Cultural Diplomacy, public diplomacy

Why Public Diplomacy Should Be (Even More) Local

São Paulo is the ninth largest city in the world and the largest in South America. Photo credit: KLM

São Paulo is the ninth largest city in the world and the largest in South America. Photo credit: KLM

Last week, Rodrigo Tavares wrote in Foreign Affairs about Brazil’s recent involvement in paradiplomacy, or subnational foreign relations, by establishing formal bilateral relations between São Paulo and the UK. According to the article, the U.S. established a similar agreement with the world’s ninth largest city this past March – the first time that the State Department has forged direct relations with a subnational government in the southern hemisphere.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has witnessed Brazil’s rise over the past 20 years, both economically and in diplomatic prowess: the country is slated to host two of the world’s longest-running sports events, the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and Summer Olympic Games in 2016. For the UK, US and other nations, establishing a presence in Brazil’s largest cities, especially outside the capital, makes sense from a practical and public diplomacy perspective.

As a Korean American born and raised in Atlanta, I rarely noticed the South Korean government’s presence until the Korean population boomed after the 1996 Summer Olympics. Since then, the Korean consulate has become increasingly active in establishing Korean business and cultural centers out in the suburbs of the metro area where not only the highest concentration of Korean businesses are situated, but gaining influence in municipal trade associations and organizations.

Although building foreign communities abroad isn’t the goal of consulates and bilateral agreements, it certainly doesn’t hurt public diplomacy efforts. According to Tavares, Singapore recently opened an embassy in Brasília, the capital, but noted that the “diplomatic hub in the country is really in São Paulo.” By concentrating trade and other activities in the places where the people live – not just where they conduct official business – countries are maximizing their influence potential at the most accessible level.

Does this dilute the importance of consulates, which were conceivably formed to address paradiplomacy issues within a country? Probably not. But per Tavares, “With the strengthening of local power, the world’s major cities, states, and provinces have adopted international policies previously reserved for national governments and mustered resources to ensure the protection of their interests abroad.”

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About Lola Pak

Lola Pak is program assistant for the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication. She is also a graduate student in the Master of Arts Global Communication program, which is offered jointly through the School of Media and Public Affairs and the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University.

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