Yunnan Province

Key points

• Due to its geographic location, Yunnan is a key province connecting South East and South Asia.

• Yunnan is characterised by diversity, including ethnic populations, climate, and geographical features. The province has the second highest number of ethnic groups among the provinces and autonomous regions in China.

• Yunnan's five economic pillar industries are tobacco, tourism, mining, electric power generation and biological resources development. Yunnan has also established mining and processing industries.  Electricity generation includes potential for clean energy sources including geothermal.

• New Zealand’s recent engagement in Yunnan has focused on horticulture and education links.

New Zealand-Yunnan links

The New Zealand Government has previously implemented a number of large development assistance projects in Yunnan, with a focus on agriculture and rural livelihoods.  The last major project was an integrated rural livelihoods project in Zhongdian / Shangri-La in the north of the province.  There are also a number of small grant projects in the province, both ongoing and completed, funded by the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing.

In recent years, New Zealand parliamentary delegations have visited Yunnan. In March 2014, a delegation representing the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee visited the province. In October 2016, Speaker of the House Rt Hon David Carter, led a delegation of MPs and New Zealand businesses to Yunnan, with a focus on the horticulture sector.

New Zealand’s Consul-General in Chengdu also led a business mission to Kunming in April 2015 with representatives from the agri-business, dairy and software/IT sectors.

New Zealand Crown Research Institute Plant & Food Research (PFR) have long term and successful efforts in cultivating research and commercial partnerships with local Yunnan counterparts.  This began with work to jointly breed and commercialise a variety of the Yunnan Red Pear.  Cooperation has now expanded to include crops such as blueberries, vegetables and ornamental plants. PFR now has links with a range of Yunnan partners, including research institutions, government departments and commercial entities. 

Founded on this horticulture cooperation platform, New Zealand and Yunnan organised a series of science and technology cooperation workshops aimed at enabling research institutes and businesses from both sides to explore areas of potential collaboration. The first workshop in July 2015 was held in Kunming, and the second workshop in November 2016 was held in Christchurch.  A third workshop is planned for late 2017.

Some New Zealand universities have institutional partnerships with Yunnan counterparts and New Zealand Chinese language students have undertaken short-course language study in Kunming. Yunnan has access to the New Zealand Development Scholarships which allow for up to 10 Chinese students at any given time to undertake postgraduate study in New Zealand in developmentally relevant areas of study.

In August 2003 Kunming City established a sister city relationship with New Plymouth.  New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd last visited Kunming in August 2014. There is a Kunming Garden in New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park and a New Zealand garden in Kunming, both given as reciprocal gifts to mark the sister city relationship. 

There is a small New Zealand community in Kunming, and a New Zealand style ‘Slice of Heaven’ Café.


Quick facts (2016)
Yunnan Province

Yunnan Province

Capital city: Kunming

Population: 47.71 million

Ethnicity: 67% Han Chinese, also Yi, Bai, Hani, Zhuang, Dai, Miao, Hui, Tibetan, others.

Land area: 394,000 km²

Total GDP: 1.49 trillion RMB (NZ$300.40 billion)

GDP growth: 8.7%

Per capita GDP: 31,265 RMB (NZ$6,316)

CPI growth: 1.5%

Yunnan is located on the southwest boundary of China. The southern part of Yunnan is on the belt of the Tropic of Cancer. Yunnan borders the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Guizhou province in the east, Sichuan province in the north, and Tibet Autonomous Region in the northwest. It shares a border with Myanmar in the west, Laos in the south, and Vietnam in the southeast.  Yunnan consists of sixteen prefecture-level divisions: eight prefecture-level cities and eight autonomous prefectures.

Because of its highly complex terrain, the climate of Yunnan is very diverse. Climate zones ranging from alpine, temperate, subtropical to a tropical arc, distributed from the northwest to the southeast. A typical altitude-dependent climate is also found in the high mountains and deep gorges.

The province is also an earthquake region, and several serious earthquakes have hit Yunnan in recent years.  The most recent was in Ludian County on 3 August 2014, which claimed over 600 lives.

Yunnan is noted for its high level of ethnic diversity. It has the second highest number of ethnic groups among the provinces and autonomous regions in China after Guangxi Province. Among the country's 56 recognized ethnic groups, 25 are found in Yunnan, of which 15 are indigenous.  Yunnan is also known nationally for tea. One of Yunnan's best known products is Pu-erh tea (or Pu’er), named after a well-known tea trading town in the south of the province. Yunnan Gold and other Dianhong teas, developed in the 20th century, are also well known.

Yunnan is rich in biological resources and is an important treasure-trove of China's biological diversity. Because of is unique climate and geographical environment, Yunnan has the largest variety of plants in China. Yunnan is home to 15,000 species of plants, including 60 percent of the plants used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Yunnan has two international airports: Kunming Changshui Airport (opened in 2012) and Xishuangbanna Airport (Jinghong). Currently, more than 100 domestic and international air routes have been opened. Most international routes focus on Asia, although flights to other continents are also expanding including to Australia and Europe.


Yunnan’s GDP growth in 2016 was 8.7 per cent. In 2016 urban residents’ income increased by 8.5 per cent.  Foreign trade import/export by value decreased by 18.4% in 2016.

Yunnan is relatively less developed when compared to other Chinese provinces such as those in Eastern China. Poverty alleviation remains a key goal of the provincial government and they have detailed five large projects aimed at improving infrastructure facilities. These involve improving soil improvement, water conservation, electricity generation, roads, and green economy and planning.

Yunnan's five economic pillar industries are tobacco, tourism, mining, electricity generation and biological resource development. Important manufacturing industries are iron and steel production and copper-smelting, commercial vehicles, chemicals, fertilizers, textiles, and optical instruments.

Yunnan maintains a strong agricultural focus. Rice is the main crop; corn, barley, wheat, rapeseed, sweet potatoes, soybeans, tea, coffee, sugarcane, tobacco, and cotton are also grown.

Yunnan has strong competitive potential in the fruit and vegetable industries, especially in commodities such as fresh and dried vegetables and fresh apples.  Over 800 out of 938 kinds of edible mushroom varieties in China can be found in Yunnan. In 2004, around 7,744 tons of wild edible mushrooms were exported, making up for 70% of the total export of this product in China. The so-called 'pine mushroom' is the main product in Yunnan and is exported to Japan in large quantities.  Yunnan is also currently China's largest producer of coffee beans.

Due to China's growing consumption of dairy products, Yunnan's dairy industry is also developing more rapidly and receives assistance from the government to develop a competitive edge in Southwest China, while also aiming to export to neighbouring countries.

Currently, Yunnan is the key province nationwide in the flower growing sector. The province accounts for 50% of China's total cut flower production. Yunnan also exports flowers to a number of foreign countries and regions such as Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore. The rapid developments in this field have attracted the attention of foreign horticultural companies, and foreign investment in flower-related projects and businesses are growing.

Yunnan has large reserves of a wide range of minerals. Of the 168 types of minerals discovered in China, 142 can be found in Yunnan. The reserves of 54 of these minerals in the province rank among the top 10 in the country. Yunnan is a ‘top three’ source province for minerals such lead, zinc, tin, phosphorous, copper and silver. Yunnan is also rich in non-metallic minerals such as limestone, dolomite, halite, marble, and granite.

As an energy generating province, Yunnan has over 600 rivers which provide an annual water supply of 222.2 billion cubic meters and an estimated hydropower reserve of 103.64 million kilowatts with an exploitable capacity of 90 million kilowatts. Yunnan is also an important coal producer in southern China. However, it also has good potential to the develop other sources of renewable energy, including solar, wind and geothermal energy.  The electricity industry plays a key role in the "West-East Electricity Transmission Project", an initiative aimed at developing western provinces while accommodating growing energy demands of the eastern provinces. Electricity produced in Yunnan is both transferred within China (such as to Guangdong Province) and exported to neighbouring Vietnam and Laos. 

Yunnan’s ethnic diversity together with its geographical, natural and historical features have driven a strong tourism sector. The province is among the top domestic and regional tourism destinations and is seeing an increase in international tourist. The sector is one of its economic pillars, but is also a particularly important one for its many ethnic groups.