EDITORIAL: Tweet diplomacy

Given exchanges between leaders in Canada and abroad, perhaps diplomacy by Twitter needs a rethink.

Perhaps taking a cue from one famously thin-skinned world leader who sees over-the-top criticisms as preferable to diplomatic discussions, Saudi Arabia’s decision-makers must see themselves as far from indecisive.

Responding to Global Affairs Canada’s tweet last week urging the immediate release of arrested activists, the Saudi ministry of foreign affairs this week called it “a blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs.”

Monday, Riyadh expelled Canada’s ambassador as a “persona-non-grata,” recalled its own ambassador and put on hold “all new business and investment transactions with Canada…”

This was followed by the ordered relocation of all Saudi patients in Canada, the summoning of all Saudi students studying here and the suspension of flights to Toronto. As well a pro-government Saudi youth group tweeted a (since-deleted) image of a jetliner flying towards Toronto’s CN Tower, with the caption “Sticking one’s nose where it doesn’t belong. As the Arabic saying goes: ‘He who interferes with what doesn’t concern him finds what doesn’t please him.’”

Seems Canada’s politely critical tone hit a nerve.

The sensitive thing with diplomacy is that, in order to be effective, both sides have to be on the same page, if not using the same language.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in June that his government would “move forward with retaliatory measures” in response to the planned U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, he spoke using oh-so-Canadian terminology: “I have made it very clear to the president that it is not something we relish doing… Canadians, we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.”

The U.S. president’s name-calling tantrum of a response referred to Trudeau in successive tweets as “dishonest & weak.”

In the more recent dust-up, Canada tweeted: “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.”

While the Saudi response seemed positively Trumpian by comparison, perhaps it should be realized by leaders here and abroad that diplomacy by Twitter is hardly diplomacy at all.


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