Ignacio Araya Heredia is a Political Scientist with a Master of Public Management at Renmin University of China. Currently, he is working towards PhD in International Relations, at Central China Normal University, researching on “International Management of Chinese Cities: the cases of Wuhan and Nanjing”. He has deep knowledge and professional experience in establishing links between Local Governments of China and Chile. Additionally, Ignacio is an Associate Researcher at the Center for Latin American Studies on China (CELAC) at National University Andrés Bello.

According to the World Economic and Social Survey (2013), cities and towns have become the primary human living space. Since 2007, more than half of the world’s population has been living in urban areas and the figure is estimated to exceed 70 per cent by 2050 (DESA, 2013: 53). China has made a huge contribution to this. That is why Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz declared that two significant forces would shape global prosperity this century: U.S. technological innovation and urbanization in China (The Economist, 2014). Chinese cities and also their engagement in international affairs, matter.

For a long time, the State has been considered the most important actor in international affairs. As a result, the implementation of the foreign policy has been a prerogative of the central government. However, globalization has allowed the emergence of new actors into world politics. These new players are companies, non-governmental organizations, and subnational governments, amongst others.

China is no an exception. Since the late 1970s, China has adopted reform and its opening-up policy: “the twin forces of decentralization and internationalization not only further upgrade the salience of provinces within China but also turn them into some sort of international actors, particularly in foreign economic relations” (Chen, 2005: 1). The Chinese local governments – either cities or provinces – are developing relations with their counterparts all over the world.

Chinese cities and provinces have become increasingly involved in international engagements: signing cooperation agreements and joining international organizations, such as C40, 100 Resilient Cities, Metropolis, or traditional networks like United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). For example, the Foreign Affairs Office of Guangzhou Municipality also manages its multilateral relations within the frame of the UCLG and Metropolis (Tavares, 2016). Through these offices, they have established special units to organize their international diplomacy. “Chinese cities seem, not just comparatively, structurally well equipped for city diplomacy. All Chinese cities have a “Foreign Affairs Office” to coordinate their sister-city programmes” (Acuto; Morissette; Chan; Leffel, 2016). These local governments are also developing relations with Latin America. They have held conferences, signed agreements – called Sister or Twinning Agreements – completed trade missions, issued official public statements, amongst other actions.

This is not an improvised attempt for developing these relations. On the contrary, the Chinese government has encouraged these kind of ties. The “China’s Policy Paper on Latin America and the Caribbean” issued by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 2008 and 2016, calls to support actively exchanges and cooperation from a local perspective.

On the other hand, the Forum of China and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States aims to promote a “new development of their relations at a higher level by enhancing China-LAC overall cooperation”(China – Celac Forum 2016: 4). That is to say, a space that looks for the “political coordination and nothing else, destined to give the frame for big consensuses within which each country or group of countries promote specific projects with credits offered by China” (Matta, 2016:77).

Within the China – Celac Forum (2016), there is a forum called “China-LAC Local Governments Cooperation Forum” and it aims to promote friendly cooperation across various fields between local governments of China and LAC states. This is the main framework by which the Chinese government has promoted these kind of links. As result, the cities and provinces of China are developing relations with Latin America.

Although there is no specialized literature that summarizes the entire exchange between China and Latin America from a local perspective, there are examples that show specific cases that describe these relationships. In Argentina, the Government of the Province of Entre Ríos has signed Cooperation Agreements with Jilin and Henan Province (Ippolito, D; Cabrol, C. 2012). In Mexico, we have found the federal states are developing relations with China such as Jalisco, State of Mexico, Chihuahua, Hidalgo amongst others (Flores, 2011).  The Region of Biobío, located in the central-south of Chile, is the region of the country that has made the most progress and accomplishments through developing links with the Chinese provinces and cities. This region has held conferences, signed agreements, completed trade missions, and issued official public statements, amongst other actions. These are just examples of the development of links between China and Latin America.

In this post, we have paid attention to the links with Latina American cities. However, the relationship with international networks such as C40 or UCLG, or other geographical zones such us Europe or Africa, should be studied further as well as, more generally, the international engagement of cities and regions.

Are you currently involved with regional research, policy, and development, and want to elaborate your ideas in a different medium? The Regional Studies Association is now accepting articles for their online blog. For more information, contact the Blog Editor at RSABlog@regionalstudies.org.



Department of Economic and Social Affairs. DESA. 2013. World Economic and Social Survey. Sustainable Development Challenges. http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/policy/wess/wess_current/wess2013/Chapter3.pdf

The Economist. 2014. Building the dream. Special report on China.  https://www.economist.com/sites/default/files/20140419_china.pdf

Chen, Zhimin. 2005. ‘Coastal Provinces and China’s Foreign Policy’, in Hao, Y. and Su, L. (eds.) China’s Foreign Policy Making: Societal Force and Chinese American Policy. London: Ashgate. pp. 187-208. http://www.cewp.fudan.edu.cn/attachments/article/68/Chen%20Zhimin,%20Coastal%20Provinces%20and%20China’s%20Foreign%20Policy%20Making.pdf

Tavares, Rodrigo. Paradiplomacy. Cities and states as a global players. 2016. Oxford University Press. New York, USA.

Acuto, Michele; Morissette, Mika; Chan, Dan; Leffel, Benjamin. 2016. ‘City Diplomacy’ and Twinning: Lessons from the UK, China and Globally. UK Government’s Foresight Future of Cities Project. City Leadership Initiative, Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy, University College London.

China – CELAC Forum. 2016. Basic information about China – Celac Forum. Department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China. http://www.chinacelacforum.org/eng/ltjj_1/P020161207421177845816.pdf

Matta, F. R. (2017). China, Innovación y tradición: Nuevas relaciones Estado-Mercado-Sociedad. Santiago de Chile: RiL Editores. Translation from the author.

China – CELAC Forum. 2016. Basic information about China – Celac Forum. Department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China. http://www.chinacelacforum.org/eng/ltjj_1/P020161207421177845816.pdf

Ippolito, Daniel; Cabrol, Cynthia. 2012. Relaciones Internacionales de Gobiernos Sub-Estatales: Un Estudio sobre la Cooperación Descentralizada de la Provincia de Entre Ríos, Argentina 1994-2012. Cuarto Congreso Uruguayo de Ciencia Política, “La Ciencia Política desde el Sur”, Asociación Uruguaya de Ciencia Política.

Flores, Rafael. 2011. La diplomacia multinivel en la relación México-República Popular China: perfil de desempeño y desafíos ante el siglo XXI. PORTES, revista mexicana de estudios sobre la Cuenca del Pacífico. Volumen 5, Number 10. Colima, México.