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The recent “shocks and jolts” in Australia-India relations have provided a great sense of opportunity to recapture forgotten ties, outline new connections and a build a richer relationship between the two countries through public diplomacy, says Professor David Lowe, Director of the Alfred Deakin Research Institute.
Professor Lowe was speaking at the end of the two day conference in New Delhi entitled Public Diplomacy in Theory and Practice: Culture, Information and Interpretation in Australian-India Relations.
“It is generally recognised that for public diplomacy to be most effective the generation of information needs to be for home publics as much as for foreign publics,” he said.
“We need to make our own publics more aware of important relationships overseas.
“While many countries, including Australia and India, are embracing the idea that public diplomacy is integral to their overseas relations, we are still in a pioneering phase.
“So we have to ask questions like: do we have the confidence to invite greater official use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook?
“Do we engage with foreign publics in the broadest way or do we target some groups more than others?”
Dr. Amit Sarwal from the University of Delhi’s Rajdhani College which co-hosted the conference, said that as the certitudes of the nation state are eroded under the pressures of globalisation, social prejudice, racism and new modes of exercising influence are prevalent in both multicultural and monocultural societies throughout the world.
“The case in point here is Australia, which has, through migration, developed into one of the world’s most culturally diverse societies,” he said.
“This increased diversity has also brought with it many new cultural experiences, and has undoubtedly made Australia a more multiculturally vibrant and animated place.
“In the wake of recent ‘opportunist violence’ on students from the Indian subcontinent in Australia this conference attempted to critique Australian and Indian theory and practice of public diplomacy and other government initiatives.
“In doing so it provided an important mutlidisciplinary forum to scholars and diplomats from the two nations to negotiate these issues to build a stable and secure future for a long term Australian-Indian relationship.”
The conference at the India International Centre in New Delhi attracted speakers from a wide range of backgrounds, including Mr Peter Varghese, the Australian High Commissioner, Mr Navdeep Suri, Joint Secretary of the Public Diplomacy Division of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, and eminent Deakin scholars Professor David Walker and Eric Meadows.
“As a conference, when you look at the quality and range of the speakers and the way they all inter-acted, it was very successful in its own right,” Professor Lowe said.
“We had some excellent papers bringing together a wide range of views, some of academics, some from diplomats and some from journalists.
“We were indeed pleased to welcome one of Australia’s finest journalists, Geraldine Doogue from ABC Radio National, who gave a lively address to the conference on day two.
“Geraldine and her producer Julie Browning interviewed two of our conference delegates, Dr Agnieszka Sobocinska and Anahita Muhkerji, a senior reporter from the Times of India, and I am looking forward to hearing those interviews on the Saturday Extra program.
“We were also fortunate to have very supportive sponsors in the Australian India Institute, the Public Diplomacy Division of India’s Ministry of External Affairs and the Australian High Commission.
“That level of engagement will also help us to forge stronger networks in India and ultimately a better understanding in both countries of each other’s aspirations in the 21st Century.”
The conference was also supported by a $20,000 grant from the Australian Research Council.