Multilateral Diplomacy – What Is It?


We define ‘multilateral diplomacy’ as the practice of involving more than two nations or parties in achieving diplomatic solutions to national, international or global problems. Working in a multilateral diplomatic context is in many ways very distant from traditional bilateral diplomacy. Multilateral diplomacy requires very specific forms of networking, information gathering, alliance building and coordination among partners. 1


There are many Conferences that we can view as examples of multilateral diplomacy, for instance: UN Conference on the Human Environment, World Summit on Sustainable Development, G20, T20 and others. 2

The G20 summits are conferences held at various different levels. Those can be meetings between heads of state or heads of government, but also ministerial-level meetings01.png

Let’s focus on the G20.

The Group of Twenty is an international forum that brings together the world’s leading industrialized and emerging economies. The group accounts for 85 per cent of world GDP and two-thirds of its population. The G20 lists Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea. Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America, China and South Africa.

The final member is the European Union, represented by the European Commission, rotating Council presidency and the European Central Bank (ECB). Spain as a permanent non-member invitee also attends leader summits.

Other countries also attend summits at the invitation of the host country, while it has become customary for the Chair of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and representatives of the African Union and NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) to be present at leader summits.


The difference between the G8 and G20:

The Group of Eight (G8), established as the G7 in 1976 but renamed after the admission of Russia in 1998, is an international forum for the eight major industrial economies. It comprises: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

However, since 2014 Russian membership has been suspended following the country’s annexation of Crimea.


The G8 seeks cooperation on economic issues facing the major industrial economies, while the G20 reflects the wider interests of both developed and emerging economies.


Initially attendance at G20 summits was limited to the finance ministers and central bank governors of members, when it was established 18 years ago.The first G20 summit occurred in Berlin, in December 1999 and was hosted by the German and Canadian finance ministers. Since then there have been 18 G20 meetings between finance ministers and central bank governors, and 10 summits between heads of state or government of G20 economies. 3

The most recent summit of G20 leaders happened in Hangzhou (the capital of China’s Zhejiang province, sitting south west of Shanghai), from 4-5 September 2016. It was the first to be hosted by China, only the second in Asia, and has been hailed as a “milestone” in the country’s development and symbolic of its growing importance as a major power.

There were five economic statements of the summit:

  • Fight against tax evasion (asking the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for a black list of tax havens)
  • Favour international trade and investments and opposition to protectionism
  • Fiscal incentive and modernization to improve economic growth
  • Battling “populist attacks” against globalisation
  • Strengthen support for refugees





  1. Mayr-Harting, T. Multilateral Diplomacy in Practice.
  2. Mahbubani, K. (2015) Multilateral diplomacy. Available at: (Accessed: 10 January 2017).
  3. Mustafa, J. (2016) What is the G20 and how does it work? Available at: (Accessed: 10 January 2017).

2 thoughts on “Multilateral Diplomacy – What Is It?

  1. nooranoor January 16, 2017 / 12:22 pm

    It was interesting learning something new. I Liked how you discussed a variety of examples. You managed to break down everything and took us through steps of each and every administration and how they are committed to the G20. What i mostly liked in fact was how you introduced the history of the G20 and its functions. You also depicted the economic affairs of this cooperation.

    A massive thumbs up.


  2. sessantaquattro1 March 6, 2017 / 12:36 pm

    Great post and an interesting discussion, you clearly outlined what multilateral diplomacy is. You illustrated this discussion with a great example of multilateral diplomacy in practice; the G20. Multilateral diplomacy, by definition, is the practice of diplomatic relations between three or more states. As you mentioned in your post it aims to solve national, international and global issues, as opposed to the practice of traditional bilateral diplomacy between two states only. Your point about the requirements of multilateral diplomacy was informative; for multilateral diplomacy to be successful you do need members to be networking and information gathering, as you also mentioned alliance building is critical and there needs to be coordination among partners. The discussion of the G20 summit in Hangzhou is a great example of multilateral diplomacy; interesting was the point you made about how it was the first G20 summit to be held in China, and how it was only the second to be held in Asia, as you said this demonstrates how China is a rising power. You effectively discussed exactly what the G20 aims to do e.g. your example of the five economic statements following the Hangzhou summit. Also interesting was your discussion of its composition, how it is made up of the world’s leading industrialized and emerging economies e.g; China, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea US, UK, South Africa and the EU representative. Great post, you illustrate and explain exactly what multilateral diplomacy is, and what multilateral diplomacy aims to achieve, whilst giving great examples of it in practice.


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