Young Leaders´ Forums

Cultural Diplomacy in East Asia

October 2009
2009-10 cdea.JPG

Day 1 - Introduction, Mongolia Lecture and the Indian Embassy

The first 'Cultural Diplomacy in East Asia' Young Leaders Forum began on Tuesday 7th October 2009. The participants were greeted by the CDEA team at the ICD House of Arts and Culture where they were each given a welcome packet containing important information regarding the week's activities. Once everyone had arrived there was an introductory lecture lead by ICD Director and Founder Mr. Mark Donfried, during which the CDEA team and the Young Leaders had the chance to introduce themselves. The participants were given an overview of the concept of Cultural Diplomacy and the intentions of the forum were discussed in the context of exploring East Asian cultural relations.

After the introductory lecture, Mr. Odbayar Erdenetsogt of the Mongolian Embassy gave the participants a talk on his home-country and its soft power initiatives. Mr. Odbayar captivated guests with his presentation as he described Mongolia's varied landscape and socio-historic background. In addition he encapsulated the week's theme by explaining Mongolia's cultural diplomacy initiatives that are used to co-operate with its neighbours, Russia and the People's Republic of China. Participants and the CDEA team alike were also surprised to hear of the good relations that Mongolia has managed to maintain with North Korea.

In the evening the Young Leaders headed to the enchanting Indian Embassy on Tiergartenstrasse to attend the International Day of Non-violence Celebration. The guests were mesmerised by the rhythmic talents of Sudokshina Chatterjee and Subrata Manna who performed Gandhi songs which were followed by an address from H.E. Ambassador Sudhir Vyas, Indian Ambassador to Berlin. There was a reading from the book, 'On the Way to Gandhi,' written by Ambassador Dr. Herbert Fischer, who lived in the close company of Gandhi between 1936 to 1939 and became the first GDR Ambassador to India. This was followed by a screening of 'A Road to Gandhi,' an interview with Dr. Fischer before his death. Dr. Fischer's son, Ambassador Dr. Karl Fischer, gave a touching speech, outlining the successes of his father, Gandhi and the Non-violence movement. Participants then had the option of participating in a discussion session and enjoyed refreshments served in the foyer.

The day ended with a long-established social activity where participants could relax and unwind. A group meal was organised in En Passant, Savignyplatz, and was the perfect chance for participants to get to know each other in informally, whilst reflecting on the day's events.    


On the 15th June 2007, the United Nations voted to establish the 2nd October as the International day of Non-violence. The General Assembly requests that all members of the UN observe this day and commemorate it appropriately by promoting the message of Non-violence through public awareness initiatives, educational programmes and cultural celebration. The day also marks the birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who was an inspirational and successful practitioner of Non-violence during India's struggle for independence from British rule. Non-violence is usually a strategy employed to generate social change. The methods of Non-violence can be diverse but is united in resisting oppression or struggles without the use of arms and violence. Notable uses of Non-violence include Gandhi's civil disobedience in India, Martin Luther King's Non-violent struggle for African American civil rights and the Non-violent 'Velvet Revolution' in Czechoslovakia against the communist government.

Day 2 - Migration, East Asian Identity and Environmental Diplomacy

The second day of the forum began with a lecture on Cultural Diplomacy given by ICD Director Mark Donfried. Citing specific historical examples he talked about the fine line between diplomacy, propaganda and advertising and stressed the importance of mutual understanding and trust for intercultural dialogue.  In the broader debate that followed participants discussed and reflected on a number of related issues including national stereotypes, racism and prejudice.

These themes lead naturally to the panel discussion that followed, the theme of which was the East Asian diaspora.  The panel was made up of four prestigious guest speakers, namely Mr. Shahid Riaz, Head of the 'Deutsch-Pakistanische Gemeinschaft für Kultur und Demokratie', Ms. Dagmar Yu-Demski, Head of the Confucius Institute at the Freie Universität Berlin, Dr. Riem Spielhaus, Professor in the Department of the Institute for Asian and African Studies at the Humboldt University, Berlin and Ms. Lizza May David, documentary maker and head of the artists network Global Alien.

The experience and expertise of the speakers allowed them to reflect on a number of issues from varying perspectives, making the discussion lively and engaging.  Some of the key issues raised during the debate included German identity and the extent of its flexibility, the role the media plays in merging immigrants and Muslims into one group and the positive effect that the East Asian diaspora has in shaping its host country. 

After a lunch break, participants welcomed guest speaker Ms. Maria Cleofe Natividad, Minister and Consul General of the Philippines, who provided a Filipino perspective on the subject of an East Asian Identity. Ms. Natividad argued that, despite being culturally diverse, there are a number of threads that weave the East Asian countries together, including a common colonial past, migration and common challenges such as energy security and natural disasters. 

Later in the afternoon, CDEA Program Director, Shamsiah Ali gave a thought provoking lecture on environmental diplomacy, stressing the fact that good environmental practice needs to be culturally sensitive.  In East Asia particularly, there is a strong link between climate and culture and, as climate issues transcend national boundaries, dialogue is made therefore very important.

ASEAN - East Asia's EU?

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN, established on 8th August 1967 in Bangkok, represents 10 nations, 550 million people and a GDP of 30 billion Euros.  Its aim is to accelerate economic growth and promote regional peace. Since the ASEAN Charter went into effect in 2007 the association has become more integrated in the region and plans to further deepen economic and political relationships.  The possibility of the introduction of an ASEAN single currency has been discussed, suggesting that the association is moving towards becoming a body that increasingly resembles the EU.

Day 3 - Asia Pacific Week, Historical Walking Tour and Music as Cultural Diplomacy.

Thursday began at Berlin Town Hall with participants gaining the unique opportunity to take part in Berlin's Asia Pacific Week which coincided with the ICD's forum. Inside the famous "Rotes Rathaus" speakers from mixed nationalities discussed cross-continental solutions for global problems, namely climate change and depleting energy resources.

The first speaker Dr. Bernd Hense discussed mobility solutions, with a presentation on hybrid technology motors in which he introduced the idea of emissions free, battery powered vehicles. The next speaker Prof. Dr. Dehong Xu, from Zhejiang University, elaborated on the idea of the 'fuel cell electrical vehicle' or FCEV, along with reasons to be optimistic about its future success. Dr. Klaus Bonhoff then considered Germany's market preparation for the fuel cells which are currently entering the pre-commercial stage. The afternoon closed with a presentation on bio fuels, followed by a panel discussion on renewable energy.

After lunch, participants reconvened for a guided tour of Berlin's most famous sites, including the Berlin Wall, the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate. There was also a stop off at the Europäisches Parlament Informationsbüro für Deutschland where participants could help themselves to reading material and posters relating to the EU.

Later that day at the ICD House, renowned European sitarist Christian Noçon gave a talk, revealing how he first became interested in classical Indian music. Since 1995 when he had his first sitar lesson in India, Christian's musical progression has run parallel to his cultural assimilation; living in his teacher's home, and learning Bengali. He talked about how music serves as a universal language and an important tool for cultural exchange. After describing his personal experience of music transcending cultural boundaries, then answering numerous questions, Christian captivated the group with a sitar performance.

Day 4 - German Parliament Discussion, Economics and Peacekeeping in East Asia, Leadership Initiatives, Film as Cultural Diplomacy and Kreuzberg Museum.

The day began at one of Berlin's historical landmarks, the Reichstag, where participants took part in a seminar with Foreign Policy Advisor and Chief of Staff at the German Parliament Mr. Sarmad Hussein. The speaker sparked an interesting debate on racism, claiming that despite its constitutional triumphs, Germany had a long way to go in eradicating racist attitudes. A contentious debate on this topic ensued, after which everyone headed to the roof of the Reichstag to admire the 360o views.

After lunch, Prof. Dr. Enzo Weber Professor of Economics joined us from the University of Regensburg to give a lecture on economic interdependence in East Asia. He introduced some basic economic concepts, and went on to demonstrate how theoretically economic involvement between nations should act as a conflict deterrent. He related this to the growing notion of East Asian interdependence, before emphasising the fact that reality is not simply, "trade=peace".

Then Mark Donfried (ICD) introduced the idea of leadership initiatives to the Young Leaders. He encouraged participants to come up with their own cultural diplomacy ideas and to make positive use of the contacts they had established during their stay in Berlin. This could be anything from collaborating with schools to create an exchange scheme, simply creating a one-time event or publishing articles. He explained to participants means for attaining financial support and advice for such initiatives.

This was followed by Ms. Sun Ju Choi, Head of the Asian Women's Film Festival, discussing cinema as a means of cultural exchange. One of her roles in organising the festival is finding appropriate material from Asia and bringing this not only to the Western audience, but also to the Asian diaspora in Europe. Selecting films is not always an easy feat, and is one which has taken Ms. Sun Ju Choi as far as North Korea in search of rare and insightful works. She looks for films which tackle relevant issues, paying particular attention to women and migration. She noted Germany's history as a divided nation in relation to Korea, noting the East Germany-North Korea, and West Germany-South Korea migration paths, as well as using the legitimate routes to cross Cold War borders. Participants asked many questions, including whether the filmmakers consciously engage in identity politics. It was conceded that whether intentional or not, the classification as both Asian and Women's implies that the film festival is giving recognition to marginalised groups.

Identity Politics

Identity politics is a term which emerged in the US in the 1970's and refers to action taken by marginalised groups to effect social or political change. A specific criterion does not exist, but it is normally associated with groups sharing similar characteristics, be they race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Often the objective of the group's activities is gaining recognition and respect as well as overcoming oppression.

Day 5 - India's Soft Power Approaches, Leadership Initiatives, Case Study: China's application of Soft Power and Farewell.

The last day of CDEA began with a lecture by Diplomat Mr. Andreas Wiebel on the richness of cultures, traditions and practices within India. The Young Leaders watched his detailed presentation that covered India's long and colourful history up until the present. Mr. Wiebel then posed some interesting questions after explaining India's cultural conscience. With many different languages, ethnicities and religions along with an extreme contrast between the rich and the poor, Mr. Wiebel wondered whether India would always remain a developing country. 

The lecture was followed by the leadership initiatives session where the future of the forum was discussed. The participants were asked to split into groups and think of projects that they could potentially work on. They then had the chance to present their ideas and receive constructive feedback along with examples of successful case studies. Overall, the participants voiced a concern that Europeans may not be well informed about Asia. There was a general consensus that networking between institutions should be facilitated and that young people should have more exposure to East Asian culture. The young leaders were then presented with a certificate of completion to mark their successful participation in the forum.

The day concluded with a seminar lead by Ms. Nathalie Van Loy from the Confucius Institute. The participants had the chance to discuss China's use of soft power and explored the past and present approaches that China has adopted. Moreover, the participants had the opportunity to discuss China's future approaches with Ms. Van Loy. The end of the seminar marked the end of the first CDEA, which had been an overall success. The participants had a busy and intellectually stimulating week and through a new partnership with the ICD have been given the opportunity to continue building on their understanding of cultural diplomacy and its application in East Asia.