Beijing clamps down on costly conferences

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 February, 2011, 12:00am

With the mainland becoming one of the world's top destinations for international conferences and forums, Beijing has taken aim at wasteful government spending in the sector and released a new set of rules.

Local governments and all government departments will have to restrict the number of international meetings they host, according to a statement jointly issued on Saturday by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Those wishing to organise such events will have to apply in advance to the central government, provincial governments or related ministries.

The new policy has been approved by the State Council.

Local governments must consider carefully the themes of conferences they seek to host, avoiding duplications of meetings with similar topics at the same time, according to the statement.

'All regions and government departments should control the number of participants and the scale of international meetings,' it said. '[They] should correct their mistaken thinking that the bigger the conference the better it is.'

The number of international events hosted on the mainland grew rapidly in the decade to 2010, according to a report released by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) in August. In 2009 China joined the ranks of the 10 countries hosting the most international events per year.

In 2000, China hosted only 83 international events and ranked 19th on the ICCA's list, while Japan hosted 176 and ranked 9th. In 2009, the mainland hosted 245 events, moving to 9th on the ICCA, list one place behind Japan, at 257.

Many of those events, however, relied on funding from various levels of government.

Chen Zeyan, secretary general of the China Convention and Exhibition Society, said he believed the main purpose of the notice was to rein in local governments' wasteful spending on hosting big events.

For example, he said, 'Dalian and Tianjin have been taking turns to hold the Summer Davos economic meeting since 2007, but many other cities also wanted to be the hosts. They applied to the central government, promising to invest more for the forum,' he said.

'You know that the forum is costly to host, and Tianjin and Dalian have to spend several dozen million yuan each time,' he said.

Many such events use the term 'international' as a gimmick, he said. Beijing's move was partly aimed at reducing the number of events with prestigious-sounding names but little solid content.

As for events run by private companies or focusing on specific academic themes, Chen said it was hard to predict whether or not they would be affected, since the notice did not spell out how it would deal with them.

But it does give specific rules on budget controls for government-backed international conferences. All events requiring government financial support must have advance approval from financial authorities, and all spending must be related to the conferences, not extraneous sideline services.

To limit government spending and avoid the potential for corruption, event organisers will not be allowed to give participants souvenirs or gifts, use public funds to host sightseeing tours or provide what it calls 'daily necessities' in guests' hotel rooms - 'following international practices'.

'Without approval [from related government departments], no one is allowed to promise foreign participants that state leaders will attend events,' the notice said, adding that no important foreign figures could be invited without authorisation.

They should correct their mistaken thinking that the bigger the conference the better it is

Statement jointly issued by the finance and foreign affairs ministries

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In 2009, China joined the top 10 countries hosting international events, with this number of such conferences: 245