Digital Diplomacy tied to ASEM

By Julian Dierkes

Some weeks ago I wrote about the potential for a Mongolian digital diplomacy. That post generated a lot of interest (over 500 readers in less than 2 months). The tweet about this post was my most-viewed tweet ever (over 21,000 impressions), in part because it received over 130 re-tweets, including by many Mongolian embassies and consulates. The popularity of this tweet may have been in part due to the fabulous graphic that came with it, but hopefully also suggests that I struck a chord among social media savvy Mongolians and a desire for more strategic activities by their government.

It seems like officials at the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs were thinking along similar lines.

ASEM as a Digital Diplomacy Opportunity

In my January post, I had pointed to themes that seemed like candidates for building blocks of a Mongolian digital diplomacy:

  • democratization;
  • impact of climate change;
  • resources and experiences with global investment from vantage point of developing country/resource economy;
  • Northeast Asia, including Ulaanbaatar Forum
  • Mongolian leadership
    • ASEM 2016 (Twitter account exists, but very much in broadcast mode, not engagement)
    • UN Security Council candidacy for 2022: making a case for presentation of land-locked developing countries, democratized countries, small countries, etc.

I had already received some responses to that post from the ASEM organizing office over the past several weeks, but they reminded me of their efforts recently, prompting me to take another look at their website, asem11.mn. And what a good example of strategic digital diplomacy engagement this has become!

ASEM is the Asia Europe Meeting which Mongolia will host this July. It is the biggest formal summit between European and Asian countries and will meet for the 11th time in Mongolia. While ASEM doesn’t have any legislative or regulatory ambitions, it is a significant foreign policy event and of great significance to Mongolia in fitting with its foreign policy. At the same time, the Meeting will be fairly disruptive to many Mongolians living in Ulaanbaatar, so an outreach strategy to Mongolians and abroad seems especially useful.

The post on “4 Things We Can Expect from Mongolia Hosting ASEM” (Mongolian) illustrates this nicely.

First, I would note that this is very much a blog post in its style. Blogs have generally been underused as digital diplomacy tools (my sense), but this is a nice example. It is somewhat informal (though not casual) in the approach it takes, even going for a moderate version of a “listicle” with its “4 Things” title and organization of the post into four main messages.

Secondly, the post responds to popular concerns that have been voiced on social media in Mongolia, i.e. why is scarce state funding to hosting a large-scale summit. These concerns have been echoed by PM Saikhanbileg who recently urged austerity, at least when it comes to furnishings for the ASEM press centre.

Thirdly, the post addresses some of the fundamental precepts of Mongolian foreign policy in an approachable fashion, for example the notion that visibility is desirable, or that trade agreements are an element in Mongolia’s international strategy and how both of these goals might be supported by hosting ASEM.

I’m a little less sure that ASEM is likely to generate in-bound FDI, I rather suspect that any new wave of FDI will come only with a sharp increase in commodity prices over coming years, but the post makes a plausible case for this as well.

Other posts at the ASEM website follow in this vein. The Chef’s Skills Challenge post demonstrates lighter side that nevertheless might be very important in shaping visitors’ impression of Mongolia. It also makes the event somewhat more approachable to Mongolians, but possibly to some of the civil society visitors.

The ASEM website thus builds nicely on the greater visibility of the MFA and of the ASEM in particular via social media.

Transparency, but Where to Next?

Overall, I’m thus quite impressed with some of the steps the ASEM website has taken. What it does not to (and many other MFA’s including Canada’s Global Affairs don’t either) is open itself to substantive engagement that might have an impact on policy as it is being formulated.

There are no comments to this site and I don’t see any pages that actually open up policy for discussion.

Notably there also isn’t very much discussion/information on the substantive aims for ASEM. Are there specific issues between Asia and Europe to be addressed? What might these be? What role would Mongolia play in addressing these issues, etc.

But perhaps that will be a step for future summits or foreign policy initiatives.

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