World Hindi Conference: Language, Soft Power and Diplomacy

The use of language as a tool of diplomacy is probably as old as we can go back in history. Today, in a world of competing geo-strategic interests, it has not lost any of its potency

The holding of the World Hindi Conference in Mauritius during this week end is yet another milestone in the bonding of the special relationship between Mauritius and India. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the decision taken by India to confer the huge privilege of hosting the World Hindi Secretariat in Phoenix is one of the most unacknowledged events in the relationship between our two countries.

The use of language as a tool of diplomacy is probably as old as we can go back in history. Today, in a world of competing geo-strategic interests, it has not lost any of its potency. It is in this context that we should look into the holding of this World Hindi Conference on our soil. That since its emergence as a nation in 1947 until now India has strictly kept away from the temptation of using illegitimate force or its dominance in whatever form to subject other nations or countries to its own will is well recognized by one and all. In contrast to other more aggressive nations, India has instead made use of “soft power” as a privileged tool in its strategic manoeuvres – its approach to the new frontier continent of Africa is a manifest example of this approach.

We quote extensively from an article entitled: ‘Language Attraction: Language and Soft Power’ to elaborate on the above.

“One way to exert influence abroad which has generated much attention is what American political scientist Joseph S. Nye (considered to be the father of the concept) described as ‘soft power’. Nye’s concept has generated considerable interest among Western governments, not least because ‘soft power’ is seen to be ‘cheap power’. According to Nye, ‘soft power’ sits in contrast to (but not necessarily in conflict with) ‘hard power’ and it involves getting what one wants by co-opting others rather than by coercing or inducing them to act in a particular way. In a report focussing on ‘soft power’ by the American Centre for Strategic and International Studies, ‘soft power’ is described as the “ability to attract people to our side without coercion. If a people or nation believes our objectives are right, we are more likely to persuade them to follow us without threats or bribes.”

The holding of the World Hindi Conference in Mauritius with delegates coming from all over the globe is undoubtedly an occasion which celebrates the special relationship between India and Mauritius, but it also serves to emphasize the ambitions of our country to be a symbol of peace and harmony in diversity at a time when the World more than ever seems to be pursuing such a quest.

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Return of Reactionary and Damaging Mercantilism

Trump’s latest claim that the money raised through (trade) tariffs would now be used towards reduction of the admittedly huge fiscal deficit of the United States federal government reveals the true nature of his actions. We are back to vintage mercantilism

Under the heading “US reaps more than $1.4 billion from steel and aluminium tariffs”, one of Donald Trump’s now infamous tweets claim that “because of tariffs we will be able to start paying down large amounts of the $21 trillion debt that has been accumulated…” Since the advent of the World Trade Organization (WTO), led by the US and other G7 nations, which for decades has made it a point of pontificating to the rest of the world about the benefits of “open” trade and liberalization of commerce, this is a dramatic turnabout. Coming as it does from the leader of the country that was, for all intents and purposes, the biggest driver of globalization and unconstrained free market ideology, the sense of drama takes an almost surreal dimension.

Hundreds of thousands of small businesses and millions of families in developing and underdeveloped nations bore the brunt of this new phenomenon where trade for trade’s sake became the dominating mantra. In Mauritius, the small and medium enterprises sector and the “local” productive capacity have similarly suffered irreparable damage as tariffs were knocked down by the sycophants of the new Lords of the rising world order.

To those who then advised caution while not necessarily rejecting the need for progressive adaptation to the new paradigm (an approach summed up as lowering our trade barriers at a pace more conducive to our level of development and productive capacities), it was then stated that There Is No Alternative (TINA).

Decades after the WTO was set up and tasked with the objective of promoting “rules based” global trade – purportedly based on the creation of a “level playing field” – any commentator would have been excused for believing that such language as attributed above to the “Leader of the free world” was forever banished from the vocabulary of any self-respecting world leader.

As for the blind followers, they are left with egg on their face and, hopefully, with some humility. One can only wish that lessons will be drawn by all those who are able to influence such policy decisions so that in future due consideration to historical conditions and national interest are not ignored in such circumstances.

The ‘America First’ philosophy of Donald Trump is most visibly being translated into his international trade policies through the introduction of protectionist tariffs. Probably uneasy with admitting what is the true nature and purpose of these measures, the Trump administration initially tried to veil them in the guise of protection of national security. True to form though the President could not hide his basic emotions and his latest claim that the money raised through such tariffs would now be used towards reduction of the admittedly huge fiscal deficit of the United States federal government reveals the true nature of his actions. We are back to vintage mercantilism.

The Oxford Concise dictionary defines mercantilism as “an old economic theory that money is the only source of wealth.” To our mind, nothing could more succinctly capture the whole dilemma of the Trump presidency: the man is so infantile that he has found it impossible to recast himself into the role of President as opposed to the rash businessman that he always was…

 


* Published in print edition on 17 August 2018

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