Intangible Cultural Heritage: Is it a Platform for Cooperation or Competition between Cultural Diplomacies? The Case of South Korea – Japan – China Relations within UNESCO’s ICH Framework
Scholars from international relations, communication, and other related fields discuss the importance and place of Cultural Diplomacy (CD) as a foreign affairs tool. CD is a domain that has been explored by a few scholars so far. Not much attention was dedicated to the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) list, which was initiated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In this framework, CD is actively applied and practiced. This paper explores the case of relations among China, Japan, and South Korea as state parties of the Convention on ICH initialized by UNESCO in 2003. The given case study examines CD of the three countries as ICH state parties in terms of the three main areas of their activities: the nomination and inscription of the intangible heritage; the development of ICH in the region and worldwide through providing facilities; and financial assistance to the ICH Fund. The analysis demonstrates that all three selected countries demonstrate collaborative and competitive CD. At the multilateral level, the selected countries conduct cooperative diplomacy while at the bilateral level, countries tend to apply competitive diplomacy. I conclude that the existing ICH legal and procedural framework, as well as the misperception of the values and aims of ICH by the state parties’ governing bodies encourage countries to cooperate and compete. The study is useful as a demonstration of how an international structure like UNESCO’s ICH that pursues good governance and universal values can turn into a battlefield for political competition among the most active member states. The author suggests changes in the legal framework of ICH to encourage non-state actors’ participation and cooperation among the selected countries.