Taking as a point of departure an international cooperation project on “sustainable urban development”, this article proposes an enquiry into the effects of these initiatives on urban development policies and practices in China. In spite of the “failed” experiences of international collaboration on eco-cities in China, as emphasized by the analyses of specialised and non-specialised literature, this article seeks to show that international cooperation can make an important contribution to the reform of urban (re-) development practices in China and that the effects of these collaborations can be as sustainable over time, as the case of Yangzhou demonstrates. However, the article also shows the presence of limits in learning, adapting and further re-elaborating ideas and approaches coming from abroad, as well as in pursuing policy learning and policy experimentation. These limits are not only attributable to the economic capacities of Yangzhou, but also to the particular conditions of operation of the administration in China. Namely, an "administrative culture" centred on hierarchy and on the importance of administrative acts relegates to a less important position the regulations and development plans established to reform local practices, as well as national laws. Thus the learning paths and the development of new policies that interpret the concept of sustainable urban development established by one administration can be easily abandoned by the next one, compromising the sustainability of "learning good practices".