(L to R) Dr Shashi Tharoor, Dr Seppe Verheyen, and Omar Saif Ghobash during the discussion at ADIBF 2022 Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Current world events and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic have placed a special focus on nations’ soft power, Emirati diplomat and author Omar Saif Ghobash and Indian politician and author Dr Shashi Tharoor said during the Abu Dhabi International Book

Speaking at a panel discussion at fair, which ended on Sunday, Ghobash, Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy, defined soft power as an expression of culture.

Meanwhile Dr Tharoor said soft power is essentially about having a good story to tell about yourself.

The two spoke during the session titled ‘Global Transformation and the Future of Soft Power’, moderated by Dr Seppe Verheyen, Chief of Staff of the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy.

“If you are the land of the better story you will have soft power and if you are the land where everyone is telling terrible stories about you however hard you try you won’t have any,” said Dr Tharoor.

Ambassador Ghobash said governments need to take a good look at themselves to see what can come out.

“It’s straight forward, there is something about the character of a city, in this case UAE and Dubai, that makes people connect to it on a visceral level. Other places that try to tell a story are little too sophisticated and too particular and does not quiet gel,” he said.

Striking a balance

Dr Tharoor stressed that with soft power, nations must balance hard power.

“I don’t want to exaggerate and say soft power is a panacea for anything, I think you’ve got to have both, and you’ve got to strike a reasonable balance – if you are too heavy handed with your hard power you will lose friends and you need the soft power to attract,” Dr Tharoor said.

Ambassador Ghobash said that a backbone and consistent principles are key in balancing soft and hard power to make states take you into account.

“Apart from the UAE’s soft power, hard power is represented in financial systems that allows people to deploy their own money,” he said.

“But also having a clear sense of identity and backbone so you don’t get pushed around by larger states, if you can be consistent in your principles you will find that larger states will put you into account and give you respect,” he added.

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Ambassador Ghobash conducted a book signing at ADIBF for his publication, ‘Letters to a Young Muslim’, which was written as a series of letters to his eldest son about what it means to be Muslim in the 21st century.