You are here


Mechanism and Future Directions of City Diplomacy

Min-gyu Lee

City diplomacy is a direct result of rapid urbanization and ‘new diplomacy’ in the era of globalization. It has emerged as actors in international relations have diversified and fragmented while intermesticization, which blurs boundaries between domestic and international issues, occurred. In particular, with rapid post-war urbanization, units known as “cities” have become more common and have been blamed for a wide range of problems, referred to as “the paradox of globalization”. With this problem, there are strong demands for these citities to undertake a practical role on the international stage. This can be seen as an important component behind city diplomacy. Contemplation into new ways to engage in such diplomacy should not be overlooked. If diplomacy based on “clubs” in the past has not transformed into a network-based activity, a new form represented by city diplomacy would not have emerged.

The core actor in this endeavor is regional government. Specifically, city diplomacy is a diplomatic activity that basically aims to tackle common issues, share policy and experience, and enhance international competitiveness based on regional officials’ effort to cooperate and forge ties with actors ranging from sub-national level to transnational level.

To achieve basic objectives of sectoral goals for ‘economic and food security’, ‘health security’, ‘environmental security’, ‘personal security’, ‘community security’ and ‘political security’ of individual residents, the regional government is currently pursuing city diplomacy in six domains: peace, environment, economy & food, healthcare, human rights, and culture. In other words, its ultimate aim is to ensure security of residents by putting both conventional and non-conventional security issues on the agenda. This also serves as a basic mechanism of city diplomacy. In the process of doing so, there is a demand for strategic and organic execution of specific diplomacy which defines fields, actors, objectives and instrumental characteristics of diplomacy in line with categories of new diplomacy. On top of this, there is an increasing need to build relations with other actors and recognize and appropriate roles.

Despite years of existence, city diplomacy has not been analyzed adequately. It is still used interchangeably with concepts such as paradiplomacy, sub-state diplomacy, and regional diplomacy. However, diplomatic activity led by regional governments is on the rise. Studies on city diplomacy have also increased over the last decade.

For a regional government to be a main actor in international relations and for city diplomacy to be widespread, it will need to advance in the following four directions. First, issues should be resolved with a focus on multilateral diplomacy. Second, on top of permanent diplomacy, measures to manage short-term crises should be designed. In particular, regional governments should be given greater roles in responding to conflicts. Third, a robust multi-layered governance system that ensures increased efficiency in multilateral diplomacy and clear roles should be set up. Lastly, systemization of Mayor diplomacy should improve efficiency in internal decision-making while increasing roles within multi-layered governance.