Welcoming speech by Christoph Hallier, Deputy Head of Mission, on the occasion of the “Asian Conference for Political Communication” organized by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung at The St. Regis Singapore, 12th October 2022
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am humbled to speak at the end of such a day: A day that obviously has been full of inspiring speeches, presentations, conversations and encounters.
Congratulations to KAS for getting everyone together for an event that dives deep into the hottest topics in public communication. Every single topic that is on the agenda could not have come timelier.
I myself would have loved to attend the programme as it reflects what my colleagues and I face every day in public diplomacy.
Already, the first panel immediately caught my eye: “Political strongmen”. These days, there is only ONE political strongman that comes to mind.
With regard to him, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock most recently said: “Our task is not only to promote the rules-based international order and to stand up for it but also to expose these lies for what they are and to show what we have to offer.”
I believe that two truths lie therein:
Firstly, the times when we believed that, by ignoring hate speech and fake news, they would somehow dissolve -- are over.
It is our duty not only as diplomats, but as those serving in public diplomacy to speak up, to prevent misperceptions from gaining ground, and to show solidarity with those who are or may become victims.
Secondly, the times when we could take for granted that objective information would prevail if we just present it -- are over.
We have to make serious offers. But how do we do it?
One of the perks of being a diplomat is that we get to see how things are done differently – and possibly better – in other countries.
That brings me to Singapore. We fully agree with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the need to foster digital literacy. As PM Lee stated simply but truly in his National Day Rally speech 2022: “Do not believe that everything you read online is true.”
This one simple sentence, spoken directly to millions of TV spectators, demonstrated perfectly how digital literacy could be reached.
One thing is for sure: It does not work without a certain level of trust. And trust comes with transparent public communication: Well-informed and profound, yet honest and clear enough to reach people’s hearts and minds.
Secondly, we need strong traditional media to produce curated content of high quality.
The Russian Embassy in Singapore recently attacked the Straits Times in an open letter. They took offence at how the Straits Times kept covering the Russian war of aggression.
I have no intention to talk about Russia now. Rather I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude and admiration for the journalists who take their jobs seriously. We need their endurance, their constant coverage, to keep the topics that really matter alive.
We see that this war of aggression against Ukraine is also a war of words, a war of narratives. And for this -- we rely on strong media across the globe, who get their priorities straight, and do not give in to the temptation of gaining clicks on topics that seem to be more fashionable.
And lastly, diplomats need to bundle forces. Germany has by now established five Regional Information Centres. One of them is located here in Singapore.
These centres communicate fundamental contents on German foreign policy to entire regions. Their focus is the sphere of social media, and debunking fake news.
Germany has established these centres because diplomatic missions often do not have the manpower to oversee the vast and often vague flood of online information -- not forgetting that online information often cannot be attributed to one single country.
Public diplomacy is also about narratives. With globalisation, these narratives matter not only in one country but across borders. That is why Germany has established these Regional Information Centres.
Likewise, many other countries are doing the same.
I hope that through this conference, we will continue to learn from each other’s best practices. For this, I want to thank KAS for providing us with a great forum once again.
I wish everyone fruitful exchanges, a lot of takeaways for your daily work, and a very happy dinner tonight.
Thank you for your attention.