1. Governance
May 10, 2023

Dutch cities uncouple from China

Cities across the Netherlands have taken steps to begin conscious uncoupling from their Chinese sister cities.

By City Monitor Staff

In recent years, several Dutch cities have decided to break ties with their sister cities in China, citing concerns over human rights abuses in the country. 

dutch sister cities
Arnhem decided to no longer build bridges with China. (Photo by Fokko Erhart/Shutterstock)

Formal partnerships between cities, known as ‘sister cities’ or ‘ties of friendship’, typically involve collaborations in trade, cultural exchange and other areas. However, the past couple of years have seen many of these partnerships between Dutch and Chinese cities cancelled, with other municipalities either considering severing ties or allowing the relationship to come to a natural conclusion, according to NL Times via NRC. Some cities have even placed their partnerships on the back burner due to a lack of cooperation.

“We must respect the principles of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of the press and expression,” said Mayor Ahmed Marcouch of Arnhem, whose city broke ties with Wuhan in 2021, to the Dutch outlet. “By maintaining a relationship with a Chinese city, you create the appearance that you don’t.”

When you don’t get along with your sister (city)

These decisions to sever ties are partly motivated by reports of human rights violations, such as those against the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province.

The Uyghurs are an ethnic minority group in China who have been subjected to a wide range of alleged human rights abuses, including forced labour, mass detention, and cultural suppression. The Chinese government has been accused of carrying out a campaign of repression against the Uyghurs, which has been described as a form of cultural genocide.

In response to these reports, several Dutch cities, including Arnhem, decided to sever ties with their sister cities in China. They argued that it was incompatible with their values to maintain relationships with cities in a country that was accused of human rights abuses.

The decision to break ties with China was also seen as a way for the Dutch cities to take a stand against what they saw as violations of human rights, with Breda, Tilburg and Eindhoven taking action more recently. 

[Read more: Amsterdam’s fig trees are showing why cities will play a vital role in the fight to stop the decline of biodiversity]

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