Provocations and Event Recordings

Event Recordings

Conference MC—Ali Moore
Welcome to Country—Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Elder Ron Jones
Welcome to the conference—Penny Burtt and Dr Pippa Dickson

The need has rarely been greater, but government resources for soft-power tools including public broadcasting and the arts have diminished. What do our creative projects say about us as a nation and how can these be amplified against a background of diverse and changing political and economic interests?

What are the values shared when cultural knowledge and social experiences are exchanged through artistic practice, in different geopolitical environments? And what do we do as an artistic community when artists are denied the right to express themselves?

Is it possible to imagine a future for cultural diplomacy in Australia where historical and contemporary uses of First Nations cultural protocols are foregrounded? How can we explore soft power through cultural differences, intercultural communications and cultural translation?

As we look to the innovators across our region, where is Australia in the activity and conversation? What frameworks, partnerships and policies are working and what are we able to learn from practices and funding models?

Rapporteurs from each of the three groups share findings and future actions.

This session takes a pragmatic approach to promoting the arts as a soft power tool. How can future issues concerning the arts become government policy, and how will this increase Australia’s connectedness to the outside world?

Carrillo Gantner AC
Carrillo Gantner AC - Arts Leader

"Sustained government support of major focussed arts festivals like Asia TOPA as part of richer cultural exchange is vital if we are to engage with our neighbours in the Asia Pacific at any level deeper than political rhetoric. Periodic, biennial or triennial cultural events offer invaluable opportunities for relationship-building between individuals, organisations, communities and countries.

Long-term government investment champions positive perceptions, informed networks, growing knowledge, creative ambition, cultural diversity, innovation, wider private support, even trade and education promotion. All of these are crucial to shaping Australia’s global present and our future strategic and economic well being."

Dr Xin Gu
Dr Xin Gu - Member of the EU/UNESCO Expert Facility (2019–22) supporting the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Leads the Master of Cultural and Creative Industries program at Monash University.

"Let’s be honest, Australia is deeply dependent on our Asian neighbours. We’ve been talking about diversification but there are no real plans in place.

Neocolonialism underlies Australian foreign policy, interested only in economic domination through market manipulation and exploitation. This model is clearly in crisis because the geopolitics in our region have shifted. The new global economic order is built on our ability to identify values beyond raw materials. One of those values is known as the creative economy and it’s one where Australia is falling short.

We are also terrible at cultural diplomacy because we don’t have a public policy on culture that could promote our creative industries in Asia. To speak of soft power, we need to build a sense of who we are in this new world—we need to develop the confidence in our own culture that is the basis of soft power."

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Prof Jing Han
Prof Jing Han - Director of the Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture (ACIAC) at Western Sydney University

"In 2012 SBS2, to attract younger viewers, decided to try a popular entertainment show from Asia and purchased 13 episodes of If You Are the One 非诚勿扰, the most popular dating show in China. To everyone’s surprise, on the first night of the show on SBS2, the number of viewers far exceeded what was anticipated. If You Are the One has since developed a cult following among Australian audiences, particularly non-Chinese speaking audiences. After seven years, the show is the longest showing non-English program in Australia. In the meantime, China has been making a greater effort than ever in pushing Chinese culture to the world through ‘telling the China story well’. If You Are the One is not regarded as a typical ‘China story’, but it has achieved unexpected success in cultural diplomacy and enrichment, through cultural differences.

However, apart from If You Are the One, SBS has acquired and shown other China-made TV series including A Bite of China 舌尖上的中国, The Brain 最强大脑, Where Are We Going, Dad? 爸爸去哪?, Meet with the Parents 中国式相亲, Chinese Dating with Parents 新相亲时代, but none were successful in attracting Australian audiences, despite cultural differences."

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Prof Katya Johanson
Prof Katya Johanson - Professor in Audience Research in the School of Communication and Creative Arts, and Associate Dean (Partnerships and International) for the Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

"Much more cultural diplomacy takes place between Australia and its neighbouring countries than policy and media appreciate. People-to-people relationships are long-term investments, and it is difficult if not impossible to trace the cause of a diplomatic advantage back to cultural initiatives. This results in a lack of understanding of where, how and under what circumstances cultural diplomacy is effective. Meanwhile, efforts to evaluate CD initiatives focus on a limited and superficial range of indicators: size of audience and scale of media coverage, rather than on the strength and depth of the relationships created.

This lack of understanding makes it difficult to build successful cultural diplomacy and difficult to build an arts sector that understands what it brings to Australia’s standing in its region."

K. Johanson, A. Coles, H. Glow & C. Vincent 2019, ‘Controversy, Uncertainty and the Diverse Public in Cultural Diplomacy: Australia-China Relations’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 73(4),

Prof Justin O'Connor
Prof Justin O'Connor - Professor in the School of Creative Industries, University of South Australia, and visiting Professor in the Department of Cultural Industries Management, Shanghai Jiaotong University

"Soft power is about influence, but not just any influence. It is about influencing those over whom you already have power, often in a rather more harder form. As Perry Anderson eruditely tells us in his book, The H-Word, as ‘hegemony’ the idea goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks, who sought different ways of exercising power over the coalition of city states. Joseph Nye was a latecomer when he rebranded it in 1990, though he was facing the same problem: how was the US empire to remain in control of a world no longer corralled within the camps of two nuclear superpowers? It had to work harder, now the threat of the USSR had gone, to get its allies to do what it wanted them to do. Harder, but also softer—the big stick was now only to be used against those outside the pale, or too small to matter. The empire needed to persuade. ‘Soft power’ was part of a systematic rethinking of what the US (and the USSR) had done after 1945, when it set up an ecosystem of agencies and institutions to promote American values—but now in a new post-Cold War world.

It did so subtly, quietly, behind the scenes and on the screen. Nye never had art and culture in mind. Though the CIA had famously promoted abstract expressionism in the face of the stolid classical art promoted by the Russians, it was no longer clear how exactly art was to be used. Much better to promote the infrastructure of globalising culture—satellites, fibre-optics, telecom mergers, efficient enforceable intellectual property regimes, weakened state broadcasting monopolies, exclusive distribution deals, digital platforms, proprietary algorithms, easy finance. This was something the US had been doing since the 1980s, as it promoted a new globalisation of communications under its own tutelage. By the turn of the millennium, when creative industries came along (the US never bought into the creative industries, rather the creative industries bought into it) the old adage was clear: if you grab them by the hardware, hearts and minds would follow.

Australian soft power is, by this reckoning, a second-order soft power. The Australian values to be projected across the Asia Pacific are US values, given a southern hemisphere twang. It was not always so—vale Gough Whitlam—but especially since the election of Donald Trump, the boys and girls from the CIA, the softly softly of hard power, have been in full swing. And so, suitably instructed, has ASIO. What better way to begin a pivot to Asia than identify a new dark empire, one against which ours will shine anew? Australia’s soft power is now primarily concerned to wrest the region away from China. Unlike the USSR though, China is no industrial basket case, and it’s hard to suggest its immanent economic demise (though we try). So we must return to ‘values’, wake up from our naive belief that China will become one of us, and say to our Asia-Pacific ‘family’, are you willing to be bought off or stand up for ‘values’? ‘Waking up to China’ is to accept the leadership of those most willing to stand up firmly against it, and whose articulation of Western values we are to take as self-evident truths.

Which is to say, to a massively underfunded arts and cultural community, faced with enticements to embrace a new soft power role: caveat emptor. You might want to think about displays of affection—and of solidarity, collaboration, common humanity—in ways that can be framed outside the categories of imperium."

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