A delegation from Leeds City Region has just returned from a mission to Hangzhou, Qingdao and Hong Kong, which aimed to promote trade, investment, cultural and educational links with China. Led by the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, it included local authority leaders from Leeds, Bradford and Kirklees, representatives from the businesses and cultural organisations and university representatives from the University of Leeds, Huddersfield University and Bradford University.
The highlight of the visit for the Leeds delegation was the celebration of 30 years of partnership between Leeds and Hangzhou. This was marked by a performance by internationally renowned Phoenix Dance Theatre at the very busy Hangzhou Grand Theatre followed by a special reception attended by guests from each city. The event got lots of media attention locally and was featured on Hangzhou TV.
Alongside Zhang Jianting, Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of Hangzhou People’s Congress, Cllr Blake signed a new memorandum of understanding between Leeds and Hangzhou stating the importance of the partnership. It also contains new commitments for both cities to work together in preparation for Leeds2023’s international cultural festival, an exchange of best practice in several fields including smart city technology and integrated public transport and a pledge to establish a link between the cities’ two library services. The cities will also work together to promote trade and investment, building on the recent success of tech company Dahua from Hangzhou, which announced last week that they will be opening offices at White Rose office park in Leeds.
Sharon Watson, Artistic Director of Phoenix Dance Theatre and Chair of the Leeds2023 Independent Steering Group spoke at the reception about the cultural ambitions of Leeds2023 and the way in which the two cities could build cultural collaborations in the lead-up to the international cultural festival in 2023.
Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council said: “It has been an absolute privilege to visit Hangzhou and to renew the very special promise our two cities made to one another almost three decades ago.
“The relationship we share with Hangzhou has brought tremendous benefits to the Leeds City region and it continues to bear fruit in a huge variety of ways in Leeds- from the many students travelling to study at our universities to the Chinese Olympic athletes who have trained in our sporting facilities.
“But most of all it has given us the opportunity to discover and experience the best of our different cultures, to learn from one another and to celebrate the shared values which unite us.”
The Hangzhou visit had a strong focus on business, with visits to internet giant Alibaba, tech company Dahua, Hangzhou High Tech Zone and a meeting with local Hangzhou businesses interested in cooperation with Leeds City Region, organised by the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade.
The second port of call for the Leeds City Region delegation was Qingdao, home of China’s film industry. Bradford, as the first ever UNESCO city of film, recently assisted Qingdao to gain city of film status and a memorandum was signed with the creative district of Qingdao setting out their intentions to work together to promote the cultural and creative industries in both cities. Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership also signed an agreement with China Britain Industry Innovation Park in Qingdao.
Meetings with companies in Qingdao focussed on high speed rail, innovation and of course tech. Qingdao is also the home of the massive tech manufacturer Hisense, which has its UK headquarters in Leeds. The delegation met with Hisense to discuss future plans for the business.
Hong Kong was the final destination for the delegation, where the British Consulate held a special event and discussions were held with Cyberport digital technology hub on future cooperation around fintech.
The hard work starts now, with all partners now following up cooperation ideas and trade and investment leads, as well as drawing up plans for future projects and research connections.