Contemporary international relations are characterised by new, sometimes only emerging, tendencies, such as geopolitical instability, data revolution and diffusion of power. The latter tendency is a direct result of continuing globalization processes. The sub-state elements (federal subjects, regions and cities) being brought to the forefront, what contributes to the development of so-called paradiplomacy. Paradiplomacy actors become powerful players in the process of building the international connections networks, however, they do not encroach on state’s sovereignty.
In this regard, we should touch upon the efforts made by the Emirate of Dubai aiming at implementing the UAE diplomatic objectives, as an example of modern paradiplomacy. The Emirate of Dubai is the second-largest Emirate out of seven UAE emirates. It is characterised by high population density, large number of foreign expats and recognisable online image. Moreover, on the international stage Dubai is seen as an unofficial capital of the country, which hosts most foreign companies and universities, organizes international events and attracts more tourists in comparison with the rest of the country. Thanks to rich financial resources and well-thought media campaigns, the UAE government has succeeded in making Dubai the main promoter of the UAE soft power in the public eye. The actual criteria that assesses paradiplomacy efficiency can be classified into governmental, cultural, educational, economic and media criteria, as well as the engagement criterion.
In terms of the governmental criterion, we should underline that the main tasks and objectives regarding the implementation of the UAE soft power via paradiplomacy are officially declared in a series of documents issued by the government of Dubai. For example, the «8 principles of Dubai» document includes the following significant statements: «We [Dubai] are a business capital»; «Dubai is a politically neutral, business-friendly global hub that focuses on creating economic opportunities»; «Dubai's growth is driven by three factors: … excellent government; an … open private sector; and public and government-owned … companies that compete globally…»; «Our society is a respectful and coherent one, bound by tolerance and openness.». The document’s expressive rhetoric clearly demonstrates the primary goals of Dubai’s paradiplomacy. It confirms the government’s commitments to the soft power mechanisms and principles, while setting a positive international example.
The media criterion is closely related to the governmental one, since the activities of the government of Dubai focuse on creating a smart e-government that would play a role of a «paperless administration of future» for other states and cities. In order to implement this ambitious goal, nearly 20 years ago Dubai officials worked out the digital government project. The media criterion is also related to promotion of Dubai on social platforms by means of social media diplomacy and political marketing. Obviously, these measures and mechanisms of city governance constitute a universal tool of clarifying and promoting Dubai’s policies on the international stage.
As for cultural and educational criteria, we may not overlook the fact that Dubai represents the most famous international cultural hub in the Middle East when it comes to building connection networks with the overseas partners. Besides, Dubai is regarded as powerful arts centre. It hosts a number of international cultural events, such as Art Dubai festival and Sikka Art Fair. 2020 is believed to become a historic year for Dubai’s cultural diplomacy as the city prepares to host the biggest international cultural event - Expo 2020, which would take place in the Middle East for the first time. Along with collaborations with the colleagues from the West, the government of Dubai pays special attention to the task of promoting Emirati cultural values to the international community. To implement this goal, Dubai officials have created specialized centres for cultural heritage - Dubai Centre for Heritage Development and the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.
If we take a deep dive into the educational criterion, we may notice that over the recent years, Dubai has begun to promote itself as the region’s biggest educational hub. Indeed, over 25 international schools are located there, along with the campuses of 63 American, English, Australian, Canadian and Russian universities. No wonder that foreigners make up the majority of students studying in Dubai. For example, there are 12k students from the UK (what is nearly 40% of all the students in Dubai). Consequently, Dubai’s measures, taken to boost international educational exchanges, prove effective and demonstrate the UAE’s lifestyle and culture to other countries, while attracting more young specialists for the work in the UAE.
The engagement criterion, in its turn, implies several indicators. First of all, we consider business environment and investment attractiveness. In this regard, Dubai has managed to reach outstanding results. The Emirate is seen as the biggest financial hub in the Middle East (surpassing Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh), what is officially acknowledged by international ratings. In addition, Dubai is the third most attractive city in the world for foreign investors. In 2019, the amount of foreign investments in the economy of Dubai increased by 20%. To put it in a nutshell, the international society associates Dubai with stable economy and development.
Another indicator that proves effectiveness of Dubai’s paradiplomacy is its international cooperation on tourism and sport. In 2019, the city of Dubai, which annually attracts more than 16 million tourists (most of them are from India, the Gulf sates and Russia), became the 7th most visited city in the world. As for international sports events, Dubai is believed to be a regional equestrian center. It hosts the biggest international equestrian event - Dubai World Cup, with the participation of more than 20 countries. Besides, Dubai has launched a new initiative related to sports championships among governmental officials - Government Games. In 2019, Dubai hosted the second edition of the Government Games with the participation of the teams from the US, the UK, Russia, Saudi Arabia and others. Undoubtedly, the above mentioned activities allow Dubai to develop communication networks with different countries by means of informal events.
The engagement criterion also covers conventional international relations with other paradiplomacy actors. In this context, it’s important to underline the relations between so-called sister cities or twin towns. The concept of town twinning helps to develop cultural and public diplomacy, as well as soft power in general. Dubai has signed sister cities agreements with 32 cities and towns, including Moscow, Shanghai, Geneva, Istanbul etc.
To summarize the facts, the government of Dubai has demonstrated significant achievements in the process of paradiplomacy implementation in various fields, particularly in culture, education, tourism, sport, finance and government digitalization. Dubai is equipped by a range of tools that allow the Emirate to shape a positive and recognizable image both on the international stage and online. This is what enables Dubai with the opportunity to become one of soft power actors.
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