Context: The External Affairs Ministry is turning the Coronavirus adversity into an opportunity by conducting a lot of routine diplomatic engagement online.

More about the news:

  • All recent meetings are being conducted virtually including the UNSC,EU,NATO and NAM summit amidst the pandemic. 

Changes in work culture due to lockdown: 

  • Work that was considered deeply interpersonal, like teaching, has now gone virtual as universities moved to cope with the massive disruption in their academic schedules. 
  • The Foreign Office’s virtual diplomacy  is merely following other professions that are adapting to restrictions on travel across borders and within them by the corona crisis. 

What is diplomacy?

  • Diplomacy can be defined as a process between actors (diplomats, usually representing a state) who exist within a system (international relations) and engage in private and public dialogue (diplomacy) to pursue their objectives in a peaceful manner.
  • Diplomacy is not foreign policy and must be distinguished from it. It may be helpful to perceive diplomacy as part of foreign policy.
    • The interaction one state has with another is considered the act of its foreign policy. This act typically takes place via interactions between government personnel through diplomacy. 

Virtual diplomacy: There is an impact of information and communication technologies on the conduct of modern diplomacy. Traditional methods of diplomacy are being substituted by new ones, greatly influenced by the Internet.

India’s recent online diplomatic initiatives

  • Reaching out to ignored island nations like Dominica, St Lucia, and Saint Vincent and Grenadines. They are sovereign states and members of the UN. Some of them are part of institutions like the Commonwealth. All of them are in important regional organisations in the Caribbean and Latin America. 
  • SAARC virtual meeting: Delhi took the lead in getting the South Asian leaders to meet through video to explore cooperation in combating the corona crisis. Delhi also pressed for a G-20 video meeting. 
  • Engaging foreign embassies in Delhi through video: The EAM has begun regular engagement with ambassadors in various regions and sub-regions in recent days.
  • Possible virtual bilateral summits: There is speculation that the Indian PM could conduct a virtual summit with Australian Prime Minister . 

Benefits of online diplomacy: 

  • Much of MEA’s energy goes into organising visits, but the follow-up has always been hard. Virtual diplomacy makes high-level engagement less burdensome. 
  • Further there are lower financial costs , thus saving a lot of resources.
  • This type of diplomacy is also environment friendly as a lot of pollution is generated when heads of state travel to a particular country in their respective planes. 

Challenges for online diplomacy

  • Diplomacy is another profession that requires facetime for both formal and seemingly informal work. Negotiations or consultations of any kind require sitting across a table in a chancellery.
  • Diplomats also work in less formal settings which is not possible in virtual diplomacy
  • Diplomats resist virtual meetings.

Way forward:

An India that reboots after the lockdown could do with all the diplomatic efficiencies it can generate whether real or virtual.

Source: Infoplease