The Afghan Diplomats’ Training Program is an important example of the U.S.-China cooperation and represents a shared interest in the development and stabilization of Afghanistan. Newly appointed diplomats from the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs are welcomed on a two-part training program, spending two weeks each in the United States and the People’s Republic of China. In its fourth year, the program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Meridian International Center, in partnership with the Public Diplomacy Council, implements the U.S. portion of the program in Washington, DC and a long weekend in New York City.
In Washington, the participants attend classes and workshops on diplomacy and practical skills in management, action planning, policy formation, and communications. They visit state institutions, international organizations, and think-tanks involved with U.S. foreign policy and listen to a range of perspectives on U.S.-Afghan relations. The diplomats also enjoy an informal introduction to American culture by joining a family for a meal in their home, site-seeing, and exploring the city during their free time.
The same group of diplomats is hosted by the China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) in Beijing for the second part of the program. CFAU is affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and prepares students for careers in international service, business, and law. CFAU also organizes training programs on Chinese language and culture for visiting diplomats and officials. The visitors attend lectures on Chinese history and current affairs as well as classes on topics discussed in the first part of the program from a Chinese perspective. The diplomats also travel to Henan Province to see a more rural area of China, explore its international industry, and visit important historical landmarks.
At the opening reception in Washington, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai welcomed the diplomats and remarked on the importance of the program not only for Afghanistan, but also to the United States and China. Deputy Secretary Blinken noted: “This program helps lay the ground work for the United States and China to work together toward a stable, secure, prosperous, and unified Afghanistan.”
Ambassador Cui also shared his thoughts on the importance of the program for all three countries: “You are here not only to learn, but to share with us how you envision the future of Afghanistan, and how we in the U.S. and China, the two permanent members of the UN Security Council, can work with you more effectively.”
The two-part program model is a unique partnership for the United States and China in a third country of interest. One participant described the program as “an opportunity to gain a comparative vision of western and eastern cultures and politics.” Another participant shared his thoughts on visiting both countries: “[These are] two different countries in terms of governmental system, culture, and other social values. They are also two major pillars in the international relations arena.”
Speaking on the structure and focus of the program, the participants highlighted different approaches of each visit. In the United States, the schedule focuses
on theories of diplomacy and policy, practical exercises and workshops, and site visits. The program emphasizes interactions with the U.S. diplomats, civil service officers, and private sector players in foreign policy and classroom-style study of program topics. The diplomats visit two economic and political hubs for foreign engagement and policy in the United States: Washington, DC and New York City. Deputy Secretary Blinken compared the program to a training conducted for newly-minted U.S. diplomats, learning about media, negotiation, protocol, and culture.
Ambassador Cui described the Chinese portion of the program an opportunity to “experience China and learn firsthand about the Chinese people, opportunities and challenges to China’s development.” In China, the participants spend more time learning about China as a country with lectures on the Chinese history and culture, government, current affairs, and general foreign policy. Much of the program was dedicated to visiting cultural and historical landmarks, such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and a silk market. The visitors traveled to the Henan Province a more rural area of the country with historical significance. This provides them with an opportunity to see a smaller city’s local industry and its role in Chinese international engagement.
While each program approached the mission of training Afghan diplomats in a different way, participants believed that each program had its own strengths and highlights. In the United States, the diplomats spend more time interacting with their counterparts and developing practical skills of diplomacy. In China, they have an opportunity to delve more deeply in to the culture and history of the country, coinciding with lectures on Chinese affairs. The participants appreciated the experience of visiting two countries with two different approaches to their international relations and policy, but also exploring two different cultures, governments, and histories. This is especially helpful for a group of diplomats who are looking forward to international assignments and will need to consider the unique cultures of embassies around the world.
The aim of the Afghan Diplomats’ Training Program is to help the delegates forge on to successful, international careers that serve the government and the people of Afghanistan. Four alumni of the program now serve at the Afghan Embassy in Washington and, as described by Afghan Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, are some of the brightest diplomats Afghanistan has to offer. The young diplomats represent what President Ashraf Ghani calls the New Afghanistan—the country’s younger generation. Ambassador Mohib, a self-proclaimed member of this generation, believes the New Afghanistan to be an important asset and stakeholder in the development of the country: “We are not lamenting on the past or discouraged by the challenges of the present, but we are focusing on creating a better future.”
The partnership is a continuation of the role Afghanistan has played long before the initiation of the program as noted by Ambassador Mohib: “The program is representative of the role Afghanistan plays in bringing nations together for the advancement of common interests. For thousands of years, Afghanistan has been a crossroads of trade, commerce, and cultural exchange. We continue to be a hub where the interests of Afghanistan and our global partners intersect and overlap.”
This important and unique collaboration of three nations is an example of how exchange programs do not solely impact the participants—and in this case, future diplomats—but also work towards more effective international engagement and collaboration among countries around the world.