Barcelona (Spain) and Shanghai

Source : Department of International Relations Barcelona City Council


Character, start and duration of partnership

The first bilateral relationship between Barcelona and Shanghai began in 1989 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding. In 2001, this was upgraded to a Twinning Relationship with a formal visit from the Mayor of Shanghai with the Spanish authorities. The new document has a broad topic- neutral nature. At the moment, the relationship has strong institutional value but is also aimed at bridging the gap between Spanish and Chinese business and trade sectors.

The first step towards a binding agreement was initiated by the city of Shanghai which saw Barcelona as an ideal partner considering their similarities as seaside cities and rank as the first non-capital metropolises in their respective countries.

Currently, the twinning relationship is primarily supported by private sector activities. Another source of financing, on the Chinese side, comes from the Government which often subsidizes twinning agreements in order to foster cooperation with foreign cities to promote external relations. However, the need of funds remain low as, for the most part, activities are currently mostly related to formal institutional visits.

Main topics addressed and activities undertaken under the partnership

As already mentioned, the main topics addressed by cities are market-oriented. In this way, both partners seek to establish and facilitate international trade between both countries and overcome formal trade barriers. At the moment, the collaboration with private business sectors is given higher priority than the remaining urban issues because of the dynamic character which it gives to the partnership.

Other common interests could include tourism. Interest in developing relations in areas such as tourism, economic promotion, cultural and sport exchanges, sustainable development and renewable energies were included in the Addenda to the Twinning Agreement which was signed by both cities in Shanghai, on 1 July 2006.

Key achievements within the partnership

As the twinning relationship is still quite young, there are few absolute achievements documented. Formal institutional visits, and visibility on common interest agendas, are small but important manifestations of the start of the relationship.

The intercultural differences between Shanghai and Barcelona are a complex and sensitive working ground. Thus, when approached for this study, Barcelona’s administration representatives deemed the further maintenance and development of communication links with Shanghai of crucial importance. The bonds-keeping role is covered by the permanent presence of Spanish bureaus in Shanghai which basically are oriented to the business sphere. ICEX (Instituto Español de Comercio Exterior), with a representation in Shanghai, is the Spanish Institute for Foreign Commerce and aims to help Spanish companies to promote their activities and business activities on an international scale. ACC1Ó, the Catalan agency for competitiveness, also has an office in Shanghai, and is used by the Catalan government as a tool to promote the internationalization of Catalan companies and their adaptation to the new global economy. In 2005 the City Council set up a Shanghai office, as a direct link for representation and information between Shanghai and Barcelona.

Private collaboration within the partnership is significant because it delivers a more dynamic approach to the twinning relation, while the formal aspect, undertaken by the local government, is more closed-looped.

Other examples of ongoing Shanghai-Barcelona cooperation are the activities by the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), a unique example of a Chinese independent business school focusing on international relationships, maintaining close links with Barcelona via its associated business school, the IESE (Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa).

The Chinese Community Association of Barcelona is also very active in the participation and promotion of relations between Barcelona and other Chinese cities.

Future expectations and expected development of the partnership

As mentioned earlier, not all urban topics are addressed directly by the partnership. For Barcelona, the priority has been to bridge the cultural gap between themselves and the Chinese and thus to foster better understanding between each other. This approach has been considered the most worthwhile to undertake considering convenience and results. Some activity is already present within the Barcelona’s institutional, economic and cultural agenda through the presence of Casa Asia. This bilateral Institute is the promoter of the most prolific activities carried forth with China. It provides the essential link for non-stop exchange and meeting points between China and Spain. It includes art exhibitions, cinema d’essai, conferences, seminars and much more.

Barcelona is currently participating in the Shanghai Expo 2010 (1 May-31 October) with a pavilion within the “Urban Best Practices Area”. Barcelona’s two best practices are the urban redevelopment of the old town, Ciutat Vella, and the transformation of the neighborhood of Poble Nou 22@ into a mixed district of innovation. This is the first Expo to invite cities, in their own right, to participate under the slogan “Better city, better life”. For this reason, Shanghai Expo is considered as an important and exciting opportunity to further engage cooperation between cities with Shanghai and China.

Key obstacles and weaknesses in the partnership

The case study also revealed that translation is particularly sensitive to diplomatic language and to account for Chinese cultural sensibilities. Due to the strong vertical organization of the Shanghai public administration, every decision taken must pass through different bureaucratic levels. This makes the entire process slower and sometimes less effective.

Language is not deemed to be a significant problem as Chinese partners are improving their knowledge of the Spanish language. This is likely related to their future strategy to gain new contacts and to expand their influence to Latin America.

Needs and wishes for support to improve the partnership

At the moment no extra requirements are desired. This is in part due to the freshness of the twinning partnership and also because activities often receive extra support through external partners. Financing is not yet a problem because cities have not gone beyond formal visits happenings. Nonetheless, with the current financial crisis, future activities will require substantial funds. The partnership remains strong because of this interest to move forward and understand how the projects’ national and European financing system work and what these bodies offer in terms of collaborating opportunities.

City of Barcelona

Barcelona is the capital of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia in the Southern cost of Spain. With a population of about 1,6 million within the city’s boundary and an urban area with over 4,2 million inhabitants, is the second largest city in Spain and the sixth most populous urban area in the European Union. The city is divided into ten districts - each one with its own district council - and districts are further divided into different wards. Catalan Government, its executive branch, the parliament and the Supreme Court of Catalonia have their seat in the city. Barcelona is the capital of the Province of Barcelona and of the Barcelonès comarca (shire). During the last years Barcelona had become a major economic hub and a growing financial center.

City of Shanghai


As China’s largest and wealthiest city, Shanghai has the fastest land market expansion in China and especially due to its strategic position on the Yangtze River Delta. The output of steels is in the first place of the iron and steel industry in China. Oil and chemistry industries are developing in a high speed, and now it includes more than 20 special fields. Growth drivers flow from planning and targeting high technology manufacturing based on domestic research and development, foreign companies, and joint ventures as well as new sources of domestic capital based on property development schemes and cooperation between Party cadres and local entrepreneurs. On this regard, Official sources claim that the proportion of the state-owned sector in the city’s GDP dropped from 59.6 % in 2004 to 57.5 %, while the figure of the non-public economic sector rose from 40.4% in 2004 to 42.5 %. Shanghai’s dynamic growth indicates the spatial form of new metropolitan expansion and it is characterized by the settlement of inner suburbs by urban core and “floating” populations, and peri-urban in-filling.


This case study belongs to the file « Europe - China Exchange Platform Survey »

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