Zurich (Switzerland) and Kunming (Yunnan)


Character, formal status, start and duration of the partnership

The cities of Zürich and Kunming initiated a twinning partnership about 30 years ago, as an outcome of an exhibition of the Swiss city in Kunming. At that time, exchange partnerships were quite seldom, so that the partnership represented an innovative experience for both cities. A memorandum of understanding was agreed, and since then both parties have undertaken a collaboration which is constantly being renewed. Currently, activities are included in a three year plan from 2009 to 2012.

At the beginning, it was the city of Zürich that economically supported the partnership. However, in 2002, the city switched to a less expensive but more effective funding system. Current activities are now based on an exchange between experts, and expenses are covered mostly by the Swiss Government through the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. These entities provide a budget of up to 250,000 French Francs to be used for the realization of concrete projects. The contribution of the city of Zürich consists in the provision of human resources (consultancy work of experts from the city of Zürich in Kunming). Kunming itself pays for all experts from Zürich a per diem of 100 USD, plus board and lodging, during their stay in Kunming.

Main topics addressed and activities undertaken under the partnership

At the beginning of the partnership, the main themes covered were related to water supply and municipal drainage. Other topics addressed through the collaboration are financial aspects, renewable energies and energy efficiency and cultural heritage protection. Special emphasis is put on urban development planning and development of urban transport systems. Yearly artist exchanges are also common. Cultural issues are directly run from the cultural office of the city administration which can be quickly approached by the proposers. Once a year the representatives of the cities meet for setting the state of the art of the shared activities.

Key achievements within the partnership

The “Kunming urban development – public transport master plan” has set ambitious goals in terms of environmental, economic and social issues. The project focuses on planning of residential areas, safe walking and cycling, an efficient public transport system and traffic management. During the process, several ambitious objectives have been achieved, and since 1999 Kunming is the first city in the People’s Republic of China to have a bus line with all the attributes associated to modern bus lanes. The next step to be taken by the administration includes the developing of the metro network within the 2010 frame for building and urban planning.

Twice a year a Swiss delegation formed by independent experts and administration representatives, travel to China in order to collaborate on common challenges and up to date their partnership.

Future expectations and expected development of the partnership

One of the lessons learned concerns the importance of keeping a systematic and continuous communication. Future expectations are strongly related to reinforce this attitude and keep up with present trends.

Key obstacles and weaknesses in the partnership and consequent needs

Certain barriers are due to differences in the political systems : the Chinese system is very much « top-down ». While in Switzerland the administration is mainly responsible for the planning processes, in China politics and especially the communist party are deciding on planning options. This sometimes hampers a long-term planning since the experts in the administration of Kunming often have to react to short term targets of their politicians.

Another issue to be taken into account is that a tricky and complex bureaucracy system makes the communication net slower, not only between cities but also within the administrational and expert working team.

Wishes for support to improve the partnership

Under the light of the underlined obstacles, what the city of Zürich would like to see realized is a higher synergy with other existing programmes. In this way a more emphasized approach on development topics could be reached.

The final conclusion on the partnership is that it is a strongly positive experience, seeing as there exists a friendly relationship and collaboration between teams and the intensive personal interactions between both cities has permitted them to reach demanding results.

City of Zurich

The city of Zurich (365,000 inhabitants ca.) is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zürich. More than one million people live in the city agglomeration, while nearly 2 million live in the metropolitan area. By 2008, 31 % of the city’s population was made up of non-Swiss from a total of 166 different countries, all of whom help to make up Zürich’s multi-cultural character. Zürich is a leading global city and among the world’s largest financial centers. The city is home to a large number of financial institutions and banking giants. Also, most of the research and development centers are concentrated in the city and the low rate of tax attracts overseas companies to set up their headquarters there. Zürich was also named one of the European cities with the [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World%27s_Most_Livable_Cities)best quality of life] in the world as well as one of the wealthiest.

Zurich, Basel and Geneva are taking part at the Shanghai Expo with a joint pavilion in the Urban Best Practices Area site.

City of Kunming

Kunming is a [aen.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prefecture-level_city)prefecture-level city] and capital of Yunnan province, in southwestern China – ranked below a province and above a county in the PRC. Kunming has abundant natural resources, an excellent local consumer market and the mildest climate in the region, characteristics that make of the city one of the most important hub for most of the province’s vast resources. Real wealth has been generated in the last decade through pillar industries such as hydropower, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, tourism and the local property market. Once an economic backwater, the city of Kunming in Yunnan province has been emerging as a promising market for imported goods and services from around the world as well as goods produced by foreign invested enterprises.


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

To go further