Track II and its
role in diplomacy

Leadership Network member Alice Wang discusses the importance of track II diplomacy and what it takes to make it successful. The Asia New Zealand Foundation coordinates track II engagement, or ‘informal diplomacy’, with institutions in Asia.​

Track II and its role in diplomacy

Alice Wang speaking from a podium

Alice Wang: "When implemented well, track II dialogues support the track II process by bridging differences, managing conflicts and promoting peace and understanding."

Diplomacy, like an onion, has many layers. The most visible and important layer is official diplomacy between heads of state, ministers and officials.

Beneath this top level diplomacy is a network of unofficial activities and dialogues – between civil society organisations, academics and private citizens – that help to support and strengthen official ties.

The most notable of these is track II diplomacy, involving unofficial dialogue between academics, non-government organisations and other civil society leaders to build relationships and encourage new thinking.  

Track II diplomacy plays an important role in promoting understanding between countries. As an unofficial channel of dialogue, conversations at the track II level are more open, free and frank, allowing participants to find their way to common ground that official representatives and negotiations cannot. Thus, the track II process is particularly valuable when government-level discussions have reached an impasse.

When implemented well, track II dialogues support the track II process by bridging differences, managing conflicts and promoting peace and understanding. An effective track II process will also bring out new ideas and perspectives, and foster closer connections between academics, civil society leaders and institutions. However, setting up an effective track II dialogue requires several elements to ensure that discussions are valuable.

First, track II participants must have a genuine interest in furthering the relationship between countries and a desire to understand the views, challenges and circumstances faced by the other side. This interest should be reflected in clear objectives and a well-designed agenda that steers conversation towards meaningful and constructive dialogue. Each delegation should define their metrics of success and failure and, where appropriate, work with other delegations to develop shared goals for each dialogue. Having well-defined goals ensures that each track II dialogue has a distinct purpose and is focused on making headway on the objectives. 

Secondly, if track II is ‘informal diplomacy’, issues discussed at track II should engage ideas and perspectives that are relevant to track I and address current tensions, disputes and conflicts. Consideration should be given to ways in which track II knowledge, progress and recommendations can be fed into official processes, without compromising the independence of participants.

Thirdly, all forms of diplomacy are fundamentally about people, and successful track II events are designed with people in mind. The process should encourage free and frank discussion, and feature topics that are engaging and relevant to the participants. The dialogue should bring together discussants with the right knowledge, expertise and experience to contribute relevant perspectives to the issues at hand, as well as experienced facilitators and chairs to set the right tone and dynamic for productive discussions.

Simon Draper addressing delegates during this year's track II conference in Korea

Simon Draper addressing delegates during this year's track II conference in Korea

In addition to these three elements, a future challenge and opportunity for track II is to include more young people in the process. From a diplomatic perspective, young people bring different views, represent an important voice within society and are the makers and influencers of future policy. Bringing young people into the room also provides an invaluable learning experience for those interested in international relations and government policy.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending two track II dialogues as an observer with the Asia New Zealand Foundation. The experience was enriching and enlightening. Not only did I learn a great deal about diplomacy and regional issues, as I had hoped, attending the track II dialogues was also a fantastic opportunity to have informal conversations with policy experts, to learn more about New Zealand’s approach to foreign policy, and to gain a better awareness of the complexity and limitations of government diplomacy. Attending track II was an excellent experience, and I hope that other track II organisations will follow in the lead of the Foundation in engaging young people in their activities.

Alice Wang is a member of Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Leadership Network and recently completed a Master of Public Policy at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. She was a member of the Foundation’s track II delegation for recent dialogues with Taiwan’s Prospect Foundation and the ASEAN-New Zealand-Australia Trilateral Track II.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation regularly head New Zealand delegations to talk with leading think tanks, universities and counterpart organisations in Asia about the major political, economic and strategic issues facing the region. The Foundation also hosts dialogues in New Zealand, as well as roundtable discussions on major events in the region, including elections. Our programme is growing. Coming up in the first quarter of the New Year, we expect to engage with partners from India, Myanmar and Vietnam.​