Facebook and other social media can be used by young Cambodians as diplomatic platforms to enhance their country's international image. Photo: AFP

As the world enters the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, the adoption and use of modern diplomacy, particularly digital diplomacy, seem viable and promising for Cambodia. But how can youth, considered as the future of the Cambodian nation, encourage the government to advance its digital diplomacy?

To realize its core national interests and development ambitions in the context of an unpredictable and fast-changing world, Cambodia has begun to consider using modern diplomacy to support its foreign policy. Besides traditional diplomacy, some scholars have discussed a concept of Cambodia’s modern diplomacy comprising four pillars, namely peace diplomacy, economic diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, and digital diplomacy.

Cambodia’s foreign policy has been guided by a number of factors, one of which is economic pragmatism defined as “the alignment of foreign policy with national economic development.” In the context of Industry 4.0, digital diplomacy must be prioritized if Cambodia wants to remain relevant and competitive.

So far, the Cambodian government has tried to develop and transform various policies to fit the global trend of the digital technology revolution in order to build national resilience and move Cambodia closer to realizing its development visions to become an upper-middle-income country by 2030 and a high-income economy by 2050.

Notably, on May 3, at the closing ceremony of a professional training program for Cambodian diplomats at the National Institution of Diplomacy and International Relations, Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn said diplomats must understand Diplomacy 4.0 to help the country achieve its foreign-policy objectives. In this regard, digital diplomacy as one of the pillars of Cambodia’s modern diplomacy is particularly vital.

Digital diplomacy aims to utilize information and communication technology (ICT) and social-media platforms as tools to advance foreign-policy objectives.

To enhance this type of diplomacy, having digital skills is a starting point, if not a prerequisite. Thus Cambodia needs to develop technological skills among its civil servants and especially diplomats at all levels who have crucial roles in projecting the country’s global image and promoting national interests on the regional and international stages.

In fact, various actions have been taken by the government and its diplomats to project Cambodia’s image to the world; however, as Cambodia is home to one of the largest youth populations in Southeast Asia, the government needs to support and strengthen youth involvement in its diplomatic endeavors.

Youth is obviously a dynamic and energetic group of people who can play active roles in enhancing Cambodia’s digital diplomacy. But how can these young people, who will definitely become the future architects of Cambodia, support the government’s enhancement of digital diplomacy and achieve its core interests in the digital world?

First and foremost, Cambodian youth need to acquire basic knowledge and skills in digital literacy and ICT, including use of the Internet and social media; the development of blogs, YouTube channels, and websites; the advanced use of digital devices; and awareness of Internet security.

Young people must try to transform themselves into digital citizens capable of competing with other youth in the region.

No doubt, they cannot effectively perform their roles to help support and elevate Cambodia’s digital diplomacy unless they are digitally literate. If they lack ICT and digital knowledge, Cambodian youth may not have the capacity to take advantage of digital technologies to improve their country’ image and prestige in the region and the world.

Given that Cambodia has been ranked among the lowest in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in terms of digital literacy, its youth must be more proactive and seek opportunities to develop their digital knowledge and skills to keep up with their peers in the Southeast Asian region and beyond.

One way to enhance their ICT and digital knowledge is to look for opportunities to participate in learning or training programs. They can join technology-focused competitions to gain an understanding of digital trends and familiarize themselves with the latest technology.

For example, they can take part in the Digital Literacy and Internet Safety Pilot Program, as well as other technology-related events such as Digital Cambodia, one of the largest such events in Southeast Asia.

Second, since a majority of Cambodia’s youth are online, these young people have the potential to use social-media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as their de facto diplomatic tools to project a positive image of Cambodia to the world.

Considering the powerful role of these online platforms in informing and shaping public opinion, youth can use these media to shape foreign opinions and constructively respond to fake or negative news about Cambodia in ways akin to how world leaders and diplomats make use of these online platforms as their diplomatic strategy to advance the image and foreign-policy goals of their respective countries.

Third, youth must improve their soft skills, including communication and collaboration capabilities, global and cultural awareness, teamwork, analytical and creative thinking, information and media literacy, flexibility, and leadership, among other skills.

As they function in Industry 4.0, young Cambodians must be competent at both hard and soft skills. More important, they must learn to apply their knowledge and skills to contribute to raising Cambodia’s profile and promote cultural diplomacy.

They can also provide technological support to peers, disadvantaged youth, and older Cambodians who may need help catching up with new developments in technology.

Youth can also engage in various forms of activism, including social-media activism, to contribute to holding the government accountable and ensuring that the overall direction of the country serves the interests of the majority, not those of the political elites and their clients.

In sum, as a post-conflict country and a small state with limited resources, Cambodia does not have adequate capacity to embrace the ever-changing technological revolution, specifically Industry 4.0, to realize its core national interests and development goals. Therefore, youth as the hope of the Cambodian future have essential roles to play in supporting and advancing the government’s development and foreign-policy ambitions.

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Bunna Vann

Bunna Vann is a Master of Political Science student at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi and a recipient of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations scholarship.

Kimkong Heng

Kimkong Heng, a recipient of the Australia Awards Scholarship, is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland and a visiting senior fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. All views are the author’s own.