China is undergoing a massive process of urbanisation at a scale that is creating large economic, social and environmental challenges for Chinese policymakers and their partners in the European Union and beyond. As China moves towards its projected ‘urban billion’ by 2030, pressure is increasing to address the problems of resource consumption, environmental degradation and sustainable urbanisation.
Though skyrocketing urban populations have created a wealth of economic opportunities for individuals and businesses alike, Chinese policymakers and administrators have been hard-pressed to implement social policies aimed at accommodating the housing, healthcare and other needs of migrant populations and urban residents. There is a need for reforms in government and administrative structures in order to decentralise decision-making and allow regional policies to come to the fore.
To these ends, the EU-China Partnership on Sustainable Urbanisation was announced at the 14th EU-China Summit in February 2012. This partnership will allow the EU and China to work together closely towards improving the process of urbanisation in China through a set of cross-cutting issues.
To be successful, this partnership must adopt a targeted, holistic approach in order to address the complex set of issues plaguing China’s cities; from social rights for migrant workers, to improving economic opportunities, to greening the construction and transportation sectors, China and the EU can benefit greatly from each others input into the process.
The recently-initiated dialogue between the EU and China must necessarily take a long view of China’s urbanisation. There have been pilot projects launched both Chinese and European organisations in the areas of social inclusion, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, bicycle sharing and green transportation, as well as cultivating a culture of sustainable thinking in China.
These projects are important first steps. However overcoming the problems associated with China’s urbanisation is likely to require great cooperation and concerted efforts for the foreseeable future. As China and the EU contemplate the looming challenges presented by urbanisation, they must consider how to best achieve mutual understanding and how to cooperate across sectors and on all levels.
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