At a seminar themed “The Future of Diplomacy in the COVID-19 Era” held from Jakarta, Thursday, Natalegawa, who had served as Indonesia’s foreign minister from 2009 to 2014, noted that advancements in digital technology, which have proven to be beneficial amid restrictions of human mobility due to the pandemic, made the separation and disconnectedness more manageable.
However, diplomats, whose professional essence lies in communications and negotiations, are faced with limitations wherein technology cannot be the substitute to direct, face-to-face interactions.
“(Digital technologies) are not, for instance, substitutes for the element of informality,” he pointed out.
Recollecting his experiences as a diplomat, Natalegawa explained that informal engagement played a role in the ability to take stock of others’ intent, wishes, and policies, as well as to understand the considerations behind their policy choices.
“I do not think one can ‘Zoom’ this type of difficult-to-describe dynamics and intent to be deciphered,” he noted, adding that there was also the matter of confidentiality in certain discussions often being conducted in diplomacy.
The former foreign affairs minister pointed out that concerns over confidentiality during virtual negotiations between countries could be seen in the hindered discussions on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea between China and the Southeast Asian nations in 2020 owing to the pandemic.
The pandemic has thrown more challenges at diplomats over and above their duty to represent their respective countries in their communication with those of other countries and to strike a balance between national and international interests.
To this end, Natalegawa calls for adapting to the ever-changing and ever-evolving nature of technology, as a tool that has proven to be beneficial to the practices of diplomacy in making it more inclusive and expansive.
“Change is permanent, and it is in our capacity to adapt to these technological changes that was more important,” he affirmed.
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