China’s “Host Diplomacy”: Opportunities, Challenges and Undertakings

China International Studies | 作者: Chen Dongxiao | 时间: 2014-11-14 | 责编: Li Minjie
Adjust font size: + -



Chen Dongxiao[1]



      When asked for his outlook on China’s 2014 diplomacy at a press conference in early 2014, Foreign Minister Wang Yi listed the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the informal summit meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), both of which are in China this year, as the country’s two key diplomatic events in 2014. He labeled these two events as examples of China’s so-called “host diplomacy.” Such remarks have sparked heated media discussions in China. The successful hosting of the CICA summit drew even more attention to China’s “host diplomacy,” and attention will continue to grow in the future.

Of course, this is not the first instance in which China has hosted important multilateral meetings, and if bilateral diplomatic activities were taken into account, the number of multilateral gatherings held in China would be staggering. Nevertheless, it is the first time that “host diplomacy” has been put forward by a Chinese leader as a diplomatic concept and viewed as an important component of China’s yearly diplomatic tasks. As links between China and the outside world become increasingly intimate and frequent, the Chinese government has realized the ever-increasing opportunities in China’s “host diplomacy.” The country urgently needs to incorporate “host diplomacy” into its overall diplomatic strategic planning in order to better maintain and expand its national interests.

Analyzing the new features of China’s “host diplomacy” during this new period, this paper will look at the opportunities and challenges facing China’s “host diplomacy” and discuss the problems that China should address in order to do a better job in this regard and bring its “host diplomatic advantages” into full play.


Concept of “Host Diplomacy” and Its Connotations


Seen from their various forms, all diplomatic activities hosted by a country within its territory should be considered “host diplomacy.” But such a definition implies that all countries engage in “host diplomacy” from the very founding of their respective diplomacies, and therefore this definition obviously fails to grasp the essence of “host diplomacy.”

More realistically speaking, “host diplomacy” should contain the following three connotations: a definite “geographic location,” namely, diplomatic activities held inside a country; the ability of the host nation to take initiative and play an important and even do-minant role in such activities; and the ability of the hosting activities to have an impact on the host country’s overall diplomatic work.

In this paper, “host diplomacy” will be defined as follows: various important bilateral and multilateral diplomatic activities hosted by a country within its borders, in which the host country’s government can play an important role and exert a positive influence on its efforts to maintain and expand its national interests.

The reason why these three layers must be emphasized in “host diplomacy” is that the concept includes not only “geographic scope” but also the host country’s “scope of initiatives.” This means that the hosting government must possess an awareness and ability to plan the agenda, processes and effects of such diplomatic activities (especially multilateral events), exert an important influence on them and skillfully make use of such “host advantages,” thus amplifying the function of diplomatic activities. In sum, these activities must help maintain and even expand the host country’s national interests and have some effects that common diplomatic activities are unable to produce.

A domestic scholar of international studies once observed that just as sports teams enjoy a so-called “home field advantage,” “host diplomacy” means that the host country can take advantage of favorable “timing, geographic and human factors” in order to grasp or strengthen its say in international affairs, plan topics or agendas to its advantage, push for the construction of international rules or orders favorable to its own interests and then realize its own diplomatic targets. If the host country only offers a venue for such diplomatic activities but lacks the ability to exert certain influences on the activities, then the host nation is unworthy of the “host diplomacy” title.

In other cases, despite having good aspirations, some host nations are unable to push forward topics related to their internal or diplomatic issues, or even bring about clear negative influences on their national interests because of their own inappropriate actions. This goes directly against the original intention of “host diplomacy.” On the one hand, it seems that all sovereign nations can push for “host diplomacy” as an important part of their diplomacy. But on the other hand, only countries that are able to truly engage in “host diplomacy” can really bring their respective “host diplomatic advantages” into full play and realize their own diplomatic targets. Only when countries have strong comprehensive national strength can they make full use of their “host diplomatic advantages.”


New Trends and Features of “Host Diplomacy”


Since the onset of the 21st century, all countries have undergone diplomatic transformations. Diplomatic styles have become increasingly enriched and diplomatic connotations have witnessed continuous and profound changes. Especially in today’s society, which is seeing accelerating political polarization, economic globalization, cultural diversification and social informatization, members of international society now attach more importance to “host diplomacy” in the hope that they can better utilize their “host advantages” and further strengthen, maintain and expand their interests. In this process, “host diplomacy” has also taken on some new features.


First, various countries now attach more importance to the “scale effect” of multilateral diplomacy.

Aside from traditional bilateral diplomatic activities, such as formal visits paid by national leaders, countries are now more active in vying to host multilateral international conferences that carry international influence, including regular summit meetings of multilateral international mechanisms, such as the G20, G8, BRICS countries and APEC, as well as some annual multilateral international forums, such as the nuclear security summit and the annual World Economic Forum, IMF and World Bank meetings. In addition, hosting major athletic events such as the Olympics and large-scale international exhibitions like the World Expo also provide countries with an important platform to engage in multilateral diplomacy.

Hosting a multilateral interna-tional conference can help the host nation exert influence on the topics and agendas in international affairs. At the same time, the number of participating countries and the seniority of representatives attending will also serve as important indices to gauge the host nation’s international influence.

Given the increasing economic and social development among African countries, the world’s major economies, including China, the United States, Japan, India and South Korea, have successively sponsored high-level forums with African countries in a bid to advance institutionalized political, economic and humanitarian cooperation and showcase their influence on the development process. Such so-called “diplomatic offensives,” which have become a noteworthy occurrence in “host diplomacy,” have once again verified the attractiveness and influence that can be produced by hosting such collective summit meetings.


Second, various countries now attach more importance to the “comprehensive effects” of “host diplomacy.”

Due to the increasing diversification of diplomatic participants and forms, diplomacy now covers political, economic, security, cultural and educational activities. Diplomatic connotations have become increasingly enriched, which includes not only traditional heads-of-state and government diplomacy, but also public, economic, cultural and local diplomacy, as well as other diplomatic forms that have emerged in recent years. On the whole, this has expanded diplomatic connotations and extended and boosted the “comprehensive effects” of diplomacy. Host diplomacy, especially at the multilateral level, usually offers a country the best opportunity to display its comprehensive and composite diplomatic character.

In other cases, the host country can take the opportunity of hosting a multilateral event to further enhance its openness to the outside world and the level of its international exchanges. This can help a country elevate its comprehensive national strength, including its smart power construction. Some global and comprehensive athletic, humanitarian and technological exchange events, such as the Olympics, the soccer World Cup and the World Expo, have become highly coveted by large countries, especially emerging ones, due to the extensive diplomatic areas that they cover, the large number of participants and the strong interactions that they facilitate. Emerging economies such as China, Russia, Brazil, India and South Korea have all undertaken efforts to host such comprehensive athletic, cultural and technological events as a way to drive economic growth, raise the comprehensive quality of their people and the level of international exchanges and display their commitment to openness.

At the same time, the host nation can also make use of the big-stage function of host diplomacy to comprehensively arrange and coordinate bilateral, multilateral and other forms of diplomatic activities. Currently, the diversification of diplomatic agendas has seen a significant rise, and various bilateral and multilateral diplomatic activities now occupy a large portion of the schedules of global leaders. While planning and drafting agendas for diplomatic events, governments, especially those of big countries, now attach more importance to the organic combination of bilateral and multilateral diplomatic events, all while making use of a variety of diplomatic forms, including economic, cultural and public diplomacy. They do this in order to prevent isolated or disconnected diplomatic agendas or singular diplomatic issues from weakening diplomatic effects or wasting diplomatic resources.

It is now common for host nations to make use of their “special right” to conduct intensive “bilateral exchanges” with other countries, including inviting the participation of potential non-member states, in an effort to promote bilateral interaction with certain countries while actively working to advance and implement multilateral topics and agendas through bilateral interactions. The organic combination of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, with the aim of producing better composite effects of diversified diplomatic initiatives, is now a key part of “host diplomacy” that is being robustly initiated by various countries. 

Third, various countries now attach considerable importance to the so-called three-dimensional dissemination of their core ideas.

In a sense, whether or not “host diplomacy” can be successful is largely dependent on whether the host nation can effectively transmit its core ideas to the outside world, whether its declared policy proposals can resonate at home and abroad, and whether it can have an important and lasting influence on conference agendas. At a multilateral international conference, the host nation should strive to make public a final document or policy declaration that not only represents the development direction of the times, but also serves its own interests. At the same time, it should also value interactions with participating media in order to popularize the achievements of the conference and amplify and extend its influence.

In our era of informatization, especially with social media and new telecommunication technologies booming, traditional closed-door, official diplomacy is facing challenges and transformation. When conducting “host diplomacy,” countries must attach more importance to setting the diplomatic agenda and interacting between domestic and foreign public opinion. They must make use of their information advantages to set agendas and lay down conference topics beforehand based on their own diplomatic goals and tasks.

Considering the irreplaceable importance of official leader remarks and the influence they have on public opinion, leaders usually receive individual media interviews in a bid to actively forge and steer the direction of public opinion. At the same time, host nations can actively bring scholars from domestic think tanks and opinion leaders together to make use of domestic and foreign media and extend and expand the effects of public opinion in the interest of “host diplomacy.”


Opportunities and Challenges


Entering the 21st century, China has significantly increased the emphasis it places on “host diplomacy.” Besides its active bilateral and multilateral diplomatic initiatives, the Chinese government has also successfully hosted large-scale international events like the Olympics, the Paralympic Games and the World Expo. Given that the Boao Forum for Asia and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, both of which are sponsored by China, now enjoy growing popularity and influence at home and abroad, some observers believe that China has already successfully developed its “host diplomacy.”

Especially since the convention of the 18th Party Congress in late 2012, the Chinese government has further strengthened its diplomatic strategic planning and actively forged, innovated and arranged its diplomatic approach and awareness. Such diplomatic changes now give “host diplomacy” a more important status and role. With an eye on the opportunities and challenges facing China’s “host diplomacy,” the question of how to help the country draw on advantages and avoid disadvantages will help China mobilize available resources and continuously take advantage of its “host diplomatic advantages” to realize diplomatic objectives.

From a comprehensive perspective, China now boasts the following three favorable factors in its efforts to push for “host diplomacy.”


First, China’s diplomatic voice and proposals now receive ever-growing attention from the international community, and the core competitiveness of China’s “host diplomacy” has seen a significant rise.

With the continuous increase of China’s comprehensive strength and international influences, international society now has higher expectations for China’s role in international affairs and its international responsibilities, putting China at the center of the international stage. Since the onset of the 21st century and especially since the 18th Party Congress, China has become more diplomatically active and taken more diplomatic initiative.

Over the past year alone, the Chinese government has continuously introduced new diplomatic concepts and proposals. In its relations with large countries, especially with the United States, China has advocated for a “new type of big-power relations,” which has become a core concept guiding opinions on the current Sino-American relationship. Concerning its relations with neighboring countries, the Chinese government has not only advocated “kinship, sincerity, reciprocity and tolerance,” but also put forth a series of economic construction policies, ranging from the “Silk Road Economic Belt” to the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” and an upgraded version of “China-ASEAN FTA” to the investment bank for Asian infrastructure construction, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor.

These policies have resonated in the regional and international community. Concerning international and regional security cooperation, the Chinese government has tirelessly enriched the connotations of its new security concept, which recognizes that China’s security cooperation has long lagged behind its booming economic cooperation. In May 2014, President Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech at the CICA Shanghai summit, formally putting forward the Asian security concept – “common security, comprehensive security, cooperation security and sustainable security” – and for the first time presenting China’s view of the Asian security concept. President Xi also introduced the concept of building a new framework for Asian security, an initiative that received considerable attention from regional and extra-regional countries. In general, as China plays an increasingly prominent role in global economic prosperity and international peace and stability, international conferences will have greater and greater expectations for China’s voice and advocacy. This means that China is now armed with more international influence to give full play to its “host diplomatic advantages.”


Second, China’s development path and story have considerably raised the attraction of China’s “host diplomacy.”

The effectiveness of “host diplomacy” is not only determined by the well-conceived organization and meticulous arrangements made by host nations during diplomatic activities; it is also to a large extent decided by the attractiveness of its “host diplomacy.” Such attractiveness not only refers to the concrete abilities of its “host diplomacy,” such as the material conditions and natural environment, but also includes the host nation’s comprehensive strength and influence displayed to international society.

Generally speaking, the stronger a nation’s comprehensive strength, the more attention its “host diplomacy” will draw. China’s Reform and Opening initiative has successfully helped it pioneer a Socialist development path with Chinese characteristics, a development that has not only made huge contributions to world peace and prosperity, but also offered some insight to other developing countries when they are selecting a development path and system suitable to their respective national conditions. Leaders of other countries, especially developing countries, are greatly interested in learning about the successful experience of China’s Reform and Opening, and this is an important reason why China has successfully held many multilateral international gatherings, such as the China-African cooperation and China-Arab cooperation forums.

Since the 18th Party Congress, the Chinese government has launched a new round of deepening reforms. On the diplomatic front, China has continued promoting “peaceful development, mutual benefit and win-win results,” stressing the diversification of development models and the spirit of “tolerance and mutual learning.” All of these internal and diplomatic moves have resonated in the international community, especially among developing countries, thus winning more endorsements for China’s “host diplomacy.”


Third, China now enjoys political institutional advantages to mobilize domestic resources in the name of “host diplomacy.”

The political institutional advantages of Socialism with Chinese characteristics can ensure that China effectively mobilizes itself at home. China’s successful hosting of the Beijing Olympic Games and the Shanghai World Expo demonstrated that its domestic conditions are conducive to hosting such events, with more developed hardware and software facilities, systematic and institutional improvements and impressive abilities. “Various mentalities, ideas and means for government diplomacy have been reflected in these international events,” thus strengthening the organization and leadership mechanisms and strategic planning abilities, improving the diplomatic mechanism for large-scale international activities and raising government foreign affairs capabilities.

Since the 18th Party Congress, the CPC Central Committee, with Xi Jinping serving as General Secretary, has placed great importance on the country’s top-level diplomatic strategic planning and overall layout, emphasizing a three-dimensional mentality and operations in foreign affairs, placing high emphasis on the overall diplomatic work and enforcement to firmly establish a unified diplomatic “chessboard.” It has thus guaranteed the leadership of the Party Central Committee over the country’s diplomatic decision-making, management and smooth enforcement of its emergency response mechanism. Under such circumstances, the advantages of China’s “host diplomacy” have been further enhanced.

At the same time, China’s “host diplomacy” still faces a slew of obstacles and challenges over the foreseeable future.

First, the United States and other Western powers are still vigilant and harbor disgruntlement over China’s use of “host diplomacy” to raise its international influence. Such attitudes will serve as the largest external factor negatively impacting China’s “host diplomacy.” Currently, power-to-power relations have entered a new stage of all-directional struggle over comprehensive national strength, and all countries now attach more importance to competitions over institutional power, including competitions to set agendas for international conferences. Host diplomacy, especially on a multilateral basis, has become an important channel for large countries to vie for institutional power. With the continuous rise of China’s comprehensive strength and the trend of a declining West, preventive restraint directed at China and even open containment will continuously rise. The West will become more sensitive and harbor more misgivings towards China’s attempts to boost its influence through “host diplomacy,” and the West will thus openly or secretly take measures to weaken the positive effects of China’s “host diplomacy.”

Second, quite a few surrounding countries still have a complex perspective towards China, even as they take part in multilateral diplomatic activities hosted by Beijing. In general, China’s surrounding countries are aiming to take a free ride on China’s fast-growing economic train, and they are happy about China’s efforts to offer more public products to maintain regional peace, stability and development. Some countries, however, are reluctant to extend their support to Chinese proposals right now, instead adopting ambiguous or passive responses to Chinese proposals that relate to United States interests. Such behavior is due to direct political, economic or security disputes with China, concerns that China-led diplomatic events will bring about unfavorable consequences for others, or because of pressure from the United States and other Western countries.

Third, Compared with its bilateral diplomatic experience, China’s experience in hosting multilateral diplomatic activities is still not sufficient. In terms of the number of such multilateral events and their comprehensive level, China still has a large gap with Western countries, especially on issues regarding overall planning and activity design, including agenda setting, coordination with other members, management and guiding of domestic and foreign public opinion, responding to emergency interruptions, and gaining the support of academic networks and think tanks. China is yet to learn and accumulate sufficient experiences in these areas.


Thoughts on Improving “Host Diplomacy”


First, while promoting its “host diplomacy,” China should further elaborate and elucidate its overall diplomatic targets and main tasks over the following five to ten years.

The overall goals of China’s “host diplomacy,” which are guided by the strategic task of realizing its “two centennial goals,” are to make full use of the favorable “timing, geographic and human” factors through strategic planning and combining internal and external resources to actively safeguard its national interests, boost its voice and influence on the international stage, create an external opinion environment favorable to China, and maintain and prolong China’s period of “strategic opportunity.”

China’s “host diplomacy” should be comprised of the following two requirements. The first is to make use of changing circumstances in order to expand China’s influence on the international stage. In the coming five to ten years, one of the basic tasks for China’s “host diplomacy” will be to promote the further institutionalization and materialization of its new diplomatic ideas, mentalities and concepts.

Concepts raised by China after the 18th Party Congress – such as the “Chinese dream,” a “new concept on ethics and benefit,” and a “new type of big-power relations” – have already received extensive responses from the international community. China must make systematic arrangements to host several multilateral events in the coming years, including the forums on China-African cooperation and China-Arab cooperation, the BRICS summit, the Sino-American Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the China-EU summit, the forum on economic and trade cooperation between China and Central and East European countries, and the G20. It must fully make use of their scale effects and form some inclusive “host diplomatic agendas” that can resonate internationally.

At the same time, China should also try to promote connections between the diplomatic events hosted within its borders and those hosted in other parts of the world to push for the better dissemination of “Chinese concepts” and the smooth implementation of “Chinese proposals.” This will boost China’s international influence while offering ideological dynamics to regional and world cooperation to promote peace, stability and development.

The second task is to consolidate China’s diplomatic foundation and highlight key diplomatic points. An important objective for China’s “host diplomacy” in the following five to ten years is to push for the gradual formation of a “Great Surrounding Order” that features sustainable development and sustainable security. On the basis of summarized experiences from the 2014 CICA Shanghai summit and the APEC Beijing summit, China should make a planning framework for cooperation with surrounding countries, extend the positive takeaways from the two summits, and promote the combination of economic cooperation based on the “one belt and one road” concept and the strategy for security cooperation based on the “new Asian security concept.”

In the years to come, China will not only act as CICA’s presiding nation, but also annually host the Boao Forum for Asia, China-ASEAN exhibition. As the host nation, China will also host multilateral such events as the SCO Shanghai summit and the forum on China-Arab cooperation.

China should therefore engage in overall planning, establish relevant working mechanisms and turn the hosting of the above multilateral events into opportunities and a platform to push forward the interconnected construction of the “one belt and one road” strategy, the popularization and implementation of the “new Asian security concept,” and at the same time combine them with China’s overall bilateral and multilateral diplomacy.

If done successfully, this will help nurture and deepen the important strategic belt for surrounding diplomacy and push for a relationship between China and neighboring countries based on “kinship, sincerity, reciprocity and tolerance.”


Second, in order to push forward its “host diplomacy” efforts, China should strengthen coordination and collaboration on the “front, middle and back fields” to expand the positive spillover effects of its “host diplomacy.”

The positive spillover effects of “host diplomacy” depend on the preparations in the early stage – that is, whether or not the agenda setting receives positive responses from participating parties and the international community. For example, while engaging in overall planning for several host diplomatic activities in the coming years, China should skillfully incorporate its visions on regional cooperation – such as the “one belt and one road” concept – into multilateral international and regional summits, including the Shanghai summit of SCO, the forum on economic and trade cooperation between China and Central and East European countries and the forums on China-African cooperation and China-Arab cooperation. To this end, China should engage in full communication with concerned parties to reach consensus and create a positive atmosphere, all while carrying out in-depth and full internal discussions to make research and judgments from the concepts, connotations, goals, tasks, feasibility, risks and difficulties, as well as the advantages and disadvantages.

The positive spillover effects of “host diplomacy” also rest on whether participants can focus on agendas during the event and avoid distractions or deviations from main topics. While making preparations for host diplomatic activities, China should conduct dry runs for predictable and unpredictable internal and external factors in order to ensure that the main conference themes will be kept on track.

For instance, on the eve of CICA’s Shanghai summit, Vietnam and the Philippines undertook some provocative actions geared against China on the South China Sea issue. In Vietnam, violent smashing, plundering and burning targeted at Chinese enterprises and workers erupted across the territory, causing international concerns over whether the ongoing CICA would be interrupted. During the conference, China consistently void to “to strengthen dialogue, trust and coordination and jointly build a peaceful, stable and cooperative Asia.” In his keynote speech, President Xi made an in-depth statement on the new “Asian security concept” with a “common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security” at its core, and he engaged in active discussions with leaders of other CICA members on how to work out a common and win-win security path for Asia. At the CICA Shanghai summit, participants successfully issued the Shanghai Declaration, which has become another milestone guideline document for multilateral diplomacy in Asia.

The positive spillover effects of “host diplomacy” are also decided by whether the written documents resulting from diplomatic events, especially the fruits of multilateral conferences, can be credibly and realistically enforced. Over the coming two years as CICA’s presiding nation, China should fully grasp all opportunities and make full use of its presiding power to systematically layout a series of diplomatic maneuvers, including a code of conduct for regional security and an Asian security partnership, building a cooperation forum on Asian law enforcement security, building an Asian security emergency center, holding a conference on Asian civilization dialogue, strengthening the CICA system and mechanisms, raising the level of CICA’s openness and tolerance and increasing the ability of CICA’s think tank network to provide intellectual support, as well as laying down some action plans and pushing for effective implementation.

An important measure of success in the upcoming APEC meeting and possible BRICS and G20 summits will be whether China can continue and carry forward the agendas and implement their fruits. Therefore, China should plan beforehand and take into account possible unexpected circumstances when designing related themes and agendas, and in particular, it should strengthen coordination with the former and future presiding nations in a bid to ensure the continuity and sustainability of major agenda issues.


Third, China should creatively build topics of confederation to advance its “host diplomacy” and win more international endorsements.

While expanding its “host diplomacy” and trying to allow host multilateral diplomacy to have lasting influences on its overall diplomatic strategy, China should skillfully push for alliances to be formed to determine topics of multilateral conferences, especially alliances that involve major powers.

To this end, China should not only further coordinate its stances on major global economic and political issues with other BRICS countries and form a united diplomatic front. At the same time, it should also try to find areas of interest convergence with the United States and European countries on economic and security issues. This will help ensure that developed countries can play a positive role in bridging connections between developed and developing countries.

Furthermore, China should actively promote the role of middle powers in its “host diplomacy.” The CICA mechanism, for example, has the room and foundation for middle powers in Asia to play an important role. China should seize the historical opportunity that the middle powers in the region share the same or similar views with China on the new security concept for Asia to steadily advance the work on the case applications, experience summarization and theoretical construction of the new security concept in its neighboring regions, to have the new concept take root within the CICA platform. At the same time, China should develop the ability to construct a cooperation mechanism with Asia’s middle powers within the CICA framework, especially the coordination and planning ability of its Secretariat, in order to make better institutional preparations for upgrading CICA in the future.


Fourth, China should attach more importance to the supporting role played by think tanks and opinion-setters in its “host diplomacy.”

It should learn from international experiences on cooperation between multilateral conferences and think tanks and continue increasing investment in research conducted by domestic think tanks on CICA, BRICS countries and the forums on China’s cooperation with African, Arab and Latin American countries. This will help raise the international influence of Chinese think tanks on relevant issues. China also needs to innovate its incentive mechanism and strengthen Chinese think tanks’ ability to conduct international exchanges, joint research and expand the scale of the research community. This involves setting up a series of high-end dual-track intellectual platforms and offering intellectual services for China’s “host diplomacy” and the development of its multilateral mechanisms.



[1]Chen Dongxiao is Senior Research Fellow and President of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.