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If China is to make the leap from being a manufacturer of goods, often for others, to being a world-class innovator, then Chinese small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have an important role to play in achieving this future goal. Much recent debate has focused on innovation activities of multinational corporations in China, with little attention paid to the role of indigenous SMEs and how they attempt to become more innovation oriented. This paper presents findings from 10 case studies of SME firms based in the Zhejiang Province of China to try and establish to what extent external partnerships have helped them become more innovative and competitive. The most common forms of partnering used by these firms is collaboration with universities, with customers and key suppliers, which has implications for how learning and absorptive capacity affects the firm's innovation strategy.