Brussels and Beijing will benefit from EU-China urbanisation partnership

Written by Li Tie on 1 July 2015

Innovation and pragmatic collaboration is key to urban collaboration between Europe and China, says Li Tie.

Cooperation between Brussels and Beijing in the area of urbanisation was first realised in May 2012. Then, former Chinese vice-premier Li Keqiang and former president of the European commission José Manuel Barroso together in Brussels signed a joint declaration on the EU-China partnership on urbanisation. Looking back on this cooperation over the past three years, we can recognise several achievements. 

In 2013, against the backdrop of the second EU-China urbanisation partnership forum hosted in Beijing, 12 cities in Europe and China put their names to cooperation agreements. 

There were also several substantive projects including the EU-China city expo which brought together many cities and various enterprises allowing them to explore future opportunities for collaboration.


The establishment of the EU-China urbanisation partnership was driven by China's accelerating urban development.

Since 2000, China's urbanisation rate has increased by one per cent each year. On average, 20 million rural inhabitants per year move into Chinese cities, a number higher than the population of several EU member states. 

At the end of 2014, China's urban population reached 0.75 billion, which is 0.2 billion more than the whole population in the EU. This number is ever increasing.

Assuming that China maintains a one percent annual urbanisation rate, in 2030 the total urban population will increase by 0.2 billion.

Urbanisation also involves changes in city numbers and population size. There are presently 654 cities in China, of which five have a population above 10 million; 14 with a population above five million; 70 with a population between one to five million; 136 between 500,000 to one million; and 434 with a population of less than 500,000. 

At the same time, there are 20,117 towns in China with an average population of more than 10,000 and 875 that have above 50,000.

Whether looking at population size or urbanisation scale, China's urbanisation will have significant implications for the world and the EU. 

Is it a challenge, or an opportunity? Is it a complement, or a competition? We believe that as the world's most dynamic market with a huge development potential, the massive influx of rural populations into cities signals consumption and manufacturing demands, as well as a strong call for higher living standards. 

Reflecting on the recent phenomenon of Chinese tourists' shopping sprees in Europe, we can predict the huge market potential for consumption in China as a result of urbanisation. 

Second, we foresee that improving infrastructure in hundreds of cities will require sophisticated products and technological support. 

Whether it is in relation to roads, energy, water supply and drainage or public services, Europe, with its own lengthy experience in urbanisation, stands to see many opportunities in the Chinese market thanks to its production maturity and high technological capacity.

Third, Europe's experience can be a good example for China, a latecomer to urbanisation, in relation to urban governance and management. 

From the perspective of sustainable development, low carbon emissions and green growth, Europe has a lot to offer in the areas of efficient resources allocation, waste minimisation, carbon emission reduction and efficiency enhancement.

Finally, while learning from Europe on urbanisation, we can promote city-to-city connectivity between Europe and China. This will provide more inspiration for sustainability in China's urbanisation development and help us to reduce mistakes.

EU-China urbanisation cooperation has advanced from discussion to pragmatic collaboration. Dialogues between leaders from both governments as well as city-to-city partnership-building have enabled our cooperation to develop, becoming industrial and market oriented. 

This marriage between Europe's high technology and China's huge market potential also indicates how valuable resources accrued from China's development of innovation, including internet and new technologies, can complement each other in order to become more integrated with the European market. 

In the run up to the next EU-China urbanisation partnership forum, we are confident that the sound basis of pragmatic collaboration will lead to an even brighter future.


About the author

Li Tie is director general of the China centre for urban development national development and reform commission (NDRC)

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