International Public Relations and Diplomacy of Local Governments and Cities

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International Public Relations and Diplomacy of Local Governments and Cities
Chloe Xu, Consultant, Australia

In today’s world, the influence of a city can go beyond the political and administrative boundaries of its traditional geographic, legal or fiscal territory. Building relations with other countries with a view to promote their own interest is nothing new for local governments (city branding) but over the last decade a phenomenon called ‘paradiplomacy’ has been expanding.
“Going global” has gone beyond conceptual denominations to become a clear political objective for local government leaders who want to position their city “on the world map”. Some key aspects of this trend include:
  • STRENGTHENING OF GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP. Over the past years, an increasing number of citizen groups have been established for common causes and prospered in different places around the world. They have reinforced their capacity to play a part in international affairs, especially through non-governmental organisation (NGOs).
  • GROWING URBANISATION OF HUMAN SETTLEMENTS. The growing urbanisation of human settlements and the ensuring deterioration of the living standard in the cities has put local governments at the centre of world concerns. The city is becoming a field for discovering and testing new modes of political action of securing the supply of public services which go beyond national borders.
  • DECENTRALISATION. It is true today that local territories are playing an increasingly important role in the implementation of any kind of development policies. Within this context, mayors and local politicians are beginning to be seen as the actual leaders of the communities and their converging social forces. Decentralisation also has paved the way to the application of the so-called “subsidiarity” principle, which means any decisions on public policies should be taken as near as possible to the place where such policies are to be implemented. 
  • REGIONAL INTEGRATION. Local governments have had to deal with the opportunities and threats associated with the regional integration processes initiated by the national government while confronting internal challenges. Such integration processes not only pursues commercial goals, but also influences every aspect of local life, promoting sub-national governments to act on wider decision-making platforms.
As a result of the above, the status and role of local governments in regards to international relations has changed dramatically:
  • NEW DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION PATTERN. The traditional cooperation pattern that basically entailed a ‘one-way’ transfer of resources as non-reimbursable subsidies or donations and was largely structured by the central government is changing.The latest trend is to put less emphasis on the transfer of funds and focus more on technical support, exchange of experiences, and training of human resources.

  • INTERNATIONAL MUNICIPALISM. With more comprehensive economic liberalization policies, local governments are invited to be increasingly involved in international level negotiations between countries.

  • FOREIGN POLICY FROM THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT. Foreign policy has long been the exclusive business of the central government. However, as international municipalism develops and local governments play an increasingly important role in international negotiations, local governments tend to have their own foreign policy and form part of the national foreign policy.
I would like to discuss more about how the role of local government has changed from observer to leading actor in today’s world. If you are also interested in the topic of diplomacy at local government level, I am very happy to learn about your ideas/reactions…
Source: Garesche, E. D. Z. 2007. Chapter 1: Why Should Local Government Implement International Action? Guidelines for the International Relations of Local Governments and Decentralised Cooperation between the European Union and Latin America. Working paper.


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