China and Germany signed a set of three agreements on 25 November 2016 to create a football partnership between the two countries. China has long held sporting ambitions and investment in this area is flourishing, but this is the first time China has entered into football cooperative agreements at state level.

The agreements are between the General Administration of Sport of China and the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Chinese Football Association and German Football League (DFL), and the Ministry of Education of China and German Football Association.

The partnership will last for five years, and involve a continuous and mutual exchange of ideas and experience between the two countries. A series of implementation measures will also be undertaken to support the development of football in China, for example, through the training of players, coaches and referees and the sharing of know-how between the different league organisations.

The agreements are the outcome of earlier talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and China’s President Xi Jinping. As early as April 2016, however, China had already set out its football ambitions in the Medium Term and Long Term Plan for Chinese Football Development (2016-2050), a national policy to encourage international cooperation in the football industry. These encouragement measures include: (i) improving immigration control, residency, health care, and other policies (e.g. education for foreign players’ children) to attract talented football professionals to work in China; (ii) actively bringing in foreign capital, optimising the shareholder structures in domestic football clubs, and increasing the management levels and multiplication of profit; (iii) expanding the channels of international communication, and encouraging the hosting of various international football activities; and (iv) encouraging football professionals to go abroad for study and training, and supporting more qualified individuals to work in international organisations.

Following the encouragement of these policies, Chinese companies have been actively buying abroad, and have invested more than USD 2 billion in European football clubs (e.g. Inter Milan, AC Millan, and Manchester City) since 2015. Numerous high-profile transfers, such as Graziano Pelle (transfer fee around USD 11 million) and Marcello Lippi (annual pay around USD 20 million), have been successfully finalised. According to the 13th Five-year Plan for the Development of Sports Industry (2016-2020), the total market size of the sports industry in China is expected to exceed USD 435 billion before 2020. More diversified and long-term international cooperation can be expected in the future.