Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:08 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:08 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Innocents abroad


Andrew Carr


1 March 2011 14:05

Vanessa Newby (who is contributing a series on Iran to The Interpreter) writes:

As a student of niche diplomacy I found your comments particularly interesting. I just wanted to draw your attention to the work of Qatar in the past decade. Despite being a microstate, Qatar’s diplomacy in recent years has increased its significance both within the Middle East region and beyond it. Unlike it’s natural comparators, Kuwait, Bahrain and the Emirates, Qatar has advanced a sophisticated foreign policy that has enabled it to become a mediator in regional conflicts, and its use of public diplomacy, specifically use of the media, charity work, sport diplomacy, education and cultural diplomacy distinguishes it from other small oil rich states in the region.

Examples are the creation of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, Al Jazeera English Language channel, Al Jazeera children’s channel, the Doha Debates broadcast by the BBC, the development of the Qatar National Research Fund, the Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation publishing house which aims to promote a culture of literacy in the region.

Its most notable successes recently were the nomination to host the 2022 World Cup, and its ongoing important role in Lebanon since it brokered the peace deal after the 2006 conflict. Its charity activities in Southeast Asia and its mediation in countries such as the Sudan, and Morocco would suggest that Qatar has a vision for how it will carve a role for itself not just in the Middle East, but also in the Islamic World.

I really believe that small states like Qatar can provide Australia with an example of what a small state or "Middle Power" could achieve in the realms of niche diplomacy. Important caveats to this example of course are Qatar's extreme wealth and the fact that it is an Arab state operating in the Middle East, which gives it a great deal more credibility. The question in my mind is whether Australia in the realm of foreign policy can transcend its close association with the US or the former coloniser, Britain.

Thanks Vanessa. Few could have missed the role of Qatar's Al Jazeera, shaping and changing the situation in the Middle East and, through its English version, the West's reaction to it. It is an instructive lesson for Rudd as he seeks to control the Australia Network's programming. An impartial, high-quality news service, particularly in the Pacific, would do far more to enhance Australia's reputation and spread our values and ideals than any overt effort to display positive messages about Australia.