People to people relations can de-escalate frosty relations at highest levels

International relations are traditionally conducted by national leaders, government officials, and diplomats. The power of citizen exchanges, or “people-to-people diplomacy,” is often underestimated. People-to-people diplomacy, as part of public diplomacy, complements traditional and formal diplomacy. It has a significant impact on relations between nations since bilateral relations are not sustainable without solid public support.
Track II Diplomacy and China-Japan Relations:
It is well-known that the “Ping-Pong diplomacy” of 1971 helped pave the way for President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China the following year. Less talked about is the indirect role Japan played in the process. Both Chinese and American Ping-Pong players were attending the 31st World Table Tennis Championship in Nagoya, Japan at the time. When American player Glenn Cowan missed him team’s bus, he was invited to ride with the Chinese players. His conversation and gift exchanges with Chinese player Zhuang Zedong are today household stories. The Ping-Pong diplomacy that began in Japan led to the normalization of U.S.-China relations.
Amidst the tense political relations between Japan and China today, attention has focused on national leaders and how they help or hinder relations. Many blame either Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s revisionist views and hardline policies or President Xi Jinping’s tough style and assertive diplomacy for the deterioration of bilateral relations. They assume that only national leaders and politicians matter in international relations. Such perspectives overlook the power of people-to-people diplomacy and are therefore detrimental to improving relations.
Japan and China established diplomatic ties in 1972. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Japanese had extremely favorable views of China. China was a top destination for Japanese tourists and numerous Japanese companies set up businesses in China. From 1978 to 1988, 70 to 80 percent of Japanese surveyed viewed China favorably. The good feelings were mutual. In the 1980s, more Chinese chose to study in Japan than in any other country.
Japanese manga and anime are popular around the world. But even before this new wave of Japanese soft power, the Chinese had long enjoyed Japan’s popular culture. Ikkyû-san and Astro Boy were some of the earlier popular Japanese anime and their theme songs were among Chinese children’s favorites in the 1980s and 1990s. The mutual affection between the two societies clearly played a positive role in maintaining a friendly political relationship.
CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone exchanged visits in 1983 and 1984. Understanding the power of people-to-people diplomacy, Hu invited 3,000 Japanese youths to visit China, including Nakasone’s son. As political and economic frictions grew in the second half of the 1990s, Japanese public opinion favoring China steadily dropped, but still about 50 percent of Japanese claimed feelings of friendship for China throughout the 1990s. According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, however, only 3 percent of Japanese viewed China’s influence positively, with 73 percent expressing negative views, the most negative perception of China in the world. In return, only 5 percent of Chinese viewed Japan’s influence positively, with 90 percent expressing negative views, the most negative perception of Japan in the world. This appalling level of mutual dislike is extremely disturbing and must be reversed. The public can exercise their power to influence national policies.
Japan and China have different systems. And hawkish politicians, media, and military personnel on both sides are drumming up nationalism and creating tensions in the relationship. But ordinary people have much in common. A distinction needs to be made between fervent nationalists and ordinary citizens, especially when political relations are sour.
Despite political tensions, Chinese tourists continue to flock to Japan. In 2014, 2.4 million mainland Chinese visited Japan, slightly fewer than the 2.8 million from Taiwan and 2.7 million from South Korea, but mainland Chinese spent more than their counterparts from any other place. With Japan’s relaxation of visas for Chinese visitors, a weaker yen, and tax exemptions for foreign tourists, mainland Chinese could easily become the largest source of foreign visitors to Japan in 2015.
Some Japanese may be stunned by Chinese tourists’ purchasing power or disapprove of bad behavior, such as talking loudly and smoking in public, but most welcome Chinese tourists and appreciate their contributions to Japan’s economy. “If there is an increase in the number of Chinese who visit Japan and observe Japan as it is, there might be a gradual deepening of understanding between the peoples of the two nations,” a high-ranking Japanese Foreign Ministry official said highlighting the power of such people-to-people exchanges.
Recognizing the importance of enhancing people-to-people understanding, especially among the young, the two governments are beginning to act. For example, the Japanese embassy in Beijing has co-sponsored Japanese speaking and writing contests in China in recent years and recently invited 2000 young Chinese to visit Japan. Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Tokyo co-sponsored the 2014 all-Japan Youth Writing Contest on Japan-China relations and invited prize winners to visit China for a week.
At the Kyoto International Community House, paintings of artists from Kyoto’s sister cities including Xi’an were on display earlier this year. More such cultural activities at the local level are needed in the current political atmosphere. Indeed, there is ample scope for citizen exchanges to grow between China and Japan. For example, in 2014, 6.13 million Chinese visited South Korea, constituting 43.1 percent of all foreign visitors to South Korea. According to Japan National Tourism Organization, about 2.88 million Japanese tourists visited China and 2.75 million went to South Korea in 2013. Both figures are down about 10 percent from 2009, largely because of the weaker yen and the worsening image held by Japanese toward China and South Korea.
The power of people-to-people diplomacy is woefully under-utilized in Japan-China relations. When political relations at the top remain lukewarm at best, citizen exchange at the grassroots becomes all the more important. After all, it is ordinary people that form the foundation of a strong and durable bilateral relationship.

Track II Diplomacy and Pakistan- India Relations:
‘Freedom of opinion/expression’, ‘positive change’, scope for progressive voices’, ‘youth engagement’, ‘fresh perspectives’, ‘real time sharing forums’, ‘crystal clear means of communication’ – these are some of the terms that Indians and Pakistanis used when asked how they view the media championing the cause of citizen diplomacy for peace between the two countries.
Citizen diplomacy has gained credence for its capacity to allow personal experience, direct contact and grassroots reach among populace in adversary nations. The emergence of multi-track diplomacy popularised the concept of citizen diplomacy, enabling citizens to become ambassadors of national cultures.
Many examples of citizen diplomacy between India and Pakistan offer a wide canvas for interaction, like WISCOMP (Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace, India-Pakistan Friendship Society (1987), South Asian Dialogue (1990s), Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (1994) and Pakistan Peace Coalition. However, these initiatives have not managed to harness the power of the media to amplify their voices and ascertain the involvement of ordinary citizens from both sides.
Over the past decade and a half, relations between India and Pakistan have faced multiple challenges, including the Kargil Conflict, attack on Samjhauta express, tensions in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, Pakistan’s speculation’s of India funding terrorist and separatist, and numerous skirmishes across the Line of Control (LoC). Yet there have been a number of confidence-building measures (CBMs) such as the Delhi-Lahore bus, the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus service, the Munabao-Khokhrapar train service, and the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus service which have persisted even during times of tension and played their part in giving a fillip to people-to-people contact and interactions between people from different walks of life and strata of society. Many of these links, such as the Munabao-Khokhrapar rail service, had existed before the 1965 war, but were disrupted.
In addition to these efforts, there has been a reasonable rise in trade through the Wagah-Attari land route with trade between both countries crossing $2 billion as of 2014. The number of goods being traded through the land route too has gone up to 137 – though there is scope for increasing this.
There has also been demand for opening up of other trade routes through Punjab, as well as in Munabao-Khokhrapar (Rajasthan-Sind) and Gujarat-Sindh. The credit for all the above steps goes not just to central governments, but a number of other actors such as state governments (border regions), members of civil society, chambers of commerce, academics, and journalists. This multi-layered diplomacy has ensured that even during times of tension, links between both sides are not totally broken, and has also widened the constituency for a more manageable relationship. This constituency does not consist merely of utopian peaceniks, but also businessmen and realists on both sides.
India and Pakistan are currently led by two prime ministers who are considered pro-business. It is important that they both exhibit pragmatism and ensure that basic interactions are not disturbed by jingoistic narratives that can dominate the bilateral discourse.
While there are a number of vexing issues which need to be addressed, it is important that the leadership ensures that links between citizens of both countries are not broken. While it is true that people-to-people efforts may have not resulted in any tangible results so far, the termination of such links will not help either – it will only lead to a further hardening of identities. Some of the steps which leadership on both sides should take in this context are ensuring that the bus and train services remain intact, the possibilities of opening up alternative trade routes are seriously explored, and interactions at the sub-national level are encouraged.
The creation and implementation of CBMs is a difficult task, aggravated by the way that the activities are regularly subject to outside political strain’s preventing their advancement. Achievement often relies on the efforts of national leadership, who perceive the gains of CBMs and work overwhelmingly to seek better solutions regardless of criticism or fear. The requirement for sustained engagement to address issues of regional security is similarly critical. While it is true that CBMs may not guarantee the resolution of disputes they can help – not just in keeping dialogue open between individuals on both sides, but also also tempering jingoistic sentiment on both sides.
Role of media:
The media can play a key role in this process by functioning as a classroom to promote global understanding, where citizens become students and augment their cultural knowledge, cultural sensitivity and acceptance of the ‘other’. Especially with the new media that can transcend barriers of time and space, the ‘other’ does not seem alien anymore.
Media representatives have the power to build positive images of the other country, and counter the traditional views of the ‘enemy’. However, rather than availing of this opportunity, South Asian journalists tend to remain entrapped in the web of jingoist and exclusive nationalism. As such, the media’s role in citizen diplomacy has largely remained traditional and limited to institutionalised exchanges among Indian and Pakistani journalists.
In the information deficit that plagues India-Pakistan relations and creates hatred and misperceptions of the ‘other’, media-aided citizen diplomacy can help engage in a constructive and transformative dialogue process with a focus on issues of concern to citizens on both sides
Pakistan-India is more about people, about the tragedy of not being able to meet and talk to your next-door neighbour, about emotions that need an outflow, about good memories that can be created together. We need the media to do to all this and more for the countless people who still view our story with hope.