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Is PNG culture relevant in modern diplomacy and foreign policy?


CULTURAL diplomacy may be an old-fashioned soft power tool in this modern era of diplomacy and globalisation.

Foreign policy seeks to maximise benefits and minimise costs to nations and it can achieve those benefits of it is if well-resourced.

However, funding remains a constraint even for the most economically powerful nations. And in Papua New Guinea we must make-do with what little we have. That is our challenge.

I read my former student Sioni Ruma’s analysis of Culture, National Interest and Identity in PNG Foreign Policy with some delight and would like to provide my views on the role and position of culture in modern-day diplomacy and foreign policy.

Is PNG culture relevant to modern-day diplomacy as differentiated from its role in affirming national identity? Do we have a PNG culture that can stimulate foreign policy advancement?

Answers to both questions require a closer look at modern world history and the present day reality of a rapidly globalising world where diplomacy and foreign policy have been immensely challenged.

In the case of culture and foreign policy, we have to take a closer look at different phases of world development, including PNG.

Civilisations have enhanced individuals in the Middle East and Europe to not only use inventions but to further develop existing concepts to create other extraordinary discoveries that were better than previous versions. It created a culture of knowledge and the subsequent era of industrialisation.

There have been many fundamental changes since then including the current era of globalisation.  Modernisation (Westernisation in particular) has triumphed over every other civilisation.

Culture is no longer the relevant aspect; rather technology, information and communication are fundamental factors that make our various cultures somewhat obsolete.

So what then is PNG culture?

We are in a critical era of whether to have reforms to strategically place strong emphasis on culture or to allow globalisation to take its toll, which is irreversible. Being a Tolai or a Hagen doesn't matter when it comes to globalisation and modern day diplomacy.

A truly distinct PNG culture does not exist. Narokobi's Melanesian Way needs further assessment and analysis as to whether there is a distinct Melanesian Way of doing things given our cultural complexities.

ASEAN for many decades could not find a common culture or identity to unify the people of Southeast Asia and always wanted to become like the European Union.

However, the EU has not been able to find a truly European culture.

So is culture a fundamental element in and an impetus for a vibrant foreign policy for Papua New Guinea?

I believe that culture and its debates are no longer relevant in foreign policy as investment, international business and best practice have changed to a more common, universal, and homogeneous standard.

Thus, Westernisation has surpassed many other civilisations and globalisation has allowed it to flourish universally.

Moreover, culture may be an impediment to foreign policy as with anti-Americanism, fundamentalism, sectarian violence and ethnic conflict.

The focuses for PNG foreign policy should be on how to embrace ICT, maximise benefits to invest, control migration, combat climate change, develop human resource in line with modern days' challenges and execute defence strategy.

Uniting the 800 plus cultures may be too ambitious but a common unity can be achieved if we think Papua New Guinean, that is; in my view, nation-building and identity creation.

Patriotism and nationalism cannot be taught at school nor be demanded of people.

We need to create a PNG identity and a foreign policy that is appropriate in today’s context, not a PNG culture that does not exist.  

To do this we must tailor policies and reforms to match those trends which are universal practice.

It is imperative that PNG as a nation should jump on the bandwagon of globalisation because modern-day diplomacy and foreign policy urgently demand that.


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Garry Roche

Samuel, you raise important questions. You write, “ a truly distinct PNG culture does not exist.”

However perhaps truly distinct PNG cultures (plural) do exist, and they need not be divisive.

Cultural uniqueness is still a valuable reality in the world of globalization.

Most European countries still try and proudly retain aspects of their historical culture. Especially in the field of art, (including dancing, singing, painting, etc.,) culture will still have a valuable place in a globalized world.

It is possible to retain some of the best aspects of the various cultures of PNG and still advance in the modern technological world. E Nanga Numan.

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