China’s city diplomacy and legitimacy: a Shenzhen story
As cities have become a significant sub-state feature in world politics since the latter part of the twentieth century, their diplomacy has played an important role in general diplomacy in promoting global governance and improving local development. However, a larger conceptual framework for distinguishing between what is essential and what is contingent or accidental in influencing the relative success or failure of city diplomacy is currently neglected in studies of city diplomacy. Furthermore, detailed first-hand information showing how China’s city diplomacy works is lacking in English language sources. I argue that in order to understand the operational nature of China’s city diplomacy, two factors must be taken into consideration: how the diplomacy of Chinese cities has become legitimate and how this legitimacy in return affects cities’ diplomatic outcomes. This thesis contributes both theory and data to these studies through introducing legitimacy theory and the diplomatic practice of Shenzhen, the pioneering city in the reform and opening up of China. The findings are based on participant observation undertaken while I was working part-time at the European Office of Shenzhen Government. Data were collected through observation notes from field work, published government documents, news articles and relevant secondary academic sources, which did not include any confidential or sensitive information. Drawing on insights provided by this supporting evidence, I argue that the legitimacy of city diplomacy is critical to its success. The legitimacy of city diplomacy comes from consent, which has two dimensions. The first is the support given by domestic politics, and the second is the recognition given by the overseas audience. The former standardizes the direction and behaviour of the diplomatic agent, while the latter determines the result of city diplomacy. The analytical framework of the thesis adopted two mainstream legitimation approaches in current research on legitimacy – favourable outcomes and procedural correctness – to show the legitimation process of Shenzhen’s diplomacy. In the domestic environment, it will be shown that the former is more decisive than the latter, because favourable outcomes which serve national and local development, especially to develop the economy, are the main duty of Chinese city diplomacy. Meanwhile, procedural correctness provides the institutional framework for legitimizing Shenzhen diplomacy and then enabling its agents to reach a desired outcome. In diplomacy, a favourable outcome is vital, and will determine whether audiences perceive Shenzhen diplomacy as having legitimacy. The thesis will first introduce the concept of legitimacy for the study of city diplomacy, outlining how the legitimation process takes place and the importance of branding and symbols in this process. It will then show how the Shenzhen European Office has become legitimized. Third, it will discuss how reform and opening up, as China’s national brand and the city brand of Shenzhen, influence the legitimacy of Shenzhen diplomacy. Finally, the way in which symbols work in raising the legitimacy of Shenzhen on the diplomatic stage will be examined.