereby the Secretariat consisted of three main thrust
namely the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the ASEAN Political and Security
Community (APSC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASSC), in which played
an important role in materializing the establishment of the ASEAN Community in
2015. Under the Secretariat is the ASEAN Minister for Culture and Information
(AMCA) that responsible for cultural affairs, and efforts to promote cultural
diplomacy are supported by the ASEAN Foundation which is complementing the
Secretariat in meeting ASEAN’s objectives and priorities as been underlined
under the framework of Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the
ASEAN Foundation.  She argued that
although ASEAN has yet to found a particular regional cultural policies since
each member states has their respective unique culture and implementing their
national interest, ASEAN members had organized programs and activities by
emphasizing people-to-people engagements.

addition to that, she defined that the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint
highlighted that the foundation for ASEAN Community is the people-centered
initiatives, by taking into account that the prominence of multilink cultural
relationship by involving the roles of Government-to-Government and
people-to-people collaborations is vital in ensuring the spread of cultural
values across the region. Indraswari provided some occasions to supported her
case on cooperation between state and non-state actors in delivering cultural
diplomacy in ASEAN, one is the ASEAN Youth Camp (AYC) co-organized by the ASEAN
Committee on Culture and Information (COCI) Sub-Committee on Culture together
with the member states and other ASEAN agencies, which is an annual event to
promote stronger sense of belongingness in the community with emphasize on
attracting youth participations. Other example of collaborations are such as
the organizing of ASEAN Cultural Week, ASEAN Best Performing Arts, and the
ASEAN Cultural Show and Exhibition.

Indraswari also provided
example from Indonesia on state-led cultural diplomacy where the collaboration
between the ASEAN Secretariat together with the Ministry of Tourism and
Creative Economy organized the ASEAN Fair and ASEAN Jazz Festival during the
Indonesian Chairmanship back in 2011. She claimed that these efforts are the
few attempts to uphold diverse cultural image in ASEAN and believed that this
activities helped in the exchange of interest and propagates the socialization
process among the ASEAN people. She also highlighted occasion of private
corporations participated in the ASEAN cultural diplomacy in publishing the
“ASEAN Today” program broadcasted in Indonesian TV channel of Metro TV, which
was supported by the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Indonesia and AirAsia as their
main partners.  Also the promotion of
puppetry programs through the initiatives of Puppetry Symposium, Dialogues and
Festival by the ASEAN Cultural Heritage and co-funded by the Japan-ASEAN
Solidarity Fund in order to preserve varied Southeast Asian arts and cultural


Indraswari wished to underline collaborative
efforts and initiatives taken by the ASEAN Secretariat in driving cultural
diplomacy as an instrument to strengthen mutual cooperation among member states
in political, economic, social and defense capacities. The ASEAN Secretariat
was firmly built based on the three pillars that caters the capacities
respectively, with the involvement of individual member states and other
non-state actors such as private corporations and joint foundations. It
believed that cultural diplomacy is a tool for smart power by combining hard
and soft elements. Among the advantages of implementing cultural diplomacy in
ASEAN are supporting dialogues in building trust, increasing insights among the
people, and can be adopted during conflict and tension periods. However, the
author lacked on addressing the real situation challenges and limitations of
practicing cultural diplomacy.

            The author further discussed on the
function of ASEAN Community besides bringing together the people of ASEAN as an
integrated society, it also provided platforms for cultural socialization and
interaction that may accelerate for regional partnership. The roles of state
and non-state actors are vital in driving for founding the community through
government-to-government and people-to-people collaboration in spreading
cultural values into the region. ASEAN emphasized on arts and performances as a
mean to promote and enhances the image of diversified culture in the region
like music, exhibition, puppetry and TV programs. Indraswari also agreed that by
organizing youth participations in summer camp is the best way to attract their
involvement at the same time a sense of community and appreciation of other
heritage can develop. She also supported the participation of external
foundation and corporate enterprises in co-funding cultural programs hosted in
the region besides utilizing the Secretariat’s budgetary. (1607 words)