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The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations

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Abstract and Figures

The report presents the specificity of relations with China at the subnational level of the six largest EU countries in terms of population: Germany, France, Spain, Poland, Italy, and the UK. It also analyses selected case studies of European regions cooperating with Chinese partners. The text also includes references to relations between the European Union and China. The conclusions are based on the analysis of the selected countries and cannot always be generalised to the entire European Union.
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Edited by Adriana Skorupska and Justyna Szczudlik
The Subnational Dimension
of EU-China Relations
The Polish Institute of International
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ISBN 978-83-66091-33-7
e-ISBN 978-83-66091-34-4
Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
ul. Warecka 1A
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tel. (+48) 22 556 80 00
fax (+48) 22 556 80 99
The Subnational Dimension
of EU-China Relations
Adriana Skorupska, Justyna Szczudlik
Tomasz Kamiński, Adriana Skorupska, Justyna Szczudlik
Warsaw, August 2019
© Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych, 2019
Prof. Dominik Mierzejewski, University of Łódź
Proof reading
Brien Barnett
Technical editor
Dorota Dołęgowska
Cover design and maps
ISBN 978-83-66091-33-7
e-ISBN 978-83-66091-34-4
Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych
ul. Warecka 1a, 00-950 Warszawa
phone (+48) 22 556 80 00, fax (+48) 22 556 80 99,
Introduction .........................................................5
Chapter 1. Various Levels of EU-China Cooperation ...........................7
1.1. EU-China Relations .............................................7
1.1.1. Political and Economic Relations at the EU Level .................. 7
1.1.2. Relations at the Inter-state Level ............................... 9
1.1.3. Social Relations .........................................11
1.2. EU-China Paradiplomacy—The Perspectives of Six EU Member States .....13
1.2.1. France .................................................16
1.2.2. Spain ..................................................18
1.2.3. Germany ..............................................20
1.2.4. Poland ................................................. 23
1.2.5. United Kingdom ......................................... 25
1.2.6. Italy ...................................................28
1.3. EU-China Paradiplomacy—The Chinese Perspective ...................30
1.3.1. European Regions on a Map of China .........................30
1.3.2. Chinese Regional Policy and Paradiplomacy:
“Mountains are High, and the Emperor is Far Away” ..............37
Chapter 2. Specialisation in EU-China Paradiplomacy—Case Studies .............41
2.1. Pays de la Loire ............................................... 41
2.2. Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes .........................................43
2.3. Castile and León ..............................................44
2.4. Valencia .................................................... 46
2.5. Berlin ......................................................48
2.6. Brandenburg .................................................49
2.7. Dolnośląskie .................................................51
2.8. Łódzkie ..................................................... 52
2.9. Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
2.10. Scotland ...................................................56
2.11. Umbria ...................................................58
Chapter 3. Summary and Conclusions ....................................60
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 5
This report is the result of a three-year project conducted by the Faculty of International and
Political Studies at the University of Łódź and the Polish Institute of International Affairs and funded
by the National Science Centre.1 The aim of the project was to understand the role of cooperation
between European and Chinese regions in the politics of the European Union as regards China. The
study involved the phenomenon of paradiplomacy, i.e., relations of international subnational entities
whose goal is to achieve economic, cultural, and political benets. It is assumed that the growing
independence of local governments brings new challenges to the foreign policy of the state.2
The report presents the specicity of relations with China at the subnational level of the six
largest EU countries in terms of population: Germany, France, Spain, Poland, Italy, and the UK.
It also analyses selected case studies of European regions cooperating with Chinese partners. The
text also includes references to relations between the European Union and China. The conclusions
are based on the analysis of the selected countries and cannot always be generalised to the entire
European Union.
The analysis was based on a review of the literature and information gathered during
a survey of regions in ve EU Member States (France, Spain, Germany, Poland, and Italy) and
selected local government units in the UK.3 In total, the data from 75 regions in the ve countries
(91% of all the regions in these countries) and 12 surveys from the UK were collected. The survey
was conducted in December 2016 and in the rst half of 2017.4 The questionnaire of the survey
was distributed in paper and electronic version to representatives of regional authorities (the units
responsible for international cooperation). Some regions did not respond and for others, the data
was supplemented with information from the websites of the analysed local government units.
In Germany, the survey was completed by eight out of 16 Länder. Information on the others was
obtained from another survey.5
The second part of the project included interviews with EU ofcials and representatives
of the authorities of selected regions from the six countries surveyed. In the EU, interviews were
conducted at the European Commission in the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy
(DG REGIO) and Energy (DG ENER); in the European External Action Service (EEAS), with the
person responsible for EU-China relations; with diplomats from Member States (Polish MFA;
Germany). In the regions, 11 interviews were conducted: three in Germany, two each in Spain,
France, and Poland, and one each in Italy and the UK. In total, in 2017–2019, 16 interviews were
conducted, of which 12 were in the form of semi-structured extensive individual interviews, one
was informal and two were in the form of an e-mail (written replies).
An extensive analysis of the issues presented here will be included in a book published in
2020 by the University of Łódź Publishing House.
The authors
1 Projekt 2015/19/B/HS5/02534 “Rola regionów w polityce Unii Europejskiej wobec Chin,” nanced by the
National Science Centre.
2 A. Kuznetsov, Theory and Practice of Paradiplomacy, New York: Routledge, 2015.
3 The study covered administrative units at the regional level (most often classied by Eurostat as NUTS 2) that
carry out paradiplomacy activities. In Poland, these are voivodeships, in Italy and France, regions, in Spain, autonomous
communities, in Germany, Länder, that is, federal states. In the United Kingdom, which has a specic administrative
division based largely on small counties, the questionnaires were sent to the governments of the constituent parts of the
United Kingdom, as well as to major cities and metropolitan unions (agglomerations).
4 The survey from Île-de-France was the only one received in 2018.
5 In Germany, data obtained from the survey were veried and supplemented with information from the work
of A. Goette, Gao Qinlan, Deutsch-Chinesische Kommunalbeziehungen, Bonn: Servicestelle Kommunen in der Einen
Welt, 2018.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 7
1.1. EU-China Relations
Relations between the EU and China occur at three levels—EU, national, and subnational
(regions and cities)—which inuence each other. For these reasons, the analysis of the regional
level should be preceded by a review of relations at higher levels.
1.1.1. Political and Economic Relations at the EU Level
The rst contacts between the European Communities and China can be traced back to
the 1970s (the rst visit of the European Commissioner to Beijing took place in 1975, and in
1978 the rst agreement was signed); however, bilateral relations gained signicance only two
decades later when China’s international position grew and the process of European integration
was extended.6 The crucial moment was China’s accession to the WTO in 2001, which intensied
the development of economic contacts. Trade turnover increased vefold in subsequent years and
China became the EU’s second most important trading partner after the U.S. At the same time, the
problem was the large trade decit on the EU side, which in 2005–2008 amounted to 50% of the
mutual exchange (Fig. 1).
Figure 1. EU-China Trade, 2002–2018 (EUR billion)
Source: authors’ compilation based on Eurostat data.
Along with the increase in trade, mutual investments also increased (in 2017, €180 billion,
of which only less than €60 billion comprised Chinese investments in the EU7). In the Union,
6 T. Kamiński, Sypiając ze smokiem. Polityka Unii Europejskiej wobec Chin, Łódź: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu
Łodzkiego, 2015,
7 China—Trade—European Commission, European Commission,
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
however, the feeling has grown that the benets from developing economic relations have been
unequal. The EU accuses China of not fully implementing its obligations under WTO membership,
in particular, discriminating against European enterprises by hindering their access to the Chinese
market, for example, through high-entry thresholds, non-tariff barriers, the obligation to establish
a joint venture with a Chinese partner or forced technology transfer, resulting in inadequate
protection of intellectual property rights. The Chinese government also interferes in the economy
by subsidising domestic companies. As a result, they gain a stronger position in the markets (local
and international), which means an imbalance in competition, e.g., against EU investors.
The Chinese authorities’ control over domestic enterprises (including private rms that
must cooperate with the authorities) makes it possible to use them as tools in foreign policy,
a factor perceived in the EU as a security threat. It is concerned about the takeover by Chinese
investors of European technology solutions and access to critical infrastructure. Examples of these
types of risky Chinese investments have appeared in the EU since 2016 when a Chinese company
took over German company Kuka, an industrial robot manufacturer. These activities were part of
the “Made in China 2025” programme announced by Chinese authorities to achieve leadership
status in high-tech. Since then, the EU began to modify its approach to China by introducing the
rst safeguards in 2018, such as a “screening” mechanism to help identify and possibly block
Chinese investments considered security threats in Europe.8
China’s assertiveness and the accompanying security fears have meant a change in the EU’s
approach to reciprocity in relations, mainly economic, with China. The term “reciprocity” is being
consistently used by the EU to push China to follow the same rules as those that apply to Chinese
entrepreneurs operating in the Union—ensuring an open market, the equal treatment of investors,
equal opportunities, and free competition. With the slow pace and limited liberalisation of the
Chinese economy and the growing concerns related to 5G infrastructure, offered mainly by the
Chinese telecommunications company Huawei (which also is probably subsidised by the state),
the EU is redening its perception of China, including the principle of reciprocity, perceiving
the country not only as a partner but also as a competitor. This transition from the EU’s policy of
engagement to an approach that focuses on protective measures and a readiness to compete with
China is also a reaction to human-rights violations in China. Economic rights (so-called second-
generation rights) are only part of the issue, with violations of so-called “rst-generation rights”
(personal rights) evidenced by the repression of Uyghurs or the use of new technologies for public
control (e.g., face recognition or creating a “social credit system”).
Another manifestation of tightening EU policy is the document “EU-China: A Strategic
Outlook,”9 published by the European Commission in March 2019 in which China was called
“a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance” and “an economic competitor in
the pursuit of technological leadership.” The EU signals that under its reciprocity principle, it will
no longer only issue rebukes but may introduce similar rules to those that China applies to EU
entities, for example, fully implement the screening mechanism or restrict the access of Chinese
companies to tenders in the EU. In addition, the Union demands that negotiations of investment
agreements or geographical indications, which have lasted for years, should be concluded within
a specied period. As a result of China’s growing dispute with the U.S., it is willing to make
concessions to the EU, as evidenced by the results of the last EU-China summit in April 2019. The
joint declaration set deadlines for completing the current negotiations, acknowledged that there
8 J. Szczudlik, D. Wnukowski, “Investment Screening Reforms in the U.S. and EU: A Response to Chinese
Activity,” PISM Bulletin, no. 1 (1247), 2 January 2019.
9 EU-China–A strategic outlook, 19 March 2019 and in a previous document, Elements for a new EU strategy on
China, European Commission, 22 June 2016.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 9
should be no forced transfer of technology, and that the issue of subsidies for industry should be
resolved at the WTO.10
Despite its critical approach to China, the EU seeks cooperation with the Chinese. The new
EC document underlines the similar positions of both parties on climate issues and on agreements
involving Iran or North Korea. The EU strives to involve China in solving global problems through
institutionalised multilateral cooperation, an example of which is the EU-China working group on
WTO reform set up in 2018.
It is worth noting that EU-Chinese relations are characterised by a high level of
institutionalisation, compared only with transatlantic relations. Apart from the annual summits
of the president of the European Council, chairman of the European Commission, and the prime
minister of China, there are many meetings in various formats and at various levels. They are
arranged in three pillars corresponding to the dimension of bilateral relations: political, economic,
or social (Table 1).
Table 1. The Institutional Framework of EU-China Relations
Political pillar Economic pillar Social pillar
Strategic dialogue
(High Representative for EU Foreign
and Security Policy and China’s State
Councillor for Foreign Affairs, meets
High-level dialogue on
economy and trade (EC
Vice-President and China’s
Deputy PM, annually)
High-level dialogue on people-to-
people contacts
(Commissioner for Education, Culture,
Multilingualism and Youth, China’s
Deputy PM, every two years)
Political dialogues
(regular contacts between the High
Representative and the Chinese Foreign
Minister, meetings of high-level ofcials)
Joint Committee operating
under the 1985 TCA
agreement (at the
ministerial level, meets
Political dialogues
(on Youth, culture, and higher
education and vocational education)
Regional and thematic dialogues
(10 formats, including ones on human
rights, Africa)
Sectoral dialogues
(48 formats, including one
on urbanisation)
Economic and nancial
dialogue between
representatives of the EC,
and ECB, and the Chinese
Ministry of Finance and the
central bank
A roundtable between the European Economic and Social Committee
and the Chinese Economic and Social Council
Inter-parliamentary dialogue
Source: authors’ compilation.
1.1.2. Relations at the Inter-state Level
Bilateral relations between Member States and China constitute the second level of EU-
China contacts. They are developed, to some extent, regardless of European policy, which raises
difculties in maintaining EU unity in its approach to China. For these reasons, it is not clear
whether the new stricter policy towards China will be fully pursued. This despite the fact that in
10 J. Szczudlik, “Sharpening the EU’s China Policy,” PISM Bulletin, no. 53 (1299), 6 May 2019.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
many areas the EU Member States must coordinate their policies, for example, under the common
trade policy.
The Member States have different perceptions about the benets and risks of cooperation
with China. Some countries in the EU are more open to it (e.g., Greece, Hungary, the UK, and
Portugal, and recently, Italy), counting on economic benets or, by playing the China card, can
negotiate with the Commission on solutions more benecial to them. They also use this tack to
distance themselves from meeting EU requirements regarding reforms and standards (e.g., on rule
of law, budgetary discipline, or access to EU funds). In recent years, this has been the case, for
example, with Greece and Hungary. There are also countries that approach relations with China
with increasing caution (e.g., Germany, France, Poland), which besides the economic benets
also see a security risk.
For all six of the countries discussed in this report, their relations with China are primarily
economic. Trade turnover between them and China is growing, although in most cases, the trade
decit on the Europeans’ side is also growing (Fig. 2). All except for Germany (which has an 11%
surplus) have a negative trade balance with China. The largest decits in 2018 were with Poland,
at 86%, and Spain, at 59%.
Figure 2. Trade Turnover between Selected EU Countries and China, 2014–2018 (EUR billion)
Source: authors’ compilation based on Eurostat data.
Also, the government in Beijing simultaneously maintains relations with the Union and with
individual Member States. It can be assumed that for China the most important of these relations
are those with which it has a “strategic partnership,” “comprehensive strategic partnership,” or
other similarly named partnerships (“mature,” “stable,” etc.). As a German diplomat points out,
these terms are particularly important to the Chinese: “they attach great importance to the wording
of these terms. For them, there is a difference between a ‘strategic partnership’, ‘comprehensive
strategic’ or ‘deep’. In turn, on our side, often these nuances are not comprehensible.”11 Strategic
partnerships with European states began to be signed after 2003 when China dened the EU the
same way (Table 2).
11 An interview with a German diplomat, Berlin.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 11
Table 2. Strategic Partnerships between China and the EU Member States
State Year Partnership type
2004 Strategic partnership
2010 Comprehensive strategic partnership
2014 Close and permanent comprehensive strategic partnership for a new era
Germany 2004 Partnership in global responsibility as part of the China-EU strategic partnership
2014 Comprehensive strategic partnership
Italy 2004 Stable, friendly, long-term and sustainable strategic partnership
United Kingdom 2004 Comprehensive strategic partnership
2015 Global, integrated strategic partnership for the 21st century
Spain 2005 Comprehensive strategic partnership
2018 Comprehensive strategic partnership for a new era
Poland 2011 Strategic partnership
2016 Comprehensive strategic partnership
Portugal 2005 Comprehensive strategic partnership
Greece 2006 Comprehensive strategic partnership
Denmark 2008 Comprehensive strategic partnership
Ireland 2012 Strategic partnership of mutual benets
Hungary 2017 Comprehensive strategic partnership
Czech Republic 2016 Strategic partnership
Source: authors’ compilation based on information at the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC,
China is trying to focus on bilateral relations with the EU states with the aim of encouraging
a favourable stance towards Chinese matters and to weaken the EU’s common critical position.
To this end, the Chinese have used, for example, the “16+1” (“17+1”) format12 (China and 16,
now 17 Central European countries) and high-level visits by Chinese leaders in individual EU
countries. During the visits, they offer investments (usually as part of the Chinese Belt and Road
Initiative, BRI) as a form of assistance to countries with economic problems (e.g., Portugal, Italy,
the countries of Central Europe).
1.1.3. Social Relations
The importance of the social aspect of EU-Chinese relations has grown. In 2016, over 10%
of the foreign students studying in the EU came from China.13 In 2008, fewer than 40,000 Chinese
lived in the EU as permanent residents. According to Eurostat data, by the end of 2017, this
number had increased to more than 500,000, the vast majority having settled in Italy, Spain, the
UK, Germany, and France (Fig. 3). It is difcult to state clearly whether the growing numbers of
students and permanent Chinese residents in EU states are affecting the adoption of initiatives with
Chinese partners at the local level or the inow of Chinese is the result. The activation of these
communities can foster new relationships and intensify existing partnerships.
12 In April 2019, after adding Greece to the group, its name was changed to “17+1.”
13 “Learning Mobility Explained,” Eurostat, September 2018,
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Figure 3. Chinese Living in the EU (long-term residency), 2008–2017
Source: authors’ compilation based on Eurostat data.
Figure 4. Positive Perception of China in Selected EU States, 2016–2018 (%)
Source: authors’ compilation based on Eurobarometer.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 13
However, China is perceived by many Europeans negatively (by 53% in 2018, on average,
among the Member States). Although public opinion differs signicantly by country, in none of
the analysed Member States does a positive assessment prevail. In the UK, France, and Germany,
the percentage of people declaring a positive perception of China has decreased in the last three
years. In 2018, the highest level of positive perception was in Poland, followed by Spain and
Italy, respectively 42%, 38%, and 37%, compared with the EU average of 36% (Fig. 4). In the
case of Poland, the percentages of those who either perceived China positively or negatively was
evenly split, at 42% each. In Spain, there was more negative sentiment than positive (50% to 38%,
respectively) and also in Italy (53% to 37%).14
1.2. EU-China Paradiplomacy—The Perspectives of Six EU Member States
By means of surveys, information about cooperation with China in 67 regions of ve EU
states was collected. Data on an additional 10 regions were supplemented from other sources. In
total, information was collected from 77 regions in France, Spain, Germany, Poland, and Italy,
which is 94% of all local governments at the regional level (Table 3).
Table 3. Regions in France, Spain, Germany, Poland, and Italy Included in the Survey15
Regions studied as
part of the project
Information from
other sources
Regions with information
on partnerships
Total number of regions
in the country
France 11 1 12 13
Spain 16 1 17 17
Germany 8 8 16 16
Poland 16 0 16 16
Italy 16 0 16 20
Total 67 10 77 82
Source: authors’ compilation.
Based on data obtained in 2017, nearly 80% of the regions in France, Spain, Germany,
Poland, and Italy cooperate with partners from China. In addition, information was also obtained
on 12 local government units from the UK (two regions and 10 cities), all of which declared
having partners in China. Of the regions that currently have no partnerships with China, ve had
them in the past (out of the 16 reporting no current cooperation, hereinafter “non-cooperating”)
and 11 never did. Of the non-cooperating regions, 10 declared the will to establish contacts with
Chinese partners, and some of them in the survey period (2017) were in consultations (Map 1).
In total, 146 partnerships with China were identied among all of the analysed local
government units of the six largest EU states. Of the local governments, representatives of 77%
declared these partnerships were active at the time, 15% not active, and in the remaining cases
there is no information (Fig. 5). Notably, there are several cases in Spain with no active relations,
specically two regions: Valencia16 and La Rioja. The term “active relationship” is dened as
cooperation in which any joint activity has been undertaken in the last two years. However, the
term “not active” refers to a relationship in which there has been no activity in the last two years
but it is possible that the cooperation will be resumed in the near future.
14 “Special Eurobarometer 479, Future of Europe,” October-November 2018.
15 Without the UK.
16 For more information about this region, please see p. 46.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Map 1. Selected Cities and Regions of Six EU Member States in Cooperation with Chinese Partners
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 15
Figure 5. Partnerships with China by Individual Member State
Source: authors’ compilation.
When describing the dynamics of the contact, both the situation in each individual
European state and its policy towards China should be considered. The contacts at the regional
level began to be made in the 1980s, particularly with German Länder, French regions, and British
local governments. Another period of increased cooperation activity occurred at the beginning of
the 21st century when new relations were established with the Spanish, Polish, and Italian regions.
A period of less activity was 2007–2009, which could have been related to the economic crisis
in Europe. Another revival of contacts took place after 2014, probably in connection with both
the BRI as well as changes in the foreign and domestic policies of individual states, such as Italy.
More than half of the newly established relationships came within the years 2014–2016 (Fig. 6).
Figure 6. Partnerships with China in 1982–2018 by Six Member States
Source: authors’ compilation.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
The characteristics of the contacts with China, divided by the individual European states,
is presented below, and in the next chapter, the relations with specic European regions will be
analysed from the Chinese perspective. For each of the six Member States, brief information is
presented on their relationship with China at the government level, followed by an itemised list of
characteristics of the cooperation at the regional level.
1.2.1. France
France was the rst Western European country to sign a comprehensive partnership
agreement with China (1997). The partnership was renewed in subsequent years, giving it
a higher status. Relations have been dominated for years by economic exchange, and since 2013,
a French-Chinese high-level dialogue on economic matters and trade has been taking place every
year. China remains France’s sixth-largest trading partner, with the latter recording a decit of
about €30 billion in 2017.
Under the presidency of François Hollande (2012–2017), more attention was paid to
decentralised cooperation. China, too, would like to maintain relations with France not only with
the central authorities but also at a lower level, including with provinces from China’s western
and central parts.17 In addition, as a result of the territorial reform of 2016, the French provinces
gained more opportunities for economic cooperation. New this year is the National Commission
for Decentralised Cooperation in the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. The commission
perceives paradiplomacy as a tool to strengthen France’s position in the world. In the case of
French-Chinese relations, regional contact, especially in the economic dimension, is meant to
strengthen the comprehensive strategic partnership.18
Map 2. Cooperation of French Regions with Chinese Provinces and Cities
17 A. Ekman, J. Seaman, “France and China: A not so ‘special’ relationship,” in: M. Huotari, M. Otero-Iglesias,
J. Seaman, A. Ekman (eds.), Mapping Europe-China Relations. A Bottom-Up Approach, ETNC Report, October 2015.
18 “China-France Joint Fact Sheet on the 4th High Level Economic and Financial Dialogue,” 16 November 2016.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 17
France’s metropolitan areas are divided into 13 regions.19 Of these, 11 responded to the
survey (no response from Normandy or Corsica) and 10 have active cooperation with China. Only
the region Hauts-de-France, which had previously worked with the city of Tianjin, has ended it for
now. The region declares it is interested in cooperation and looked for a partner in 2017. From
other sources, it is known that a 12th region—Normandy—has one partner from China. In total,
13 partnerships were identied among the surveyed regions, four of which were established in the
1980s. Some of them were renewed (for example, Occitania signed another agreement with the
province of Sichuan in 2014). Three more partnerships were established in the 1990s, others after
2005. Only two relations were assessed as not active (Maps 2 and 3).
The economic sector dominates the contact. All the regions surveyed recognise the benets
of cooperation in the economic sphere and they point to business entities as local partners in
contact with China, with economic missions as one of the most frequently indicated forms of
activity. The activities undertaken are primarily to support French enterprises.
Most regions also point to academic cooperation. All surveyed units indicated universities as
a local partner. The contact concerns both the cooperation of scientists and student exchanges.
Map 3. Cooperation of French Regions with Chinese Provinces and Cities on a Map of China
19 There are also overseas departments and territories and overseas territorial communities, but they were not
examined within this project.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Although some French regions still maintain regional representations in the partner provinces,
there are instances of a changing formula in their cooperation in the Chinese regions. They have
closed ofces and instead cooperate with French entities that have delegated bodies in China,
e.g., Business France (BF), a national agency for the promotion of exports and investments. The
rst region to sign an agreement with BF was Pays de la Loire.
The international activity of local governments is supported by central authorities. Every two
or three months there are meetings of regions and cities in Paris with a representative of, among
others, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Projects, regional cooperation strategies and current events
are discussed. For example, BF offers the regions its exhibiting pavilions at trade fairs.20
The French regions also participate in projects that are part of the Chinese BRI. In April 2016,
the rst train from the Chinese city of Wuhan (Hubei province) reached Lyon, inaugurating
a freight railway connection between the metropolises (11,300 km in 16 days). In tandem with
the BRI, Normandy included its ports, including the largest French port of Le Havre. Local
governments look for ways to attract Chinese investments to the French regions and build links
with the Chinese market.21 The French government, like most Western European countries has
not signed the BRI-related Memorandum of Understanding (“BRI MoU”).22
French regions and cities have their own cooperation platforms for units engaged in foreign
contact. An example is Cités Unies France, a federation of cities and regions involved in
international cooperation. It is responsible, among others, for organising meetings with
countries where the French regions have contacts. This kind of cooperation platform is also
organised for local governments cooperating with China. In November 2018, in Toulouse, the
capital of Occitania, six French-Chinese meetings concerning decentralised cooperation were
held. The contact with Chinese provinces and cities is also supported by the Association of
French Regions.
1.2.2. Spain
There is a political consensus in Spain regarding policy towards China. The government
avoids raising difcult topics related to human rights, fearing that it may negatively affect economic
relations, which remain a constant priority for the central government. In November 1990, during
the period of isolation of China by European states, the Spanish Foreign Minister Francisco
Fernandez Ordonez was the rst representative of a West European state to visit Beijing. In the
government’s rst action plan for the Asia-Pacic region, published in 2000, China was indicated
as the “most suitable country” for Spanish cooperation in Asia. In 2005, Spanish-Chinese relations
were raised to the level of a strategic partnership. At the same time, China is the second-largest
foreign holder of Spanish government bonds, and the level of bilateral foreign direct investment
has been increasing signicantly since 2010.23 Their good relations was conrmed during a visit
by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Madrid in November 2018 to mark the 45th anniversary of the
establishment of diplomatic relations. The meeting focused on cooperation within the framework
20 Interview with a representative of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
21 J. Seaman, A. Ekman, “France: On the Periphery of China’s New Silk Roads,” in: F.-P. van der Putten, M. Huotari,
J. Seaman, A. Ekman and M. Otero-Iglesias (eds.), Europe and China’s New Silk Roads, ETNC Report, December 2016.
22 China wants to sign a kind of declaration of willingness with states, a so-called “BRI MoU,” to cooperate within
this initiative. The documents are of a general nature (although not all are publicly available, which raises doubts about
their actual content) and China treats them in a prestigious manner as an expression of support for BRI. The MoUs also
serve as a key statistic for China because they view signing an MoU as automatically including a given country in the
BRI. In the last 2–3 years, due to increasing criticism of projects implemented under BRI, many countries in Western
Europe have been reluctant to sign such MoUs as long as they are recognised as an expression of political support for
China and its opaque initiative.
23 M. Esteban, “Spain-China relations: friends but not partners,” in: M. Huotari, M. Otero-Iglesias, J. Seaman,
A. Ekman (eds.), Mapping Europe-China Relations. A Bottom-Up Approach, ETNC, October 2015
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 19
of the BRI and the economy. During the visit, relations were raised, in the Chinese nomenclature,
to an comprehensive strategic partnership for a new era, a new kind of strategic partnership
characteristic of Xi’s second term of ofce.
Map 4. Cooperation of Spanish Regions with Chinese Provinces and Cities
Map 5. Cooperation of Spanish regions with Chinese Provinces and Cities on a Map of China
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Despite Spain’s concentration on economic issues and the increase in Spanish exports to
China of 28.3% in 2017, trade cooperation is quite low compared to other European countries.24
Only 2.7% of Spanish exports goes to China and in 2017, the trade decit amounted to €19.4 billion.
Spain is seventh in the EU in terms of Chinese direct investment.
Most of Spain’s 17 regions took part in the survey in 2017; 14 autonomous communities
sent completed questionnaires and for two others, information about the region was received
by e-mail, while one region—Madrid—did not respond to the questionnaire and the partnership
information was supplemented with data from websites. Of the 17, 11 declare active cooperation
with Chinese partners and three (Aragonia, Cantabria, and Navarra) had contact in the past but
their partnerships are currently not active. Among the three, Cantabria and Navarra indicate
a willingness to enter into a new partnership. By contrast, the regions Balearic Islands, Castilla-La
Mancha, and the Canary Islands did not have or do not have any current partnerships with the
Chinese regions. However, Castilla-La Mancha declare its intention to seek cooperation in the
future (Maps 4 and 5).
In comparison with the other surveyed Western European countries, the Spanish autonomous
communities are characterised by young partnerships with China. In addition to the rst
partnership established with Valencia in 1994, the remaining partnerships were established at
the beginning of the 21st century, with the greatest activity after 2010. This timing is connected,
among other things, with greater interest in cooperation with China but also the intensication
of Spanish-Chinese relations at the central level, including Chinese investment that supported
Spain during the nancial crisis.
The economic and academic dimensions dominate the spheres of cooperation. Economic
entities and scientic units are the most frequently indicated local cooperation partners with
The contact at the level of regional authorities is also used to develop tourism and promote
Spanish language and culture. Culture, tourism, support for entrepreneurs, and the development
of trade are also the most frequently indicated benets of the partnerships with China. The
Spanish regions try to use the Chinese interest in Spain’s culture and language to promote less
popular regions and cities to tourists from China.
Cities and regions show an interest in involvement in BRI. Madrid was the second city to host
a Silk Road Forum (the rst was Istanbul), in 2015. The main BRI project in Spain is the freight
rail connection between Madrid and Yiwu, the longest of its kind in the world and inaugurated
in December 2014. The connection gives an opportunity to increase, especially, food exports
to China.25 The Spanish government, like most Western European countries, has not signed
a BRI MoU.
1.2.3. Germany
China is Germany’s largest trading partner, larger than the U.S. and France. It is one of the
few countries in the world that maintains a positive trade balance with China, and the Chinese
market is important for key sectors of the German economy (e.g., the car industry). The importance
of economic relations largely determines the shape of their political relations. There are more than
80 different forums for bilateral dialogue covering a wide range of topics. Germany, in its policy
24 M. Esteban (ed.), Relaciones España-China, Real Institute Elcano, November 2018.
25 M. Esteban, M. Otero-Iglesias, “Spain: Looking for Opportunities in OBOR,” in: F.-P. van der Putten, M. Huotari,
J. Seaman, A. Ekman and M. Otero-Iglesias (eds.), Europe and China’s New Silk Roads, ETNC Report, December 2016.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 21
towards China, tries, on the one hand, to look after the interests of German entrepreneurs (e.g., by
demanding easier access to the Chinese market), and on the other hand, to defend itself against
threats related to China’s expansive policy (e.g., taking over German companies of strategic
Map 6. Cooperation of German Regions with Chinese Provinces and Cities
China also is important at the subnational level. Germany’s constitution leaves the Länder
great freedom in shaping contacts with foreign partners. In contrast to China, Germany does not
treat paradiplomacy as an instrument of its foreign policy but still attaches great importance to it.
Foreign relations with Länder help achieve the objectives of federal policy towards China, such as,
for example, the development of social and academic contacts, promotion of exports, cooperation
against the effects of climate change. A German diplomat put it this way:
“The political relations between Germany and China are close. The economic relations—even
closer. In comparison, social, academic, or cultural relations are clearly less developed.”26
Länder Partnerships are also an independent channel of relations with China that can
maintain continuity of relations even in the event of a possible conict or deterioration of relations
at the federal level.
All Länder except Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania cooperate with Chinese provinces.
Relations with partners from China are also developed over 130 cities and municipalities.27 The
German Länder were among the rst regions in Europe to benet from the opening of China to
the world thanks to the reforms of Deng Xiaoping. Out of 23 partnerships identied, more than
half date back to the 1980s. Two subsequent partnerships were established in the 1990s and the
remainder in the 21st century. Only two partnerships were initiated after 2013, which means that
in Germany’s case, BRI has had little inuence on establishing new regional partnerships. Out of
the 23 declared partnerships, ve were assessed as not active in 2018 (Maps 6 and 7).
26 Interview with a German diplomat, Berlin.
27 A. Goette, Gao Qinlan, Deutsch-Chinesische Kommunalbeziehungen, Bonn: Servicestelle Kommunen in der
Einen Welt, 2018.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Economic issues dominate the contact at the regional level are largely focused on supporting
German companies and attracting Chinese investments.
The densest network of relations have the regions that export most to China, that is, North
Rhine-Westphalia (three active partnerships), Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg (two each).
There are also differences between the former East (GDR) and West (FRG) Germany. Länder
in the former GDR established their rst contact only after unication and have, at most, one
active partnership.
Other important subjects of cooperation are environmental protection and combating climate
change.28 The Länder and German cities thus support the implementation of political priorities
dened at the federal level.
Relations with provinces stimulate the development of contact with universities. Germany’s
university portal listed about 1,200 various bilateral agreements between German and
Chinese universities in 2017, in student exchanges or research projects. At that time, around
8,000 students from Germany studied in China and more than 37,000 Chinese students in
Map 7. Cooperation of German Regions with Chinese Provinces and Cities on a Map of China
28 Ibidem, p. 75.
29 China, German Federal Foreign Ofce,
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 23
1.2.4. Poland
With Poland’s accession to the EU, Polish regions became more attractive to geographically
distant countries, including China. The intensication of bilateral relations at the central level was
also important. In the declaration signed in 2011 on the Polish-Chinese strategic partnership,
contacts between regions and provinces are indicated as one of the areas of cooperation. As
a result, in 2013, the Regional Forum Poland-China, was established as a platform for contacts
between entities from regions, cities, and provinces. Poland also responded positively to the
Chinese BRI, announced in 2013, and during the visit by PRC’s Chairman to Poland in 2016, the
level of relations was raised to comprehensive strategic partnership.
Map 8. Cooperation of Polish Regions with Chinese Provinces and Cities
The Poland’s main goal in relations with China is economic cooperation, including, above
all, increasing Polish exports to China. The high trade decit on the Polish side remains the
biggest problem. In 2011, it amounted to almost €12 billion and the proportion in trade was
10:1, meaning Poland imported 10 times more goods from China than it exported. In 2015,
this proportion increased to 11: 1 (on a decit of €18.6 billion), and in 2016 to 12:1. In the
following year, the decit reached €22 billion, and in 2018, €24 billion.30 It should be noted that
a signicant portion of Polish goods and semi-nished products go to China indirectly, mainly by
way of an EU partners. Political relations between Poland and China, however, have weakened
since mid-2017. The Polish authorities negatively assess China’s implementation of the strategic
partnership. This is evidenced by the unsatisfactory trade statistics, primarily the still-growing
decit on the Polish side. Other reasons include concerns about Chinese investments in Europe,
negative evaluations of the economic and political results of the “16/17+1” format and the BRI,
and increasing difculties in maintaining the dynamics of the bilateral high-level political dialogue.
Polish local and regional authorities have tried to use the intensication of relations at
the government level and China’s greater interest in Poland and Central Europe. The number
30 Synthetic information on Poland’s exports and imports, January–December 2018 in million euros, Ministry of
Enterprise and Technology,
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
of Chinese cities and provinces increased among the foreign partners of Polish regions. China
has become the most popular non-European cooperation entity of the Polish provinces. The
Chinese provinces were third (after Ukraine and Germany) among the declared foreign partners
of Polish regions in 2016. At the beginning of 2017, cooperation with Chinese provinces was
declared by 13 voivodeships, of which only two—Zachodniopomorskie and Warmińsko-
Mazurskie—described this contact as not active. Three Polish regions—Świętokrzyskie, Podlaskie
and Wielkopolskie—did not have partners in China, but the latter two planned to establish such
a partnership in the future (Maps 8 and 9).
Map 9. Cooperation of Polish Regions with Chinese Provinces and Cities on a Map of China
The degree of activity involving the Polish regional authorities is based on relations at the
central level. The intensication of Polish-Chinese relations at the government and presidential
levels in 2011–2017 has translated into an increase in interregional activity. Since the
establishment of the Polish-Chinese strategic partnership (2011), nine new partnerships with
Chinese provinces have appeared. On the other hand, the weakening of international relations
in 2017 resulted in less active contact between the regions.
The initiative to establish or intensify cooperation lies more often with Chinese partners.
The Polish local governments also have the opportunity to participate in Chinese initiatives
promoted in Europe, such as in the “16/17+1” and BRI. The most famous example of this
activity that the Polish part of the “Silk Road Railway,” the Łódź-Chengdu connection. However,
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 25
the expectations of both parties regarding the use of BRI have not been met. There are not
many undertakings—investments or projects—to prove the success of this initiative. As part of
the “16/17+1” initiative, there is a forum for local governments in which Polish representatives
of cities and regions participate.
Relations place great emphasis on supporting economic and academic contacts. Cooperation in
the cultural dimension is treated as an element accompanying meetings, fairs, and conferences.
The economic dimension of cooperation is primarily supported by the Polish regional authorities.
The prerogatives of voivodeships’ self-government include the promotion and support of local
business entities. An important partner for ofces are regional development agencies, which in
many voivodeships are companies appointed by their leaders (marshals). Among the tasks of
the agency is to support the development of entrepreneurship, innovation, and competitiveness
of regional companies. The agencies most often are the organisers or co-organisers of business
missions and forums in China.
Among the main barriers to cooperation, local governments indicate the geographical distance
and related costs of undertaking joint actions. Another constraint is the different scope of
competence of territorial administration in China and Poland, which may lead to differences in
the expectations of partners from both countries. The tasks of the Polish territorial administration
are primarily to support domestic entrepreneurs on foreign markets while the Chinese regions
should rst of all implement the foreign central government’s policy objectives.
Polish-China Regional Forums were an effective and well-regarded initiative by Polish local
governments. The annual event, taking place in 2013–2016, provided an opportunity for
contact between interested entities from regions, provinces, and cities. Since 2016, subsequent
forums have failed to be organised, partly due to difculties in reaching agreement with the
central authorities of both countries regarding the programme and participants (mainly at the
higher level) of the forum. The next forum should take place in China.
1.2.5. United Kingdom
Map 10. Cooperation of Selected Cities and Regions of the UK with Chinese Provinces and Cities
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Traditionally, the United Kingdom has had a policy of engagement with China. In 2004,
bilateral relations were raised to an comprehensive strategic partnership. In 2009, when the
government was taken over by Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the UK published its rst
policy strategy towards China. The emphasis was put on engaging China in economic, scientic,
and cultural elds. The British government also paid attention to sensitive issues, such as the
rule of law or human rights. The conservative-liberal coalition under the leadership of Prime
Minister David Cameron took over in 2010 and the UK, after an initial deterioration of relations
with China after the Dalai Lama’s visit to London, from 2013 began to conduct a policy more
favourable towards China, focused on the economy. After the formation of the independent Tory
government in May 2015, the rst state visit of the PRC’s Chairman to the UK came in October
2015. With full protocol and intense economic talks, bilateral relations were deemed to have
entered a “golden age.” The British side did not raise sensitive issues in relations. After the change
of the head of government in July 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May maintained the policy of
engagement, although she presented greater caution towards China, as exemplied by the lack of
ofcial support for BRI (the BRI MoU was not signed), which China had counted on.31
Map 11. Cooperation of Selected Cities and Regions of the UK with Chinese Provinces
and Cities on a Map of China
China is one of the UK’s largest trading partners but the latter records a trade decit (about
€4 billion in 2018). Until 2016, the UK was the largest recipient (now second after Germany) of
Chinese investment in the EU. Britain is also an important partner for China in nancial cooperation,
31 S.A.W. Brown, “Free Trade, Yes; Ideology, Not So Much: The UK’s Shifting China Policy 2010–2016,” Journal
of the British Association for Chinese Studies, no. 8 (1), 2018, pp. 92–120.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 27
with London the European centre for servicing transactions in yuan (RMB). An important factor in
bilateral relations at the local level is the growing number of Chinese tourists (391,000 in 2018)
and students in the United Kingdom (about 100,000).
Due to the specicity of the local government system in the UK, it is not possible to
speak strictly about relations at the regional level. Local relations include the cooperation of
British cities, metropolitan units, and component countries (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern
Ireland) with Chinese partners. Surveys were sent to about 40 local government units. Only 12 of
them responded. In all cases of returned surveys, British entities cooperate with China and these
partnerships are active (Maps 10 and 11).
The Chinese cities actively cooperate with groups of cities from England participating in the
framework projects of public-private partnerships: Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.
The Northern Powerhouse project, initiated in 2014 by the Cameron government, brings
together cities from the north of England (Liverpool, Shefeld, Manchester, Leeds). Whereas, the
Midlands Engine project, which brings together northeastern cities (Birmingham, Nottingham,
Leicester, Stoke on Trent), was initiated in 2017 by local authorities and local businesses.
Both projects include municipal and regional authorities, universities and enterprises and their
federations. The goal is to give development impulses to post-industrial areas. Most of the cities
covered by both projects have partners from China.
Half of the 12 examined cases of local cooperation were established in the 1980s, that is,
when the period of so-called reform and opening began. Most of these partnerships covered
cooperation with Chinese eastern and coastal provinces where the rst special economic zones
were created or with cities from these regions.
The cooperation is dominated by economic issues: increased exports and investments in China
and attracting Chinese investments to the UK.
Also important is educational cooperation (recruiting students to British universities) and
scientic partnerships (technological cooperation, environmental protection). The importance
of educational issues is demonstrated by the campuses of British universities in China, created
in cooperation with local authorities: e.g., in Ningbo (University of Nottingham) or in Suzhou
(Xi’an Jiaotong University and the University of Liverpool).
There is great freedom of action for British cities and regions to establish cooperation
with Chinese partners. The model of British paradiplomacy towards China can be called
complementary and discretionary, which means that the government encourages local
authorities to cooperate while leaving them with a great deal of freedom.
In the UK’s local relations with China, engagement and synergy with government policy are
apparent. An example is the Northern Powerhouse, promoted by the British government as
a cooperation partner with China during Xi Jinping’s visit to the UK in 2015. This was because
of the personal involvement of the then Chancellor of the Treasury (and Minister of Finance
and Economy) George Osborne, who was also the architect of the Northern Powerhouse.
Another example is the organisation of the International Business Festival in Liverpool, which
is a governmental event but promoted by municipal authorities. In the cities, projects are being
implemented as a result of the cooperation between the authorities of the UK and China, such
as the construction of business centres at airports (airport cities) in Manchester and Birmingham
with the participation of a Chinese investor.
The use of cooperation with China, especially by the constituent parts of the UK, is a way
of increasing international visibility and extending political autonomy towards the central
authorities in London. This is due to the fact that regional autonomy in Scotland, Wales, and
Northern Ireland serves the implementation of national aspirations in these parts of the UK.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
The best example of this approach to cooperation with China is found among the autonomous
authorities of Scotland and their relations with Chinese provinces and cities.
British cities or regions are trying to create their own brands or agship initiatives in relations
with China. Examples include Liverpool’s International Business Festival, the SENSOR city
project (a joint venture of Liverpool universities engaged in high-tech research), and Scotland,
as the agship exporter of whiskey and salmon, as well as a leader in environmental protection.
1.2.6. Italy
In the rst decade of the 21st century, Italy-China relations were not intense. In 2001–2011,
there were only three visits of Italian prime ministers to Beijing. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi,
during his eight-year rule, only once visited China, during the Italian EU presidency in 2003. The
low intensity of political relations was associated with the growing role of economic relations and
fears related to Chinese competition. The liberalisation of trade with China was widely recognised
as a threat to Italian companies. Italy was among the countries that demanded increased protection
of the EU market in trade with China. It was only after Berlusconi left ofce in 2011 that Italy’s
policy towards China began to change. This coincided with Xi Jinping’s assumption of leadership
in China (2012/2013) and increase in the international activity of Chinese provinces under the
BRI. Italy—one of the few Western European countries and the rst of the G7 countries—signed
a BRI MoU in March 2019.
Map 12. Cooperation of Italian Regions with Chinese Provinces and Cities
The intensity of political contact was accompanied by an increase in trade. However,
despite growing exports to China (€13 billion in 2018, which was growth of almost 20% compared
to 2016), Italy still has a large trade decit, which in 2018 amounted to €17 billion, equivalent
to 42% of its total trade. The growing number of Chinese living in Italy has had an impact on
economic contact. According to Eurostat data from 2017, their number exceeded 170,000,
which is almost a threefold increase compared to 2010. Of all Chinese living permanently in the
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 29
European Union, 30% are residents of Italy. The Italian statistical ofce gives even higher gures
on the number of Chinese—290,000 in 2018.32
The greater political activity has also created opportunities for increased cooperation at
the regional level. In the 2017 survey, 16 out of 20 Italian regions participated. Of the examined
entities, 11 declared cooperation with partners from China. Among the ve regions that in
2017 did not cooperate with China, four (Calabria, Basilicata, Abruzzo, Molise) did not have prior
contact but are interested in future cooperation. In addition, Calabria in 2017 was in consultations
with a potential partner from China. The last of the non-cooperating regions, Vallée d’Aoste, had
had earlier contact because it implemented a project with Jilin province, but after its completion
further cooperation was not continued and the region is not planning to undertake further activities
with China. Among the regions that declared existing cooperation, the oldest relations were
reported by Veneto, ongoing since the 1980s (with the province of Hebei), with further contact
established in 1998, and two more in 2010 and 2014, respectively. Importantly, of the 30 Italian
partnerships with China identied in the survey, only two existed before 2000. Seven partnerships
were established in the rst decade of the 21st century and the remaining 21 were concluded after
2011 (Maps 12 and 13).
Map 13. Cooperation of Italian Regions with Chinese Provinces and Cities on a Map of China
32 Lombardy (22.9%), Tuscany (18%), Veneto (11.9%) and Emilia-Romagna (10.2%),
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Cooperation at the regional level is marked by high dynamics. Most of the partnerships were
established in the last 10 years and only three out of the 30 were dened as not active. In
comparison to other countries surveyed, individual Italian regions have few partners in China.
Umbria has the most active partnerships (ve), plus one more partnership evaluated as not
active. The next two regions have four partners (Veneto, Liguria), three regions have three each
(Sicilia, Campania, Lombardy), and the others two or one partner only. The most common
forms of cooperation are ofcial visits, participation in exhibition events, and business missions.
Along with economic cooperation, academic partnerships represent the next most important
area in relations between the Italian regions and China. Universities are also mentioned
frequently as the most important partners for regional authorities. Local government ofcials
use the expert knowledge of scientists, as well as their contacts in China and knowledge of the
Establishing permanent representations in China is legally complex and, as a rule, is not
supported by the government. That is why local-government authorities often work closely
with foreign state institutions (such as agencies supporting home entrepreneurs), where they
have representatives, embassy and consulates in China that support the implementation of
regional and local initiatives.
The promotion of culture and the related attraction of Chinese tourists is also important. In
2017, the most Chinese tourist visits were recorded in Veneto (785,000), followed by Tuscany
(670,000) and Lombardy (554,000).33 It is worth noting that four regions that do not cooperate
with China (Basilicata, Aosta Valley, Abruzzo, Calabria) also are last in the ranking of numbers
of Chinese tourists, at fewer than 2,000 a year.
1.3. EU-China Paradiplomacy—The Chinese Perspective
1.3.1. European Regions on a Map of China
When analysing the dynamics of cooperation between European regions and Chinese
partners, it is worthwhile to pay attention to these partnerships from the perspective of the six
studied EU countries (Map 14). Taking into account the date of the beginning of cooperation with
the Chinese regions, the regions of Germany, France, and UK started rst. Their rst partnerships
date to the 1980s and mainly include the eastern provinces of China—the coastal regions and
those that share borders with provinces having sea access. The pioneer was Germany, which in
1982–1989 established cooperation with the provinces of Liaoning (including the city of Dalian),
Shandong, Beijing (city with a provincial status), Jiangsu (with two partnerships), Zhejiang, Fujian,
Anhui, Shanghai (also city with a provincial status), Jiangxi, and Hunan. The only provinces in
central China with which the German partners have been working since the 1980s are Sichuan
and Shanxi. The areas of focus are similar for France—Shantung, Sichuan, Shanghai and Beijing—
with all but one (Sichuan) located in the east of the country. The French partners have been
cooperating with these Chinese provinces since 1985–1987. The UK also dates its partnerships
to the 1980s. These are mainly cases of international cooperation between cities. In 1983–1989,
cooperation was started with the Chinese cities of Changchun (Jilin Province), Dalian (Liaoning
Province), Jinan (Shantung Province), Hangzhou (two partnerships, Zhejiang Province), Xiamen
(Fujian Province). All of them are situated in the east of the country. The only city from inner China
that began working with the British city in the 1980s (in 1986) is Wuhan in Hubei province. In
the case of other three EU countries—Poland, Italy and Spain—only the Polish voivodeship of
33 Data from “Number of Chinese tourist arrivals in Italy in 2017, by region,”
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 31
Map 14. Partnerships of Chinese Provinces with Regions or Cities in Six EU States on a Map of China
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Pomorskie declared the start of cooperation in the 1980s, with Shanghai (1985), also located
in the east of China. However, in the case of Italy, one partnership was declared with Hebei
province, also in the east of China (with the Veneto region), in 1987 (Table 4).
Table 4. Partnerships between Regions of the Six EU Countries and Provinces/Cities in China, 1982–
Chinese provinces and Cities France Germany Poland UK Italy Total
Anhui 1 1
Beijing 1 1 2
Changchun 1 1
Dalian 1 1 2
Fujian 1 1
Hangzhou 2 2
Hebei 1 1
Hunan 1 1
Jiangsu 2 2
Jiangxi 1 1
Jinan 1 1
Liaoning 1 1
Shandong 1 1 2
Shanghai 1 1 1 3
Shanxi 1 1
Sichuan 1 1 2
Wuhan 1 1
Xiamen 1 1
Zhejiang 1 1
Total 4 14 1 7 1 27
Source: authors’ compilation.
Mainly, the cooperation of these three countries—Germany, France, and the UK—with
China, and especially with their eastern provinces, may indicate the existence of a connection
to China’s reform and opening-up policy Deng Xiaoping, which began in December 1978. Most
likely, the impulse for cooperation was the creation in 1980 of the rst special economic zones
in the provinces of Guangdong and Fujian; 14 more zones were created in 1984 in the provinces
of Liaoning, Shandong, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Guangxi, as well as cities with a provincial status—
Shanghai and Tianjin. The aim was to open the eastern (coastal) regions adjacent to Taiwan, Hong
Kong, and South Korea, that is, the most developed Asian areas (“Asian tigers”) to attract capital.
These provinces received favourable scal conditions from the central government.34
The 1990s were less dynamic in terms of establishing cooperation, which may be
associated with the events in China in 1989. While in the 1980s a total of 27 partnerships
were established, in the 1990s that number was 11. Most of them were established by France,
three partnerships, and Germany, Italy, and Spain with two each. In 1994–1997, the German
regions began cooperation with Shaanxi and Hubei, France with Hubei (two partnerships, one in
1996 and the second in 1998) and Hunan (1991)—both regions located in the southeast, without
access to the sea. Two new partnerships were established by autonomous communities of Spain,
with Sichuan (1994) and Shanghai (1997). In the case of other countries, one new partnership
34 T. Summers, China’s Regions in an Era of Globalization, New York: Routledge, 2018, p. 17, 23.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 33
each was formed with a Chinese city or province. In the case of the UK, in 1999, cooperation
was established with Shanghai. Italy started cooperation with Jiangsu in 1998, and Poland with
Anhui in 1997. The impulse for cooperation at that time (and still mainly with eastern centres)
could be the conrmation of reforms by Deng during his famous “Southern Tour” (nanxun) in
1992, including further emphasis on the development of eastern coastal provinces (Table 5). Still,
Eastern provinces comprised the vast majority of these partnerships, although they are not all
regions with access to the sea.
Table 5. Partnerships between Regions of the Six EU Countries with Provinces/Cities in China,
Chinese provinces and cities France Spain Germany Poland UK Italy Total
Anhui 1 1
Changning 1 1
Hubei 2 1 3
Hunan 1 1
Jiangsu 1 1
Shaanxi 1 1
Shanghai 1 1 2
Sichuan 1 1
Total 3 2 2 1 1 2 11
Source: authors’ compilation.
The increase in the number of new partnerships (30) is noticeable in the rst years of
the 21st century. This could be the result of the intensication of bilateral relations between
European states and China at the government level, e.g., by raising relations to the strategic level.
In the cases of Germany, the UK, France, or Spain, these occurred in 2004–2005. However, in the
case of Poland, this may be the result of EU accession in 2004. During this period, partnerships
were still concluded mainly with eastern provinces. In the case of Germany, in 2003–2007,
these included the provinces of Heilongjiang, Guangdong (two partnerships), Hunan, and Hebei.
In the case of France (2000–2006), Shandong, Guangdong, and Jiangsu. In the case of the UK
(2005–2007), Zhejiang (the cities of Suzhou and Ningbo), Nanjing (Jiangsu), and Guangdong
(Guangzhou). At the beginning of the 21st century, Spain formed the most relationships, eight in
total: with Liaoning, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Heze, Liaocheng, Shandong, and Guizhou.
Poland did so with Guangdong, Jiangsu, Heilongjiang, Henan, and Hainan. It is also notable that
in these years there was an increase in interest from Italy (ve new partnerships), concluded with
the provinces of Guangdong, Zhejiang, Henan, Shandong, and Beijing (Table 6). Interestingly, the
distribution of new partnerships may indicate that the European regions probably were not reacting
to China’s new regional policy of Great Western Openness programme (xibu dakaifa), announced
at the turn of 1999/2000. It covers the provinces of Gansu, Guizhou, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Sichuan,
Yunnan, Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Chongqing.
Table 6. Partnerships between Regions of the Six EU Countries with Provinces/Cities in China,
Chinese provinces and cities France Spain Germany Poland UK Italy Total
Beijing 1 1 2
Guangdong 1 1 2 1 1 6
Guangzhou 1 1
Guizhou 1 1
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Chinese provinces and cities France Spain Germany Poland UK Italy Total
Heilongjiang 1 1 2
Hainan 1 1
Henan 1 1 2
Heze 1 1
Hubei 1 1
Hunan 1 1
Jiangsu 1 1 2
Liaocheng 1 1
Liaoning 1 1
Nanjing 1 1
Ningbo 1 1
Shandong 1 1 1 3
Shanghai 1 1
Suzhou 1 1
Zhejiang 1 1
Total 3 8 5 5 4 5 30
Source: authors’ compilation.
The years 2008–2009 were a time of crisis in Europe, apparent from the lower dynamics
of cooperation with China, with only one new partnership (with a Spanish region) established
in 2009. The next period when the number of partnerships increased was in 2010–2012 (18).
Notably, they were formed by countries not very active in previous years, mainly Spain, Italy, and
Poland (Table 7).
Table 7. Partnerships between Regions of the Six EU Countries and Provinces/Cities from China,
Chinese provinces and cities France Spain Poland Italy Total
Fujian 1 1
Guangxi 1 1
Guangzhou 1 1
Hainan 1 1
Hong Kong 1 1 2
Hubei 1 1
Hunan 1 1
Inner Mongolia 1 1
Jiangsu 1 1
Jilin 1 1
Liaoning 1 1
Ningxia 1 1
Sichuan 1 1
Shanghai 1 1
Shandong 1 1
Wenzhou 1 1
Zhoushan 1 1
Total 2 7 4 5 18
Source: authors’ compilation.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 35
An important period has been the time since the announcement of the BRI in 2013. The
growth of regional cooperation has developed since 2014 (47 partnerships in 2014–2017). After
the announcement of the BRI, there are more examples of cooperation with Chinese regions
situated in the centre of the country but without sea access. A good example is Liverpool’s
partnerships established in 2016 with Chongqing, Kunming, Chengdu, and Guiyang. In Poland’s
case, this is primarily a partnership with Sichuan. Italy established a cooperation with Chongqing
(four partnerships in 2014–2016), Yunnan, Qinghai, Hunan (2017), and Sichuan. Spain set up
partnerships with Chongqing (2015), Hunan (2016), and Nanjing (2016). Despite the greater
interest in provinces included in the Great Western Openness programme, the eastern direction
(i.e., the coastal provinces), still prevail in the numbers. This is further illustrated by Italy, which
in 2014–2017 established cooperation in Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, Guangzhou, Guangdong,
Fujian, Jiangsu, and Shanghai. Also, Poland in 2012–2016 began cooperation with the eastern
regions, both those with direct access to the sea, such as Liaoning, Hebei, Shandong, and Fujian,
as well as those located further inland, including Shanxi and Hubei (Table 8).
Table 8. Partnerships between Regions of the Six EU Countries with Chinese Provinces/Cities, 2014–2017
Chinese provinces and cities France Spain Germany Poland UK Italy Total
Changchun 1 1
Changning 1 1
Chengdu 1 1 2
Chongqing 2 1 4 7
Fujian 1 1 2
Guangdong 1 1
Guangzhou 1 1
Guiyang 1 1
Hebei 1 1 1 3
Hong Kong 1 1
Hubei 1 1
Hunan 1 1 2
Jiangsu 1 1 2
Jinan 1 1
Jingdezhen 1 1
Kunming 1 1
Liaoning 1 1
Nanjing 1 1
Qingdao 1 1 2
Qinghai 1 1
Shandong 1 1 1 3
Shanghai 1 2 3
Shanxi 1 1
Tianjin 1 1 1 3
Xiangtan 1 1
Yangzhou 1 1
Yunnan 1 1
Zhangjiajie 1 1
Zhejiang 1 1
Total 1 12 2 3 10 20 48
Source: authors’ compilation.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
In summary, most of the partnerships are with provinces: Shantung (16), Shanghai (13),
Jiangsu (12) and Guangdong (11). These are eastern provinces with sea access and all of the states
surveyed have partners there. Among the eastern provinces without sea access, the ones with the
most partnerships are Hunan (8) and Hubei (7).
As for regions in central and western China, which includes those in the Great Western
Openness programme, two provinces stand out: Sichuan, with seven partners representing all
six EU countries examined, and Chongqing, also with seven partnerships. Shaanxi Province has
three partnerships, Yunnan and Guizhou, two each, and Qinghai, Guangxi, Inner Mongolia,
and Ningxia, one each (Table 9; Map 14).35 No partnerships were recorded in Gansu, Tibet, or
Xinjiang. It can be assumed that regions considered unstable by the Chinese authorities and under
special supervision by the central government—associated with accusations by the authorities in
Beijing of having separatist tendencies and terrorism (e.g. Xinjiang, Tibet)—are not attractive to
European regions, and the central government’s restrictions also limit international cooperation
opportunities with these regions.
Table 9. Provinces by Number of Partnerships with Regions in the Six EU Countries
Shandong 16
Shanghai 13
Jiangsu 12
Guangdong 11
Zhejiang 9
Hunan 8
Chongqing 7
Hubei 7
Liaoning 7
Sichuan 7
Hong Kong 6
Fujian 5
Beijing 5
Hebei 4
Tianjin 4
Jilin 3
Shaanxi 3
Anhui 2
Hainan 2
Heilongjiang 2
Henan 2
Jiangxi 2
Yunnan 2
Guizhou 2
Shanxi 2
Guangxi 1
Ningxia 1
Inner Mongolia 1
Qinghai 1
Source: authors’ compilation.
35 Provincial partnerships also include partnerships with their cities.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 37
1.3.2. Chinese Regional Policy and Paradiplomacy:
“Mountains are High, and the Emperor is Far Away”
In China, no concepts of paradiplomacy are used. The terms “foreign relations of local
authorities” and “international activity of local authorities” are used to describe international
subregional relations. Therefore, the relations of Chinese regions (provinces and cities) with foreign
entities is included in public diplomacy or viewed as soft power or people-to-people relations.
Regional relations are focused on economic and social issues and are aimed at shaping positive
opinions about China in the world. There is no visible political component to the international
activity of Chinese regions, understood as autonomous political actions initiated by the provinces.
The reason for such a model of regional relations is the unitary and centralised character of the
Chinese state. The stricte state institutions, such as the foreign affairs committee of the Chinese
parliament, departments of international cooperation of local authorities (so-called waiban), and
ofces subordinate to the government leading group on foreign policy, are responsible for the foreign
relations of the regions. In addition, at the local level, there are two government institutions dedicated
to international contact: China Council for Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) and Chinese
People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC). This means that international
Chinese regions are formally limited, and their main task in this context is to implement the policy
of the central government. In other words, Chinese regions are part of the “division of labourwith
the central government or a kind of “transmission belt” for the policy of the authorities in Beijing.36
This division of labour, as well as how the central authorities understand paradiplomacy, are found
in public statements, for example, by Xi Jinping, who uses the phrase “city diplomacy” (at the 60th
anniversary of CPAFFC) and pointed out that it is a kind of interpersonal relations, soft power (e.g.,
popularising positive information about China), and sharing of experiences and setting actions in the
context of the implementation of the government’s foreign policy.37
An example of the Chinese understanding of paradiplomacy is the granting by the central
authorities of specialisations to particular regions, both in areas of cooperation (e.g., trade,
investment, innovation, production, infrastructure, transport, logistics, culture, electronics, etc.),
as well as geographical directions. On this, among others, is based China’s regional policy. An
example of sectoral specialisation may be the coastal regions’ responsibility for the development
of production and trade since the 1980s (mainly exports) while the focus now is on innovation
and services to climb higher in global value chains. Another example is Chongqing, a city
with a provincial status, responsible for developing land transport infrastructure and logistics
(popularised with the slogan-word “connectivity”), as well as “trade processing,” including the
production of electronics (laptops, printers, tablets). Due to the later opening to the world of
central and western China, the designated functions of Chongqing are similar to those previously
played by coastal provinces. Examples of geographical specialisations include the provinces
of Sichuan and Chongqing, both responsible for cooperation with, for example, Central and
Eastern European countries; the southern and western provinces of Yunnan, Qinghai, and Tibet,
responsible for cooperation with ASEAN; and, the northern Xinjiang or Heilongjiang provinces,
focused on contacts with Russia, Mongolia, and others. This division of labour—sectoral and,
above all, geographic—is apparent in a document published by the Chinese authorities in March
2015 as a “blueprint” for the BRI.38
36 D. Mierzejewski, “Channeling Foreign Policy Through Local Activities in China: City of Guangzhou Case Study,”
in: Paradiplomacy in Asia. Cases studies of China, India and Russia, Łódź: Łódź University Press, 2018, pp. 95–108.
37 “Zai zhongguo guoji youhao dahui ji zhongguo renmin duiwai haoxie chengli 60 zhounian jinian huodong
shang de jianghua” [Speech at the 60th Anniversary of the Chinese Association of International Friendship], Xinhua,
15 May 2014.
38 “Tuidong gongjian sichou zhilu jingjidai he 21 shiji haishang sichouzhilu de yuanjing yu xingdong” [Vision
and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road], March 2015,
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Regional policy based on appointing or designating specialisation for certain regions
has been characteristic of the People’s Republic of China since its founding, so it is not
a new phenomenon.39 Regional policy—Chinese paradiplomacy—is based on two important
phenomena: experimentalism, characteristic of the Deng period, the best example of which were
special economic zones, and the use of comparative advantages of given regions (which are
advantages at a given moment, e.g., access to sea trade routes in the Chinese eastern provinces
and their geographical proximity to Hong Kong or Taiwan). These phenomena, combined
with globalisation—and especially its second stage in which the state plays a lesser role than
transnational corporations—changes to the nature of production, the creation of value chains, and
outsourcing, i.e., transferring production to more cost-effective places (e.g., to Chinese coastal
provinces, open to the world by the authorities and offering such benets as scal assistance and
cheap transport provided by sea) together mean a strengthening of the position of regions that
have joined the global economy and have international contacts. The inclusion of regions into
globalisation means that they not only increase their advantages but also grow in strength, further
increasing the percentage of their share of the national GDP. Thus, they specialise in specic
sectors and geographic directions. The central authorities create provinces only a favourable
“space” or environment for their, in fact, independent actions. In this way, Chinese regions gain
greater autonomy and independence, which may mean that, contrary to its theoretical and systemic
solutions, China is in fact a kind of quasi-federal state, and the specialisations of individual regions
are not fully designated by the central government. As a result, the central authorities, in a way
post-factum, grant (or rather sanction or conrm) specialisations to regions, the best example of
which is the umbrella-like BRI.40 This is how the authorities in Beijing try to coordinate and even
control the growing activity of Chinese regions.
The growing independence and role of Chinese regions is demonstrated by, for example,
the signicant portion of individual provinces (mainly coastal) in the national GDP or the increase
in the importance of the leaders of individual regions who set the tone for the development of
their region. The very fact that in 2011–2012, for example, there were discussions about the
existence of competing development models—Guangdong (more liberal) and Chongqing (more
conservative)41—indicates a certain autonomy of regions and the role of the personal factor, in this
case, inuential provincial heads at the time— Wang Yang and Bo Xilai.
Paradoxically, the uneven development between coastal (eastern) and landlocked (central
and western) provinces was an effect of Deng’s opening policy in the 1980s, and his phrase that
“let some people get rich rst,”42 caused changes in regional policy, forced by, among others, the
“neglected” provinces. For example, Yunnan or Chongqing demanded from the central authorities’
similar facilities (e.g. scal ones) to those the eastern provinces received in the 1980s. Therefore,
for concerns of a loss of cohesion of the state and its stability in the face of the growing inequality,
and potential social dissatisfaction, at the turn of 1999/2000, the central authorities announced
the Great Western Openness policy.
The presence of heads or provincial representatives at important events organised by
central, state, and party authorities also provides evidence of the importance of regions in the
central authorities’ policy. For example, at the last Communist Party of China (CPC) foreign
policy conference of June 2018, the head of Guangdong Province participated, in addition to
representatives of ministries and other government agencies. However, the meeting summarising
the rst ve years of the BRI (August 2018) was attended by representatives of Zhejiang, Chongqing,
39 T. Summers, op. cit., pp. 15–34.
40 Ibidem, pp. 83–99; D. Mierzejewski, op. cit., pp. 104–108.
41 “One or two Chinese models,” China Analysis, ECFR, November 2011.
42 “Deng Xiaoping: rang yi bufenren xian fu qilai” [Deng Xiaoping: one must let some of them get rich rst],
Renmin Ribao,
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 39
Sichuan, Xinjiang, and Shanghai provinces. The importance of regions to the central authorities
also may be demonstrated by visits by the highest authorities, namely Xi Jinping, at regional
meetings during sessions of the Chinese parliament (NPC). For example, at the second session
of the NPC’s 13th term (March 2019), Xi attended meetings in the provinces of Fujian, Henan,
Inner Mongolia, and Gansu. The choice of these provinces may indicate the importance of these
landlocked regions in the central and western parts of the country to the central authorities.
The greater independence of the regions, however, does not change their dependence
on the policy of the central authorities and the “division of labour.” Moreover, the BRI, despite
its actual “bottom-up” nature, is used by the Chinese authorities as a mechanism to coordinate
relations between the regions and the central authorities.43 However, this also points to greater
opportunities for local authorities to negotiate policies with the central government. This is
important when it comes to Chinese paradiplomacy. Local authorities, for whom economic
issues in international relations are most important,44 may exert pressure on the central authorities
when they lead activities or require Chinese regions to conduct activities not in line with the
provinces’ own interests. An example of this is the province of Shandong, which, in cooperating
with Japanese regions and obtaining investments from its partners, tried to inuence the central
Chinese government to soften its policy towards Japan because it could have adversely affected
the province’s economy.45 Another example of the increasing autonomy of regional authorities
is the pressure that Guangdong province exerted in the 1990s on the central authorities not
to conclude a transport agreement with the U.S.46 For these reasons, and despite the formal
centralisation, especially under Xi Jinping’s term, full and strict control over the regions, including
their paradiplomacy activities, is not possible. The situation is reected in the Chinese saying,
“mountains are high, and the emperor is far away” (山高皇帝远), which alludes to the difculties
of controlling local authorities by the central authorities.
Due to the unitary nature of the state and the “division of labour,” a region’s particular
activity requires the consent of the authorities in Beijing. One method of greater control over
a region may be (and is) reducing nancial resources for international activity (for example, the
travel budgets of provincial delegates).
When it comes to tools they include the opening of representations of other countries
in Chinese regions, both consulates and regional ofces. An example of this is the ofce of the
Łódzkie Voivodeship in Chengdu. Another tool is partner cities, as well as establishing direct
passenger ight connections and railway cargo lines (e.g., Łódź-Chengdu, Chongqing-Duisburg,
Yiwu-Madrid), and organising fairs and exhibitions (expos) dedicated to the partner regions
(e.g. Sichuan and Chengdu, and Ningbo as a “showroom” for products from Central and Eastern
Other important activities of Chinese regions are visits by representatives of the provinces,
an example of which is the visit of the head of the CCP in Sichuan province to Łódź and Kutno in
2016, as well as ofces of Chinese regions abroad (e.g. Sichuan in Łódź), participation in regional
forums, both bilateral (e.g., Poland-China Regional Forums) and multilateral (e.g. association of
local leaders of “16/17+1,” based in the Czech Republic).48 Another tool is comprised of regional
43 D. Mierzejewski, “The roles of local governments in the New Silk Road,” in: C. Mendes (ed.), China’s New Silk
Road. An Emerging World Order, New York: Routledge, 2018, p. 137.
44 T. Summers, op. cit., p. 109.
45 D. Mierzejewski, “Channeling…,” op. cit., p. 95.
46 T. Summers, op. cit., p. 44.
47 For more on the cooperation of Sichuan province with Poland, see: D. Mierzejewski, “The roles of local
governments…,” op. cit., pp. 141–148; D. Mierzejewski, B. Kowalski, P. Ciborek, Aktywność gospodarcza i polityczna
Chińskiej Republiki Ludowej w regionie Europy Środkowej i Wschodniej, Łódź: Ośrodek Spraw Azjatyckich, 2018,
pp. 18–31.
48 Ibidem, pp. 14–18, 31–38.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
partners who, with their prole, meet the needs of a given province, for example, in terms of
export opportunities, acquiring technology, or knowledge on a given topic (e.g., from Liverpool
about special economic zones).
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 41
After analysing the results from the rst stage of the project (survey), two local government
units were selected in each of the analysed EU countries.49 Extensive interviews with representatives
of each unit were conducted. The selected regions are distinguished by the intensity of contact,
the number of active partnerships, long tradition of cooperation, or particular activity in the
relations with China. The following descriptions are based mainly on information obtained
during interviews with people responsible for contact with the Chinese partners, along with their
assessments of the current situation and future prospects. The description was supplemented by
information from websites, newspaper articles, or other available documents.
2.1. Pays de la Loire
Pays de la Loire is one of 13 French regions. It is located in the western part of the country
and has nearly 3.8 million inhabitants. It is the fth-largest region in France in terms of GDP per
capita. Its largest cities, besides the capital of Nantes, include Angers and Le Mans. In 2015, after
the election of new authorities in the region, the region’s approach to external contact changed.
Pays de la Loire adopted an international cooperation strategy for 2016–2021.50 The related
document pointed to the importance of economic cooperation leading to the development of the
region, and three priority geographic directions were specied: North America, East Africa, and
Asia. As the representative of the region pointed out:
“China cannot be ignored because China is more than a billion people. Today we have at least
500 million people who can spend money, travel to other countries. We cannot ignore it, but
at the same time we must be realistic.”51
According to the region’s authorities, cooperation with China should be treated as a long-
term investment, allowing time to be able to understand Chinese culture and way of thinking.
Pays de la Loire has cooperated with the province of Shandong since 2006, when regional
representation in the city of Qingdao was opened. The contact includes the economic sphere as
well as culture, education and health. In 2016, it was decided to change the cooperation formula
by closing the representative ofces in China (apart from Qingdao, there was still one in Beijing),
since the ofces were deemed to be ineffective and too costly. While there still is contact with
Shandong, it is not formal cooperation (there have been no ofcial visits of regional authorities or
signing of subsequent agreements).
Only economic diplomacy. The region’s authorities, in their relations with China, focus only on
economic aspects. Entrepreneurs participating in economic missions (on average twice a year)
or other events organised by the region are offered co-nancing of travel costs. The Pays de la
Loire authorities deal primarily with the development of trade, and in investment matters they
cooperate with the Development Regional Agency. An important partner has become Business
France (BF), a national agency for the promotion of exports and investments, established in
2015. A representative of the region joined the BF ofce in Hong Kong to maintain contact not
only with Chinese cities and provinces but also with partners from other Asian countries.
49 In the case of Italy and the UK, one interview was conducted. Whereas, Scotland’s was developed on the basis
of its new strategy towards China published in June 2018.
50 Feuille de route interntionale pour la periode 2016–2021.
51 Interview with a representative of the Pays de la Loire region.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Knowledge of Conditions for Business Activities. Recognising that an important type of support
for entrepreneurs is providing them relevant information, the region prepared a guide, a kind
of strategy for business in China. There is also the “BOOK” database for entrepreneurs and
regional authorities on Chinese investment in Pays de la Loire and on French investment in
All China. The region decided to move away from formalised cooperation within the framework
of partnerships to informal contacts with various provinces. It is particularly interested in
investing in relations with regions in the China’s east. The country is treated as one large
market that can be entered by companies from Pays de la Loire.
“We no longer maintain a relationship that could be called ‘cooperation’. Now, it is an
“economic partnership” with all of China.”52
BRI. The region’s authorities are also looking at the development of the BRI, which they perceive
as an opportunity for new economic ventures, not only in China but also in other parts of Asia.
“What we call the Silk Road is a new link to business organisation. We need to look at this
because it’s a new way of doing business, not just a business, but I think it’s a way to control
the rest of Asia.”53
Professionalisation and specialisation. Recent years have seen changes in the organisation
of Chinese delegations. The visits are better prepared, the topics raised by the Chinese party
claried. Owing to this, the meetings are more specic.
Challenges and perspectives
One-sided commitment.The numerous delegations from China, discussions, and actions
taken do not necessarily translate into specic results (investments, contracts). Over the years,
the region intensively promoted its own enterprises and culture but that also did not bring
results, especially an increase in exports. The partners from China were focused on gathering
information and knowledge, not necessarily in sharing.
“We have spent a lot of money as a region promoting our production, culture and so on. In our
opinion, we’ve spent too much money, we’ve lost too much time, and we have no benet. The
Chinese eagerly collect information, but they do not share it with us. That’s why we changed
our point of view a bit.”54
Prospective industries. In June 2018, China abolished its embargo on beef imports from
France, which has been important for a region that specialises in livestock breeding. Seeing
the changes in Chinese society (e.g., ageing population, the problem of elder care), the region
now also promotes its experience in healthcare and the senior economy (“silver economy”).
Among the other industries interested in the Chinese market are companies related to sports,
and smart green and smart factories. In Pays de la Loire, an international “smart factory”
conference, Laval Virtual, is held every year. In 2017, for the rst time, the French co-organised
the conference Laval Virtual Asia in Qingdao (Shandong Province).
The European Union. Pays de la Loire reports it has not previously beneted from EU support
in developing its relations with China because it has no knowledge of programmes that could
be used for such cooperation. In addition, it points to difculties, such as complicated and
lengthy procedures, in using European funds. The region does not exclude, however, that if
such support aimed at cooperation with China, accompanied by friendly procedures, appeared,
they would benet from it.
52 Ibidem.
53 Ibidem.
54 Ibidem.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 43
2.2. Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
This region was created as a result of the territorial reform in France in 2016. It was a merger
of the two regions of Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes. The capital of the new unit is Lyon. The major
cities include Grenoble, Saint-Etienne, and Clermont-Ferrand. The number of inhabitants (nearly
8 million) makes it the second-largest region in France (behind Île-de-France). It also ranks second
in economic importance, with 11.4% of the country’s GDP and is a foreign investment and
research centre. With more than 600 laboratories and 40,000 scientists, the region “has created
an innovative ecosystem” of 18 inter-connected clusters, French “tech cities” and competing
The region perceives China as a strategic target of cooperation. The rst contact was
made in 1986 with Shanghai at the initiative of the president of Rhône-Alpes at the time. The
formalisation of contact was to facilitate economic relations of local entrepreneurs as well as
academic cooperation. Researchers from the region, especially from Grenoble, had already
established relationships at universities in Shanghai. Moreover, in 1991, one decided to open
a Rhône-Alpes representation ofce there. The partnership was then renewed. The new authorities
of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region signed the agreement again in 2017.
In 2017, a new partnership was established with Hebei Province. The initiative was born
in connection with the preparation of China for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games and the desire to
use the experience of the French region in the organisation of such a global event. Joint activities
also concern healthcare, environmental protection, academic cooperation, and the development
of new technology.
Academic cooperation. Contact between researchers from Grenoble and counterparts
at universities in Shanghai formed the beginning of many years of cooperation, which the
regional representative assessed in 2018 as an example of a successful project. Every year, the
region holds competitions for students and researchers from Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes with its
own resources and runs several projects in cooperation with Shanghai. For example, stays of
French doctors to teach medical French at Jiaotong University in Shanghai are funded.
Clusters. The region places great emphasis on innovation, especially in environmental
protection, including the involvement of regional companies and clusters. Representatives of
the clusters, including Lyonbiopole (a global cluster with a medical prole), have established
partnerships with entities from China.
Support for enterprises. The region is oriented on supporting regional enterprises and clusters
in their contact with Chinese partners. It co-nances its participation in economic missions to
China from its own resources. Until now, funding for trips or calls for proposals by entrepreneurs
were easier to organise with own resources than EU funding.
Cooperation with the government. Cooperation with the French government plays an important
role in dealing with China. Representatives of the region participate in regular consultations
with central entities, also on the occasion of subsequent visits of Chinese delegations.
“Sometimes we ask the national government to help us evaluate the Chinese delegation’s offer
to identify ‘a good delegation’ because sometimes we devote a lot of time to the organisation
of Chinese partner programs.”56
55 “Mapping France. The dynamism of France’s regions through investment by French and foreign companies,”
International Business Summit, 21 January 2019,
56 An interview with a region representative of Auvergne–Rhône-Alpes.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Challenges and perspectives
Political circumstances in French local governments. The various political options/parties
governing the region and its capital make it difcult to synergise the activities of Auvergne-
Rhône-Alpes and Lyon towards China. The city’s and region’s authorities organise trips and
meetings independently with foreign partners, without combining or coordinating their
Circumstances on the Chinese side. One difculty in relations is the lack of continuity in the
contact of ofcials from both countries. Departments change as do the people responsible
for cooperation on the Chinese side. Different people come to subsequent meetings as part
of ongoing cooperation endeavours. There are also difculties in keeping current contacts
related to policy in China and interference of the central authorities, who decide, for example,
to withhold permits for foreign delegations. What is more, the region’s representatives are not
always able to assess the goals of subsequent visits of Chinese delegations, which often visit
a number of regions from different countries during one trip to Europe.
Changing China’s approach to cooperation. Chinese delegations are less likely to visit, they
are also less numerous, but more focused on specic activities.
Representatives of the region are aware of the changes and challenges posed by cooperation
with partners in China (e.g., concerns relating to the transfer of their own technologies to
China). However, they believe that joint initiatives should be taken. It is important to know
about the partners and ensure that the cooperation brings benets to both parties.
“We must continue to cooperate with them, but we must strongly defend our interests. So I think
that in the future we will continue to maintain relations, but we will be more aware. Before the
delegation goes to China, it prepares, it is a question of mutual knowledge [...] . We must go
to China to understand it. The more we get to know each other, the more we nd solutions for
good cooperation.”57
A new model of regional representation. In 2017, the decision was made to close the ofce
in Shanghai. A different support formula is planned to support entities from the French region.
The authorities intend to cooperate with a single French entity that will represent Auvergne-
Rhône-Alpes in China (it will probably be BF or the French Chamber of Commerce).
The need for a coherent EU policy towards China, which will also translate into the activities
of individual regional authorities from the EU countries. The Chinese market should be more
open and Europe should clearly dene its goals.
“I think it must be a strategic policy towards China in the eld of investment, the European
Union must look at this project [the Chinese investments in the EU], explain to the Chinese
government what we need and defend our interests, including European strategic companies
from each Member State, because I think we all have the same problem.”58
2.3. Castile and León
Castile and León is an autonomous community in northwestern Spain, the largest region
in the country without sea access. The capital is Valladolid, and the largest cities are Burgos,
Salamanca, and León. Castile and León belong to a group of eight historic regions of Spain (the
others are Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, Murcia, Cantabria, La Roja, and Aragón).
Over 60% of all the monuments in Spain are in this region. Avila, Salamanca, and Segovia are
included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In addition, it is a region in which the Spanish
57 Ibidem.
58 Ibidem.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 45
language originated. Historical heritage is also important for international contacts. Cooperation
with China focuses on activities related to education, language, and culture.
The representatives of the region declare active and formalised cooperation with ve Chinese
cities. Four of them are provincial capitals, and Chongqing is a provincial-level agglomeration.
The agreements with the cities of Xiangtan (Hunan province) and Chongqing were signed in 2015,
whereas with Jinan, Changchun, and Nanjing, they were signed in 2016. Although the economy is
one of the most important areas of cooperation, the most characteristic type is in science, culture,
sport, and tourism. Regional educational institutions played the role of initiators of cooperation
in four out of the ve partnerships with China. Universities from the region initiated activities in
three cases (Changchun, Chongqing, Nanjing), and the Ministry of Education cooperated with one
city (Jinan). In the case of the last relation, with Xiangtan, the authorities of the city of León took
the role of initiator (Table 10).
Table 10. Chinese Partners of the Autonomous Community of Castile and León
Province/city Status of
Chinese partner
of cooperation
no agreement
1 Xiangtan city in Hunan province 2015 agreement active
2 Chongqing city with a provincial status 2015 agreement active
3 Jinan city, capital of Shandong province 2016 agreement active
4 Changchun city, capital of Jilin province 2016 agreement active
5 Nanjing city, capital of Jiangsu province 2016 agreement active
Source: author’s compilation.
Education and universities. University cooperation and learning Chinese in selected schools in
the Castile region are the main forms of cooperation with the partners from China. This is also
associated with the benets of cultural and tourist promotion of the historic region of Spain in
China. In addition, economic cooperation is also undertaken with some provinces.
Language. Chinese language courses in schools are currently among the agship initiatives of
the region. The region tries to encourage schools in Castile and León to establish a partnership
with schools from the Chinese regions where Spanish is taught. Summer youth exchanges are
also organised.
Cooperation with Spanish and Chinese state entities. In cooperation on language learning,
the Spanish Ministry of Education has played an important role, inviting all the autonomous
communities of the country, the Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban), and the Confucius
Institute at the University of León to cooperate. Apart from learning the language, another goal
was to gain knowledge of Chinese culture. The Council of Education of the community of
Castile and León actively participated in the Ministry’s activities.
Young partnerships. The region cooperated for many years with entities from Latin America,
the U.S., and Canada. Activities were carried out in the eld of education and exchanges of
teachers and students. Additionally, many partnerships with regions in EU countries have been
established. With East Asia, including China, there were no relations. Castile decided to make
up for it by establishing partnerships with China in 2015–2016.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
“The region of East Asia, China, was the only area with which there were no relations and
now we enable it. We consider this to be the most valuable element of the policy of opening,
internationalisation, which is one of the main axes of the Regional Council for education.”59
Challenges and perspectives
Educational programmes and new formulas for cooperation. Thanks to the cooperation of
the Ministry of Education and the University of León, the region intends to start exchanging
students. Further development of educational programmes is also planned. The authorities stress
that the new cooperation agreements should have wider scope. There will not be agreements
with individual regions but a framework agreement that will cover all Chinese provinces.
EU funding. So far, there are no EU programmes that the government of the autonomous
community could use to develop cooperation with China. Representatives of the region envision
a programme supporting the exchange of experience in the eld of education, including study
visits and research projects based on Erasmus, with programmes operating in Europe a good
“In Castile and León, teaching languages and the opportunity to learn about other cultures are
areas we are very interested in. This is the strategic goal of our council. For this reason, opening
up to the East Asia region means enriching our activities so that our students and society are
open to the whole world.”60
2.4. Valencia
The autonomous community of Valencia, the fourth in Spain in terms of population (over
4.9 million inhabitants), is located on the Mediterranean coast on the eastern side of the Iberian
Peninsula. An important asset in the region is the largest port in Spain and the Mediterranean
basin, located in Valencia, the capital of the community. Other important port cities include
Sagunto and Castellon. The largest cities in the region, next to the capital, are Alicante, Elche,
Gandia, and Castellon. Geographical location and ports are essential for regional development
and foreign contact.
Valencia is the most experienced Spanish region in cooperation with China. The initiator
of this cooperation in the 1990s was a representative of the Valencia Institute, responsible for
export development. The rst partnership was signed in 1994 with the province of Sichuan, after
previously established partnerships between the capitals of Chengdu and Valencia. Moreover, in
1995, Valencia opened an ofce in Hong Kong, initiating commercial relations. Over the next
10 years, new representations of the region were established: in Shanghai (1997), Beijing (2000),
and Guangzhou (2004). In 2017, representatives of Valencia declared 10 partnerships with China,
yet merely two are considered still active, the ones with Sichuan and Tianjin. Most of the not active
partnerships, established in the 1990s, have never had a formal basis for cooperation (Table 11).
Table 11. Chinese Partners of the Autonomous Community of Valencia
Province/city Status of the Chinese partner Beginning of
no agreement
1 Sichuan province 1994 agreement active
2 Shanghai a city with a provincial status 1997 no agreement not active
3 Liaoning province 2000 agreement not active
59 An interview with a representative of the autonomous community of Castile and León.
60 Ibidem.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 47
Province/city Status of the Chinese partner Beginning of
no agreement
4 Pekin a city with a provincial status 2000 no agreement not active
5 Guizhou province 2007 agreement not active
6 Guangzhou capital city of Guangdong
province 2010 agreement not active
7 Ningxia autonomous region Hui 2011 no agreement not active
8 Jilin province 2012 no agreement not active
9 Wenzhou city in Zhejiang province 2012 no agreement not active
10 Fujian province 2014 no agreement not active
11 Tianjin a city with a provincial status 2017 agreement active
Economic cooperation. Since the initial encounters, the emphasis has been on economic
cooperation. Regional ofces were opened to promote the region and facilitate business
relationships. In recent years, however, the support model has changed. All ofces in China
acting as regional representations have been closed. The regional government is represented
in China by a consulting company. The decision to change the formula was related to the
economic crisis in Spain and the region—the Valencian authorities had to cut expenses. In
the current situation, there is no intention to re-open the region’s ofces in China. Institutional
cooperation at the level of regional authorities is continued, though, as it is an important
component of supporting business relations.
“An autonomous community that supports its local companies presents itself as a stable and
reliable partner. (...) Institutional relations are also important, especially in the case of China,
where support and conrmation of political contacts is always an added value for them.”61
Important role of ports. Due to Valencia’s geographical location, Tianjin became a new Chinese
partner. It is the largest coastal city and the largest port in northern China. Valencia, Sagunto,
and Castellon, mainly commercial and industrial ports, are interested in the development of
this partnership. Most of the container port trafc in Valencia is managed by Noatum, which
was purchased by the Chinese company Cosco.
Cooperation of cities and regions. Cooperation with Sichuan Province is a good example of
a parallel partnership between the regions and their capitals. Apart from cooperation between
the regions, the capitals Valencia and Chengdu are also partners. In May 2017, a decision was
made on a new agreement between the cities. According to it, cooperation focuses on culture,
education, and trade. The involvement of universities and cultural institutions is also important.
Synergy with the government. For cooperation between the autonomous community of
Valencia and the Chinese partners, relations at the central level of both countries are important.
In the opinion of the regional authorities, the relations between Spain and China are stable
and facilitate the development of economic cooperation. The strategic partnership sets the
framework for cooperation between the whole country and the regions.
“It is worth emphasising that we operate in harmony and in agreement with the Spanish
government, not on the margins. National institutions, such as the Institute of Foreign Trade
(Instituto de Comercio Exterior), embassies, trade and tourism advisers, our diplomatic
corps, give us full support. For our autonomous community, external policy is not a point of
confrontation, but an important element of economic development.”62
61 An interview with a representative of the Autonomous Community of Valencia.
62 Ibidem.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Challenges and perspectives
Tourism. Recently, more emphasis has been put on tourism. The development of cooperation
in this eld is one of the challenges of further contacts. Despite the high interest of Chinese
tourists in Spain, the Valencia region is one of the lesser known and less frequently visited.
A chance to increase exports to China. The region’s authorities recognise China’s greater
openness to importing goods from Valencia. According to data in 2017, the Far East accounts
for 48% of the trafc managed by the port of Valencia; around 50% of foreign trade between
Spain and China passes through Valencia. In November 2018, Valencia took part in the China
International Import Expo in Shanghai to promote its port as crucial to the transit of cargo from
the Far East through the Mediterranean.63
“China sends a clear message that they are not only exporting, but are also ready to import.”64
“We know that there is a clear desire to sign agreements for the import of high quality products.”65
2.5. Berlin
Berlin is the nation’s capital but also has the status of a federal land. With a population of more
than 3.7 million inhabitants, it is the second-largest city in the EU after London. It is a cosmopolitan
city and the number of foreigners is constantly growing. In 2018, foreigners constituted 18.5% of
the city’s population. Berlin is a world metropolis and an important political, cultural, and scientic
centre. It is also an important German economic centre, although it gives way to the wealth of
Hamburg or Munich. The city’s authorities are active internationally, maintaining contact with
17 cities around the world. All, except Los Angeles, with which Berlin’s cooperation has lasted since
1967, are capitals of their respective countries. Beijing is the only Chinese partner.
The rst agreement on friendly cooperation was signed by the government of East Berlin and
the authorities of Beijing in 1988. The partnership was conrmed in April 1994 in a memorandum
signed by the authorities of the unied city of Berlin. In the following years, additional partnership
agreements were concluded between districts in both metropolises (e.g., the Mitte district in Berlin
is partnered with the Chaoyang district in Beijing).
Diversity in areas of cooperation. Among the many areas of cooperation, issues important to
the functioning of a city, such as urban transport and management of the healthcare system and
culture, are dominant. Much attention is also paid to initiatives concerning the development
of cities, such as smart cities and startups. Since 1997, a regular event, Asia-Pacic Weeks in
Berlin, or APW, has been held. It is a platform for an interdisciplinary, Euro-Asian dialogue on,
among others, smart cities, industry 4.0, digitisation, and innovation. Initially, the meetings
were held every two years, but since 2015, every year. The conference includes economic,
cultural, scientic, political, and social events. It also strengthens Berlin’s agreements with
Beijing, Jakarta, and Tokyo.66
Active local entities. Local entities, social organisations, representatives of culture and German
entrepreneurs are also involved in the cooperation. In 2018, together with the Chamber of
Commerce and Industry (IHK), a Berlin economic ofce was opened in Beijing and has a budget
of €350,000 per year.67
63 “Valenciaport exhibits at China International Import Expo, Shanghai,”
64 An interview with a representative of the Autonomous Community of Valencia.
65 Ibidem.
66 “Asia-Pacic Weeks Berlin 2019,”
67 J. Thomsen, “Ramona Pop eröffnet Auslandsbüro in Peking,” Berliner Zeitung, 17 April 2018.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 49
Legal education. In 2002–2011, Berlin organised two-week educational programmes for
Chinese judges and ofcials, and in 2014, a specialised seminar was held. The city’s activities
are in line with the intergovernmental programme of Chinese-German legal cooperation since
2000 (Deutsch-Chinesische Programm Rechtskooperation), where a number initiatives take
place in Berlin.
School cooperation. As many as 18 schools in Berlin have partnerships with Chinese schools
(14 of them in Beijing). Youth exchanges are organised and German students learn about
Chinese culture and language.
“For our students, contact with Chinese peers and culture are an integral part of the Chinese
language teaching program.”68
Artistic cooperation. In both cities, exhibitions are held, aimed at the integration of artistic
circles and getting to know each other better. In 2014, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the
partnership, an exhibition of Chinese contemporary art was held in Berlin.
Challenges and perspectives
Regulations regarding the operation of Chinese NGOs, that is, their dependency on the
Chinese central authorities, constitutes a signicant obstacle to the development of cooperation.
Interpersonal contacts, based on educational and cultural cooperation and the involvement of
NGOs from Berlin, are limited by political differences.
The professionalisation of contact with China in recent years is apparent. Chinese delegations
are better prepared for visits, and exchange of experiences have become more and more
bilateral, as many Chinese solutions (e.g., regarding smart cities) is also interesting to the
German side.
An important factor in the development of the partnership is the state of the government
relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and the PRC. Although the federal
government does not interfere directly with Berlin’s international contact, intergovernmental
relations have an impact on the development of cooperation with Beijing.
There is no direct impact, but obviously, the cities’ cooperation benets from good relations
between Germany and China.”69
2.6. Brandenburg
Brandenburg is one of 16 federal states of Germany, with its capital in Potsdam. On the
territory of the land, Berlin is situated and isolated as a separate federal state. The land is inhabited
by 2.5 million inhabitants. In economic terms, Brandenburg is relatively underdeveloped,
accounting only for slightly more than 2% of German GDP. Potsdam is the largest city in the region
(175,000 inhabitants), but Berlin is actually the main metropolitan centre that fulls metropolitan
Brandenburg cooperates with the Chinese province of Hebei, which surrounds Beijing as
a separated city. In terms of location and the specic relationship with the nation’s capital, both
regions are very similar to each other. The ofcial agreement was signed in 2015 but the meeting
with the former minister-president of Brandenburg, Matthias Platzeck, and Premiere Li Keqiang in
2013 was crucial to establish the cooperation. The subjects of the meeting included cooperation
in the eld of renewable energy sources. In the signed agreement, the parties committed to
cooperate on environmental protection.
68 An interview with Melina Rath-Kastrinogianni, “Das Gleiche – aber anders Schulpartnerschaften zwischen
Deutschland und China,”
69 An interview with a representative of the Berlin Land government.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Renewable energy sources (RES) are the most important eld of cooperation. Brandenburg,
supplying 10% of all energy production in Germany, is carrying out an intensive transformation
of its energy sector, strengthening the role of RES and reducing fossil fuels use. Of particular
interest, from the point of view of the Chinese, are the innovative energy technologies developed
in the region. As part of the signed agreement, Hebei intends to build a hybrid power plant
converting wind energy into hydrogen, similar to the one already existing in the Brandenburg
city of Prenzlau. The project includes, among others, the German branch of McPhy Energy.
Academic cooperation. The development of modern energy technology has become the basis
of cooperation between universities. During the visit by the prime minister of Brandenburg
to China in October 2018, an agreement was signed between the Technical University of
Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU) and the North China Electric Power University (NCEPU). In
2018, the Ministry of Science, Research and Culture of the Brandenburg Land, together with
the Department of Education of Hebei Province declared stronger cooperation in the eld of
higher education and research. The following year, The BBW University of Applied Sciences
signed an agreement with Hebei College for Industry and Technology, the largest university
in the province, located in the city of Shijiazhuang, on cooperation in the eld of academic
education and training for Chinese specialists. It is worth noting that Berlin universities also use
Brandenburg contacts although it is formally from another land. It shows a kind of symbiosis
between Brandenburg and Berlin.
Economic cooperation is another important area of bilateral contact, which is conrmed by
the growing value of trade (tripled over the last decade). Exports in 2017 reached €300 million.
China remains, however, a still insignicant market for Brandenburg, accounting for less than
3% of the region’s exports, the lowest among all federal lands.
The importance of political relations at a higher level. The visit by the Chinese PM to Potsdam
opened the way to cooperation with Hebei Province, and subsequent areas of cooperation are
being initiated on the occasion of further regional government meetings. This distinguishes
the Chinese partner from other partners. Cooperation with China is perceived as a great
administrative and nancial effort for the state, however, the results of the rst years are very
promising in the opinion of the provincial authorities.
“Particularly in the Chinese context, important cooperation projects must also be accompanied
by political actions.”70
Challenges and perspectives
Youth cooperation. The rst inter-school partnership was concluded by a junior high school
in Potsdam named after Einstein and the Foreign Language School in Shijiazhuang. However,
Brandenburg would like to develop closer contact between young people from both countries.
“In addition to cooperation in economics, science, and research, we are very interested
in developing more contacts between the younger generation as part of school
partnerships. Moreover, we are in the process of developing a volunteer programme at the
time of the Winter Olympic Games in 2022, hosted by Beijing, but some of the competition
will take place in Hebei Province.”71
70 An interview with a representative of Brandenburg Land.
71 Ibidem.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 51
2.7. Dolnośląskie
Dolnośląskie is the seventh-largest voivodeship in size and fth-largest in terms of the
number of inhabitants (2.9 million) in Poland. In 2015, it accounted for 8.4% of the country’s GDP,
making it fourth among all Polish regions. For Dolnośląskie, located in the southwest of Poland
and bordering both the Czech Republic and Germany, international cooperation is an important
element of development. Apart from partnerships with neighbouring countries, the region also
has cooperation with entities in other European countries, as well as in Georgia, Brazil (where the
cooperation is not very active), and in China. The region is also active in multilateral initiatives,
such as Novum, the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation, and the Odra Partnership.
The region declares one active partnership, in eastern China, with the province of Anhui,
located in the basin of the Yangtze and Huang He River (without access to the sea). With
a population of 62 million, it is the eighth-largest province in China in terms of population.
Renewed partnership. In 1997, an agreement was signed between the then Wrocławskie
Voivodeship and Anhui province. Although the partnership was formally taken over two years
later by the newly created Dolnośląskie Voivodeship, no joint actions were taken for years. In
2017, the Chinese side, in view of the forthcoming 20th anniversary of the rst contact with the
Polish province, through the Polish consulate in Shanghai, announced its willingness to renew
cooperation. On the anniversary of the signing of the agreement, a delegation from China with
more than 70 people visited the capital, Dolny Śląsk, and a new partnership agreement was
initialled. The document on cooperation was also renewed by the Dolnośląska Chamber of
Commerce, which started cooperation with its Chinese counterpart in 1997.
Economic cooperation. Even from the stage of preliminary discussions regarding the scope
of the partnership, economic issues were given high priority. A signicant part of the Chinese
delegation in the spring of 2017 were entrepreneurs. Both regions focus on innovation. Anhui
province has the development of new technology among its goals, just like the authorities of
Dolnośląskie. An important local partner to the Marshal’s Ofce is the Dolnośląska Regional
Development Agency, which is responsible for supporting entrepreneurship, innovation, and
competitiveness of Dolnośląskie enterprises. This is the agency, using funds for the promotion
of the region and supporting the internationalisation of local companies, that organises,
together with the Marshal’s Ofce, B2B fairs and meetings in Wrocław, and in China for Polish
and Chinese entrepreneurs. In recent years, there have been, on average, several events a year.
Academic cooperation. Another important dimension of the partnership is academic
cooperation. During the visit of a Chinese delegation to Wrocław, a forum for universities from
both regions was held. As a result, among other things, there was the signing of a cooperation
agreement between the Medical University of Piastów Śląskich in Wrocław and the University
of Anhui (Anhui University of Chinese Medicine).
Comprehensive cooperation. The voivodeship, despite previous contact also with other
Chinese provinces, decided to stay with one renewed partnership with Anhui. Both regions
wanted to base their relations on various types of activities and participation of many local
entities. On the occasion of the meeting in Wrocław, Legnica established relations with
Bozhou, a city from Anhui Province. Meetings and fairs are also an opportunity to promote the
region and culture. Exhibitions of artists from Anhui in Wrocław galleries, dance shows, and
photographs on the market square are also elements of the development of cooperation in the
eld of tourism. Taking advantage of the geographical location of the region (proximity to the
Czech Republic and Germany), the region intends to establish cooperation with the Central
Czech region, the capital of which is Prague, to encourage Chinese tourists to visit both Dolny
Śląsk and the Czech capital.
The Polish Institute of International Affairs
Challenges and perspectives
No EU programmes focused on China. The initiatives undertaken in recent years were nanced
primarily from the voivodeship’s own resources, including EU funds from the Regional
Operational Programme intended for economic diplomacy. The representatives of the ofce,
however, do not see any EU programme directly aimed at cooperation with China.
Synergy with government activities. When cooperating with China, it is important to
cooperate with the central authorities, maintain diplomatic missions abroad, and involve local
governments in government initiatives.
“It is very similar both in China and other directions, we always say that during these ofcial
visits at the ministerial level or generally at the state level, this local-regional perspective should
also be taken into account. I think that it is also worth drawing on our experience and well-
developed contacts because we already have actual history of such cooperation.”72
A good example are the regional forums organised with the central authorities and local
governments at the initiative of the government. In 2013–2016, the annual Poland-China
Regional Forum was an important meeting platform, well-rated by the local government, for all
entities at various levels interested in cooperation with China, including partner regions.
2.8. Łódzkie
Łódzkie Voivodeship, located in central Poland is inhabited by 2.5 million people. The
capital of the region and the largest city is Łódź. The region has been cooperating with Sichuan
Province since 2012. At the same time, the city of Łódź cooperates with Chengdu, the capital of
The rst contact with Sichuan Province began after the level of Polish-Chinese relations was
increased to a strategic partnership in December 2011. Representatives of the Chinese Chamber
of Commerce visited Łódź in March 2012, and the relations were established by creating a direct
freight railway connection with China—Chengdu-Łódź—the rst such connection in Poland.73
The Łódź-Chengdu railway cargo line. The authorities in the region and in Łódź recognised
the potential of the business idea of medium-size logistics company Hatrans from Łódź and
politically supported the efforts to create a freight railway connection. The rst trains from
Chengdu arrived in Łódź in April 2013, establishing a cheaper alternative connection to air
transport and shortening by half transport time in relation to the sea route, which is benecial for
companies operating in the region, such as Dell, Gillette, P&G, and Hutchinson. The connection
gained an important position on the map of Poland’s contacts with China. Representatives of
the Polish government often refer to this example as evidence of the strategic nature of Polish-
Chinese relations and efcient cooperation between local authorities. It is estimated that in
2016, every third train arriving from China to Europe was unloaded in Łódź.74
Cooperation between local government authorities of the Łódzkie Voivodeship and the city
of Łódź. The region and city authorities jointly opened a permanent ofce of the Łódzkie
Voivodeship in Chengdu in 2014. Regional political leaders—President of Łódź Hanna
Zdanowska and Voivode Marshal Witold Stępień also personally engaged in contacts with
72 An interview with a representative of Dolnośląskie Voivodeship.
73 D. Mierzejewski, B. Kowalski, P. Ciborek, op. cit., p. 35–38.
74 T. Kamiński, “What are the factors behind the successful EU-China cooperation on the subnational level? Case
study of the Lodzkie region in Poland,” Asia Europe Journal, no. 17, 2019, p. 228.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 53
“I am aware that for some investors, political cooperation at the local level is crucial, that’s why
I devote my time to it.”75
Activity of Chinese partners. Sichuan, in cooperation with Łódź, noticed an opportunity to
develop international contacts. As a result, the Łódź region began to be presented in China as
part of the BRI, and Sichuan itself, with the support of the Chinese central authorities, became
a province that specialises in, among others, cooperation with Poland and other Central
European countries.
Cooperation between Łódź local government authorities, business, and universities. The
region’s authorities began promoting the railway connection to companies. The Marshal’s
Ofce in cooperation with the Łódź Regional Development Agency and private consulting
companies started to organise a system of support for products for export by local companies
to the Chinese market. This resulted in an increase in the number of trains that have gone to
China with Polish goods.
From the beginning of the effort, the regional authorities have cooperated with academic
institutions in the region, using their expert knowledge, especially Chinese language and
culture. The Marshal’s Ofce also has supported many academic initiatives, such as the creation
of a university think-tank, the Centre of Asian Affairs, and a summer school for Chinese students
at the University of Łódź, with about 150 people participating in it every year.
Thanks to this tri-part cooperation, Łódź has managed to promote relations with the Chinese
partner in such a way that they have become a nationwide model of cooperation between
Polish and Chinese local authorities.
“We develop relations with China in three areas: business, higher education, and cultural
exchange. Business relations and cooperation between universities have developed greatly,
cultural institutions have been lagging behind.”76
Polish government support. The Polish government supports the activities of regional
authorities, legitimises them, and emphasises their potential. In 2015, a Consulate General of
the Republic of Poland was opened in Chengdu, mainly to add dynamism to the development
of cooperation between Łódzkie Voivodeship and Sichuan and the Łódź–Chengdu line. In
the same year, the Poland-China Regional Forum (organised by the central authorities) took
place in Łódź and gathered several hundred representatives of local and regional authorities
from both countries. A year later, the Marshal Stępień was the only local government gure to
take part in the ofcial visit of the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Waszczykowski to
China. During the visit, the minister also visited Sichuan.
Challenges and perspectives
Increasing competition on commodity freight market routes to China. In 2017, at least
34 European cities from 12 countries had rail connections to China, and the number of trains
exceeded 3,000 per year and is likely to grow signicantly.77 Under these conditions, without
large investments in the development of the intermodal reloading centre in Łódź, the city will
be marginalised on the rail connections map.
Limiting Chinese subsidies for cargo trains. Currently, the development of rail transport is
strongly dependent on Chinese export subsidies, which in some regions and for some operators
can exceed even 50% of the costs. The Chinese government plans to reduce these subsidies, at
75 An interview with Łódź President Hanna Zdanowska, Łódź, 15 January 2015.
76 An interview with an ofcial of the Marshal’s Ofce in Łódź, Łódź, 17 July 2017.
77 Xiang Bo, “Over 6,200 train trips made between China, Europe in 6 years,” Xinhua, 26 December 2017.
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a rate of up to 10% per year.78 An important factor then will be the scale of the cuts that Sichuan
will apply to the Łódź connection.
Change in the Polish government’s policy towards China. The deterioration of Polish-Chinese
relations may negatively affect the development of bilateral regional contacts, including
those between the Łódź Voivodeship and Sichuan. An example is the decision by Poland’s
authorities in 2016 to suspend an auction for the sale of a plot of land for the construction
of a trans-shipment terminal in Łódź but without clear justication and consultation with the
city authorities. This decision was poorly received by the Chinese partners. As a result, the
dynamics of the contact between the voivodeship and the city of Łódź with the Chinese partner
has decreased. A return to the previous intensity of the relationship requires active investment,
as well as marketing activities by the authorities of Łódź.
2.9. Liverpool
Liverpool is a port city and, at the same time, a local government city (Liverpool City
Region) in the northwest England. It is currently the fourth-largest port in the UK (after Grimsby-
Immingham, London, and Tees-Hartlepool). Liverpool has a long tradition of contact with China
and the oldest Chinese community in the country, reaching as far back as the mid-19th century
when the local port served, among others, clipper ships bringing in tea. Then, Chinese from
Shanghai and Hong Kong were employed in the port by one of the English companies. For these
reasons, Liverpool had quite a large Chinatown, especially before the First World War. Currently,
around 10,000 Chinese live in Liverpool (comparted to about 500,000 total residents of the city).
Liverpool is promoted to China as one of the UK’s best cities to cooperate with. It
emphasises the city’s cultural resources, including its two well-known football clubs (FC Liverpool
and FC Everton), its place as the home of the Beatles, and its role as an academic, research,
and innovation centre. The logistics and legal facilities in the form of port infrastructure, good
communication with other parts of the UK, as well as participation in the Northern Powerhouse
project are also promoted.79
Of the 12 local UK cooperation projects in the survey, Liverpool has the most partners in
China. It cooperates with 11 Chinese entities—Shandong province and cities, including Shanghai,
Suzhou, Tianjin, Guiyang, Chongqing, Kunming, Chengdu, Qingdao, Xi’an, and Dalian. Most of
the partnerships were established in 2016. The oldest is the partnership with Shanghai, which has
been operating since 1999 (Table 12).
Table 12. Chinese partners for city of Liverpool
Province/city Status of the Chinese partner Beginning
of cooperation
no agreement
1 Shanghai city with a provincial status 1999 agreement active
2 Suzhou city in Jiangsu province 2006 agreement active
3 Tianjin city with a provincial status 2016 agreement active
4 Guiyang city, capital of Guizhou province 2016 agreement active
5 Chongqing city with a provincial status 2016 agreement active
6 Kunming city, capital of Yunnan province 2016 agreement active
7 Chengdu city, capital of Sichuan province 2016 agreement active
78 J. Suokas, “China to scale down subsidies for Europe-bound cargo trains,” Global Times, 19 October 2018,
79 See the part of Great Britain, p. 25.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 55
Province/city Status of the Chinese partner Beginning
of cooperation
no agreement
8 Qingdao city in Shandong province 2016 agreement active
9 Shandong province 2016 agreement active
10 Dalian city in Liaoning province no data no data no data
11 Xi’an capital of province Shaanxi no data no data no data
Source: authors’ compilation.
Priority partnership and others. These priority partnerships bring business benets to the city
and create a synergy effect. Other partnerships are important for other cities of the Northern
Powerhouse and for the UK.
Liverpool in the vanguard. The city wants to be a model of cooperation with Chinese partners
for other cities and the UK government. Thanks to its good contacts with Chinese partner
cities, knowledge about them, and more widely about China (e.g. legal regulations, business
conditions, etc.), Liverpool wants to help other British entities choose partners and effectively
cooperate with them.
Personal factor. People in power in Liverpool are convinced of the need to promote it as a city
open to foreign cooperation and willing to share its experience and seek synergy. Since 2014,
there has been a special city vice-mayor (Deputy Mayor of Liverpool–Business, Economy and
Skills), who is responsible for cooperation with China and is the “face” of the city in China.
Thanks to the activity of people in these positions, in 2016 seven new partnerships were
Most important is the economy. The emphasis in the partnerships is put on exports to China,
investments in China, and attracting Chinese investments to Liverpool and the UK. The city
also wants to attract students and tourists as well as Chinese participants in cyclical events such
as the International Business Festival, since they all bring income to the local budget.
Science and education. These two areas are considered almost equally as important as the
economy. An example is the 2006 University of Liverpool partnership with Xi’an Jiaotong
University and the joint campus in Suzhou, as well as the “2+3” programme, namely studies
in Suzhou and Liverpool. Another example is the SENSOR City project, carried out by two
Liverpool universities and includes research into sensory technologies. The city started
cooperation within this project with the authorities and businesses from Tianjin.
Football. In 2018, Liverpool and Kunming authorities signed an agreement to open a football
school in Kunming under the patronage of FC Liverpool.
Sharing experience. The city is willing to share its know-how regarding economic zones and
port operations, among others. Liverpool promotes as its (and also the Northern Powerhouse’s)
strengths and possible areas of cooperation with Chinese partners: business services, solutions
in river ports and seaports, logistics, sensory and low-carbon technology, graphene, off-shore
wind farms, and the car and aviation industries.
Financial benets. The city has reaped nancial benets from the growing number of Chinese
students, tourists, and their families coming to visit. According to calculations by the Liverpool
authorities, each student spends around £25,000–27,000 annually.
Investments. There are examples of successful investments thanks to the local
cooperation. Chinese company ZPMC participates in the expansion of the Liverpool Peel Ports,
lighting in the city is based on technology from Shanghai, and the city purchased electric buses
with technology from BDY Shenzhen. On the other side, Henry Bath, a Liverpool company,
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invested £50 million in the Free Economic Zone (FTZ) in Shanghai, building a warehouse and
employing workers.
Promotion of Liverpool and its strengths.Benets include the very fact of promoting the city
and its strengths as well as characteristic features or agship events, e.g., International Business
Challenges and perspectives
Not enough knowledge and understanding of China and preparing for cooperation. The lack
of knowledge concerns, for example, the role of the Chinese government in paradiplomacy
activities and the scope of autonomy of local authorities. It is also worth knowing the
specialisations of the Chinese regions to avoid situations when one wants to cooperate, but it
is with an inappropriate partner.
The challenge of Chinese legal regulations regarding business cooperation. Local authorities
should have this knowledge and share it with local businesses interested in cooperating with
Chinese partners.
2.10. Scotland
Scotland is part of the UK, which has an autonomous system of national governments
(own government and parliament). It is situated in the north of the British Isles and in the south it
borders England. The capital of Scotland is Edinburgh, but the largest city and economic centre
is Glasgow. According to devolutionary processes,80 the authorities of the constituent parts of the
United Kingdom have a diversied range of autonomy, including some options for maintaining
external relations (e.g., regional ofces in Brussels and selected capitals, commercial ofces
outside Europe). The specicity of Scotland in this context is determined by the broadest scope
of autonomy, partially including taxation and legislation, the long-term power of the Scottish
National Party (since 2007) and the strongest separatist tendencies in the UK (independence
referendum in 2014) resulting in considerable continuity of national policy and strong motivation
to increase the visibility of Scotland internationally and the scope of its own autonomy in terms
of external relations. The Scottish Government Minister for Europe, migration, and international
development is responsible for the maintenance of relations with China.
Scotland recognises its relations with China as a priority, due to the country’s growing
global role and convergence in the goals and development programmes of both countries. China’s
position in the international activity of Scotland is indicated by China’s strategies, drawn up every
three years since 2006. The latest, the third, was published in June 2018. Relations with China are
a way for Scotland to increase its visibility and international space (internationalisation). About
5.5 million people live in Scotland, including 15,000 Chinese people and 9,000 students (data
for January 2018).81 In 2017, about 62,000 tourists from China visited Scotland.82 China is the
17th-largest export market for Scotland.83 Scotland cooperates with Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen,
the province of Shandong, Tianjin, and Hong Kong. In addition, Glasgow has been cooperating
with Dalian and Edinburgh with Xi’an for 30 years.
80 Devolution processes mean the decentralisation activities in the constituent parts of the United Kingdom:
Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
81 “Scotland’s International Framework China Engagement Strategy,” 2018, pp. 3, 19.
83 “Scotland’s International…,” op. cit., p. 7.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 57
An extensive institutional network involved in contacts with China. In Beijing, the Scottish
Affairs Ofce operates at the UK embassy. Apart from China, Scotland has similar representations
only with the EU (in Brussels), Canada (in Ottawa and Toronto), and the U.S. (in Washington).
In China, the Scottish Development Ofce also has ofces whose task is to help business
operations in Scotland (in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Shenzhen). A Chinese consulate
has been operating in Edinburgh for 20 years.
The priority is economic cooperation, above all trade and mutual investment. Scotland wants
to increase exports to China, mainly whiskey, salmon, and textiles—its agship products.
Science and the environment is another important area of cooperation. Scotland has created
an image of itself as a leader in environmental protection, with ambitious targets for reducing
emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy. It wants to cooperate with its Chinese
partners in the protection of habitats, offshore wind energy, and sewage management.
Culture and tourism. The goal in this area is to promote Scotland, which can translate into
economic benets and help internationalise or increase the international presence of the
country. The cooperation includes performative and visual arts, museums and collections,
archaeological research, literature, publications, lm, arts and crafts, cultural heritage, music,
software design, animation, and games. The spending by Chinese tourists in Scotland has
increased by 414% since 2007, reaching £36 million.
Education, science, and innovation is the fourth important area of cooperation, promoting
Scottish colleges and research there.
Increased exports to China and examples of mutual investments. In the economic sphere,
tangible benets include increased salmon exports and the presence of 10 Chinese enterprises
operating in Scotland that combined employ more than 2,600 employees. In addition, China
is currently the fth-largest source of foreign investment in Scotland.
Examples of successful scientic and environmental protection endeavours. Benets in science
and environmental protection include the Scottish low-carbon innovation hub in Hong Kong,
Scottish support for offshore wind-farm construction in Guangdong province, pandas from
China at Edinburgh Zoo, Scottish-Chinese cooperation in potato research, and the opening of
a diabetes research centre in Shenzhen based on the Scottish healthcare model.
Examples of cultural cooperation. Scottish institutions cooperate with the Chinese over the
conservation of monuments in the Forbidden City in Beijing. A cooperation agreement was
also signed between Edinburgh Festivals and the Shanghai International Festival.
Innovations. Edinburgh and Shenzhen cooperate to support the exchange of innovation
experience between enterprises from their cities. Abertay University established a partnership
with the Chinese company Perfect World to share expertise in video games. Moreover, Strathclyde
University is host of an international research laboratory for mechatronic technologies and
space systems with the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.
84 All of the information here is based on “Scotland’s International Framework China Engagement Strategy,”
a strategy document published by the Scottish government in June 2018. The Scottish authorities did not agree to an
interview, arguing instead that all of the relevant information is contained in the document. The strategy denes goals
that are very general (e.g., “global outlook” or “relationship and partnership”) and in their framework operational
goals (such as increasing trade and investment, sharing experiences), but without specic measures or a schedule for
achieving them.
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2.11. Umbria
Umbria is a region in central Italy. The largest city and capital in the region is Perugia, with
150,000 inhabitants. The region is famous for medieval towns such as Assisi and Orvieto as well
as for its cuisine and the production of olive oil, trufes, and wine.
Umbria cooperates with several Chinese partners, both provinces (3) and cities (3). The
rst contact began in 1997 on the initiative of the Chinese side between a small town in Umbria
and Changing, which later on became one of the districts of Shanghai. The beginnings of the next
partnership date to 2006. Establishing cooperation was the response of the Umbrian authorities to
the investment of one of the automotive companies from Umbria in the province of Shantung. In
both cases, the partnerships were then renewed in 2016 and 2012, respectively. Contacts with other
partners (Yunnan, Chongqing, Zhangjiajie, and Hunan) were established after 2014 (Table 13).
Table 13. Chinese Partners of the Umbria Region
Province/city Status of the Chinese partner Beginning
of cooperation
1 Changing District of Shanghai 1997 agreement active
2 Shantung province 2006 agreement active
3 Yunnan province 2015 agreement active
4 Chongqing a city with a provincial status 2015 agreement active
5 Zhangjiajie City in Hunan province 2016 agreement active
6 Hunan province 2017 no data active
Source: authors’ compilation.
Regional partnerships based on the activity of local entities. The starting point for partnerships
from the provinces of Shantung, Yunnan, Chongqing, and Hunan were previous contact
between the local entities. In the case of Shantung, the company mentioned above was the
initiator. Regional authorities wanted to use the established business relationship to develop
cooperation also in other elds. On the other hand, cooperation with Yunnan and Chongqing
provinces developed thanks to existing academic agreements with the University of Foreigners
(Università per Stranieri di Perugia) operating in Perugia.
Connection with the Italian and Chinese governments. In 2012, a political opening towards
China was initiated in Italy, symbolised by the rst visit of an Italian PM to Beijing since
2006. In the same year, Umbria took part in a project by the Italian MFA, the aim of which
was to establish regional partnerships in specic areas. The Umbria region participated in
a programme supporting the development of cooperation in tourism, protection of cultural
heritage, and the supervision of food quality. The effect was, among others, the launch of
a food technology park in China. In turn, the opening of a consulate in Chongqing in 2014 by
the MFA was used to develop the existing university relationship.
Promotion through culture. For local-government authorities, an important goal of the
cooperation with China is promotion of the region through culture. Regional authorities not
only encourage Chinese people to visit Italy but also organise special editions of agship
festivals in Chinese cities.
“In 2017, we completed all the formalities related to two projects in China. The rst one is
the Festival dei Due Mondi from Spoleto, the second one is Umbria Jazz. These two festivals
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 59
are our agships. Umbria Jazz, although it does not (usually) t into the popular tastes of the
Chinese audience, has already achieved great success there.”85
Religious tourism. Umbria also focuses on religious tourism, and China, where about 12 million
Catholics live, is a target of these promotional activities. In 2017, Umbria was visited by more
than 89,000 Chinese tourists, which made it sixth among all Italian regions.
Network of partnerships. Instead of concentrating on extending relations with one partner, the
Umbrian authorities intend to build a wide network of cooperation with the Chinese provinces.
This is related to the desire to reach as many potential tourists as possible and to promote
agship regional festivals in China.
Different sources of nancing. Region funds cover about 15- 20% of expenditures on
cooperation with Asian partners. The delegations to China are paid for from their own
resources. Larger events are co-nanced by local entities, such as universities, Italian or
Chinese sponsors, or funds from Chinese partner provinces. The region also uses funds for the
promotion of Italy in China (these are generally funds from EU programmes).
Challenges and perspectives
Cultural differences and Chinese bureaucracy are the main difculties in Umbria’s relations
with China. Despite the commitment and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Chinese
partners, bureaucracy and cultural differences hinder the conversation, even the organisation of
cultural events. Cooperation with local entrepreneurs already present in China is one possible
solution, mainly that they can use their contacts and experience.
“That is why—this is how it looks in my experience—it is best to organise something with
entrepreneurs who are there and can nd Chinese partners. It is a completely different model
of action than in all other countries with which we cooperate.”86
85 An interview with an ofcial responsible for cooperation with China in the region of Umbria.
86 Ibidem.
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The analysis of the regional dimension of relations with China of the six largest EU countries
allows for a summary not only of the characteristics of this contact but also identifying factors that
favour cooperation. In addition, it shows likely trends, and therefore modications, that can be
expected in the coming years. This is the result of both a more pragmatic approach of the regions
to contact with partners from China and a change in the Chinese attitude towards subnational
contact. The survey shows the role of EU Member State governments in their relations with China
and allows for the formulation of several conclusions and recommendations for the Union of how
to better use these relations and support regions in the Member States.
Main conclusions
Cooperation with partners from China is an important direction of international cooperation for
regions in France, Spain, Germany, Poland, and Italy. Partnerships with China are declared by
80% of the regions in these ve countries.
In all the surveyed EU regions (in the ve countries and the United Kingdom), the economic
and academic dimensions dominate the cooperation. Active cooperation is ensured by the
inclusion of local partners, such as regional agencies, chambers of commerce, universities,
and tourist agencies. The regions support the internationalisation of their local enterprises and
promote themselves to Chinese investors, tourists, and students.
There are no major differences between the countries in terms of the areas, benets, or even
obstacles in their cooperation with the Chinese partners. In all six countries, an effective
cooperation triangle appears in which local government, local and regional businesses, and
local academic entities, undertake initiatives together with partners from China. In the wider
economic and academic sphere, the European regions also see the greatest benets. Regardless
of the number of partnerships or degree of activity, the most frequently indicated obstacle in
dealing with China are the distance and related costs of active cooperation.
In all the countries surveyed, the relationship between regional cooperation and government
policy towards China is apparent. Subsequent declarations of strategic partnership with China
were an impulse for new partnerships. In some countries, governments support the regions
through regular meetings (the government meets with regions in France) or through the
organisation of regional forums (France and Poland, at least until 2016). At the same time, all
of the surveyed regions underline that their activity is in line with the foreign policy directions
of their countries.
Activity in contacts with China is usually nanced by the regions’ own funds. Often, these are
EU funds directed for the promotion of the region, support for entrepreneurship or exports, and
not directed stricte to support cooperation with China.
There is a lack of a clear position among the regions regarding expected EU support for their
cooperation with Chinese provinces and cities. Some point out that if there were nancial
programmes for this particular purpose, they would use it. Others note that the use of EU funds
does not work in projects with enterprises, as the competition procedures take too long and
are complicated.
The regions are aware of the threats and challenges in cooperation with Chinese partners, but
stress that relations are necessary. They emphasise the need for cooperation between regions
of different EU Member States to share information.
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 61
Enabling factors for efcient cooperation
Economic factor. The prospects of economic benets are the main reason why the regions in
the Member States are interested in working with Chinese partners. These regions perceive this
cooperation mainly through the prism of possible Chinese investment in their region and an
increase in exports to China.
Political factor. Good relations with China at the government level foster subnational
cooperation. Bilateral agreements between governments, EU declarations of interest in the BRI,
or, for example, Poland’s accession to the EU, strengthening its international position, have
encouraged European and Chinese regions to cooperate. Italy is a good example of this. The
Italian government’s change in policy towards China was a decisive factor in the opening up of
regions to a new direction of cooperation.
Human factor. The beginnings of cooperation are often the result of the involvement of one
person (Valencia, Liverpool) convinced of the need for relations with China as an economically
and politically important country. These people also believe that their regions should be open
to exchanging experiences and, broadly understood, international cooperation. They can see
the economic benet for the region and the opportunity to improve the quality of life of its
residents. However, for the cooperation to be permanent, more people and local entities must
be interested and involved in cooperation with China, and some have created positions of
coordinators for cooperation with China (Liverpool).
Apart from the bilateral partnership formula, more and more regions indicate the need for
cooperation with different provinces. They also do not see the need to formalise new contacts
and are ready to resign from partnership agreements (Castilla, Auvergne, Liverpool, Umbria).
Representatives of European regions see a change in the attitude of Chinese provinces to
cooperation with the EU. Currently, fewer delegations are arriving from China than a few years
ago. The meetings more often focus on specic projects or activities and do not only serve to
familiarise, sign declarations, or obtain information from the European partner.
On the European side, the regions have given up their representations abroad (Italy, France,
Spain) for economic or political reasons (e.g., under the inuence of national government
policy). Instead, they cooperate with their state agencies, such as chambers of commerce, or
consulting companies, if present (e.g. have ofces), in Chinese cities.
Authorities of the local governments surveyed see great opportunities for the development
of their regions through cooperation with partners from China. They are also aware of the
threats that may result from China’s foreign policy and Chinese investment (e.g., taking over
technology, threat to critical infrastructure, etc.).
European regions, in cooperation with China, attach increasing importance to reciprocity.
They make sure that the benets of cooperation come from both sides. An example is Liverpool,
which works with regions in China that correspond to its own prole, for example, in terms of
business or science projects that create an opportunity for mutual benet.
The regions try to nd their specialties in cooperation, promote their “strengths,” and look
for synergy there. Examples are the role of ports (Valencia, Liverpool), UNESCO heritage (e.g.,
promoting tourism in Castile and Umbria), the promotion of good universities and schools
(Liverpool, Berlin) and the promotion of language learning (Liverpool, Castile), own legal
system (Germany, Berlin), climate issues important for the government (Germany, Scotland),
market niches (sensory technologies, graphene), or European football (Liverpool).
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The regions are moving towards creating their own “brands” and agship initiatives in
cooperation with China. Examples are the International Business Festival (Liverpool), cargo
lines (Łódź-Chengdu, Madrid-Yiwu), and the Umbria Jazz festival (Umbria).
The role of Chinese regions is growing, despite attempts at centralisation by Chairman Xi
Jinping. They become more independent and focused primarily on economic cooperation with
foreign partners. This may mean that they will be willing to cooperate with foreign countries,
even though bilateral relations at the government level deteriorate. When it is in the interests
of Chinese local authorities, they can distance themselves from Chinese central policy or exert
pressure on the Chinese government. The pressure of the regions will depend on the degree of
economic connection with foreign countries and the importance of the region in the Chinese
In the event of a deepening of the U.S.-China trade war and China’s increased willingness
to cooperate with the EU (conrmed by concessions to the EU and selected Member States,
e.g., Germany), one can expect greater interest from Chinese regions in cooperation with
European partners. Chinese regions may want to mitigate the effects of China-U.S. dispute
in this way, as well as the deteriorating economic situation in China. Economy-focused local
cooperation can be a secure communication channel in a situation of deteriorating relations at
the government level, e.g., under U.S. inuence or tensions in EU policy towards China.
Conclusions for the EU
The survey revealed the low impact of EU-China relations on local cooperation between the
six EU countries and their Chinese partners. While this cooperation is an important element of
the international activity of local governments, which, rst of all, is supported by their central
governments, the Union does not help them in a measurable way (e.g., allocating funds for
cooperation with China) and does not analyse this contact on a regular basis.
Contact between regions and cities creates a useful channel of inuence on China in promoting
more balanced and inclusive development, sought by the EU, and in supporting socio-
economic and environmental reform in China. The transfer of knowledge and best practices
directly to the local level, bypassing the often politicised contact at the diplomatic level, can
be more effective. For example, the relations between cities and regions are key to sharing
environmental knowledge about different spheres of local community functioning, such as
public transport organisation and waste management.
One objective of EU policy towards China is to attract high-quality Chinese investment to
Europe. Regional authorities, which most often negotiate potential investment in the region
with Chinese partners, should be a natural partner for the EU in this process. Cooperation
with local entities is also important for the economic security of the Union, especially when
concerns about Chinese investment are growing, resulting in the screening mechanism. On
the one hand, local government ofcials should be aware of potential threats from Chinese
investors and be involved in monitoring Chinese investment activity in Europe. On the other
hand, greater EU attention devoted to local relations can improve the operation of the Union
screening mechanism thanks to the faster circulation of information about new Chinese
The Union also wants to strengthen cooperation with China in research and innovation. Academic
cooperation is an important area of contact stimulated by regional authorities. Therefore,
subnational entities should be included in the EU’s science diplomacy.
The Union also points to the desire to develop interpersonal contact, attracting students and
tourists from China to Europe. The goal is “to strengthen intercultural dialogue, promotion of
The Subnational Dimension of EU-China Relations 63
cultural diversity, and social participation.”87 Relations at the subnational level are a natural
place for implementing these plans.
In order to make real use of the dynamics of the contact with China at the level of regions,
cities and provinces, the Union should recognise their signicance. For legal and political
reasons, EU institutions cannot directly inuence autonomous local government authorities
in Europe. It is worth the EU monitoring cooperation with China at the regional level and
support it in such a way that it provides both with benets and fulls policy goals towards
China. In addition to possible nancial support through geographically targeted programmes,
it is important for the Union to develop a way of communicating with the regions. It could then
share with them information about EU priorities in relations with China (including changes in
EU policy towards China), as well as problems and threats.
From the perspective of the EU regions, it may be helpful to create a forum for the exchange
of experience of local governments engaged in cooperation with China. This would give them
an opportunity to be more effective and for the implementation of national policy objectives
towards China, which at the regions level often focuses on the support of local entrepreneurs
and universities but also more and more affects environmental protection and, more broadly,
sustainable development.
87 “Elements for a new EU strategy on China,” op. cit., p. 10.
Edited by Adriana Skorupska and Justyna Szczudlik
Sub-national dimension
of EUChina relations
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... Christiansen & Maher, 2017;Farnell & Irwin Crooks, 2016) and peopleto-people dialogue (Burney et al., 2014). The first few publications regarding the cooperation between the EU and China on the regional level have been published only in the last few years (Kamiński, 2019b(Kamiński, , 2019cSkorupska, 2017;Skorupska et al., 2019). ...
... The major findings of the book have already been presented in a shorter and more analytical form in a report published by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (Skorupska et al., 2019). The interactions between subnational and supranational (EU) level relations with China has been presented in a separate paper (Kamiński, 2019c). ...
... The high dynamics of regions, provinces and cities in the 1980s were probably connected with the situation in China and the opening-up policy implemented by the Chinese leader -Deng Xiaoping, which began in December 1978 (Skorupska et al., 2019). The dynamics of new paradiplomatic relations between cities and regions were maintained in the 1990s and later. ...
Full-text available
More and more regions are cooperating with their Chinese counterparts in many different areas: economy, environment, culture, academic exchange. Although the subnational dimension has started to be a visibly important element of EU-China relations, this trend is not reflected in the academic literature on EU-China relations. Until now, we have not known what the network of contacts with China at the regional level looks like and what the determinants and institutional forms of inter-regional partnerships there are. The present book maps Sino-European relations at the regional level and presents a detailed analysis of subnational contacts in the six analysed EU member states, illustrated by case studies of interesting regions from each country. It shows the rising role of non-state actors in international relations, the growing importance of paradiplomacy, as well as the necessity to look at the EU-China relations as a multi-layer phenomenon, engaging different types of actors on different levels.
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This study illustrates North Macedonia’s ambiguity toward China by examining the changes in public perceptions and discourse about Beijing in the last year, the reactions of the policy-making community, and the EU’s response to the rise of Chinese influence in its own region.
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Aktywność zagraniczna (paradyplomacja) samorządów terytorialnych jest jednym z elementów polskiej polityki zagranicznej oraz jednym z wymiarów współczesnych stosunków międzynarodowych. Artykuł prezentuje rezultaty badań współpracy polskich samorządów z Chinami, które są najczęściej wybieranym kierunkiem spośród wszystkich państw pozaeuropejskich.
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European cities are becoming more important actors on the global political scene, as they have significant foreign policy competencies. This is the result of a far-reaching process of globalization and the pluralisation of the international relations. The goal of this study is to present a map of partnerships between Polish cities and their Chinese counterparts and to attempt to characterize this cooperation. The authors will present the results of a survey conducted in 68 Polish cities.Partnerships between Polish and Chinese cities are more common form of diplomacy, particularly used by larger cities centers. Their number has been rapidly growing since 2000, reaching a total of 41 partnerships in 2020. Such cooperation is most often initiated by Polish or Chinese local authorities and focuses on culture, education and economy. Nevertheless, despite the benefits of urban cooperation with the Chinese, its potential is not being used by the government. The state’s foreign policy does not seem to consider the growing role of sub-state units and the benefits that city diplomacy offers.
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While much discussion centres on China’s engagement with Central and Eastern European countries, few studies investigate the role of subnational actors in the relations between the two sides. This paper brings China’s cooperation with Central and Eastern European (CEECs) countries, centred around what is popularly known as the “16 + 1” mechanism. It aims to unravel the link between local governments and the “16 + 1” cooperation mechanism. Local governments’ external cooperation is a new attempt in China’s diplomatic layout. It argues that the exchanges between local governments are a useful supplement to the in-depth cooperation between the two sides, and the cooperation between the two sides has formed a relatively stable pattern. At present, it has entered the stage of an in-depth integration focusing on optimization and upgrading. The further development of local cooperation mainly depends on whether it can play a sufficient leading role in the economic development of China and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
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Although climate policy is formulated at national and supranational levels (for example, the European Union, the United Nations), cities are responsible for its practical implementation. As a consequence, actions taken by local authorities are becoming an important factor in the success of global climate policy. One of the cities’ activities is sharing environmental knowledge within international city networks. This form of international cooperation is also becoming increasingly popular in Southeast Asia.This article analyses the participation of Asian cities in the three most important networks dealing with the exchange of ecological knowledge: C40, City Net and ICLEI. Based on interviews with representatives of all surveyed networks and the city officials of Quezon City, Philippines, I present the characteristics of cities functioning in networks, in particular the knowledge flow model, which has a certain postcolonial feature but also promotes social dialogue and cooperation with local partners.
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