Reporter Journal / Chen Weihua

Sister-city ties help put damper on campaign rhetoric

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-07-18 11:01

 Sister-city ties help put damper on campaign rhetoric

Mary Kane (center), president and CEO of Sister Cities International, blows out birthday candles marking the 60th anniversary of her organization at a reception at the Chinese embassy in Washington on July 15. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser (right) and Minister Li Kexin of the Chinese embassy look on. The reception also featured photo shows and performances. Chen Weihua / China Daily

The relationship between China and the United States could often look depressing if people just read the headlines and listen to the rhetoric by US presidential candidates. But that clearly does not reflect the correct picture at the subnational level.

When Sister Cities International (SCI), a Washington DC-based non-profit organization, celebrated its 60th anniversary in a grand reception at the Chinese embassy on the evening of July 15, it displayed an important dimension of the bilateral relationship that rarely makes for sexy headlines.

Mary Kane, president and CEO of SCI, reminded the more than 400 participants from around the world of the story of one of its famous alumni, President Xi Jinping.

Sister-city ties help put damper on campaign rhetoric

Xi first visited the US in 1985 at the age of 27, going to Muscatine, Iowa, under a sister-city relationship between Iowa and North China's Hebei province. He was then the head of Zhengding county in Hebei and went to Iowa on an agricultural research trip.

"They have been the strongest sister cities ever since," Kane said of the relationship between Hebei and Iowa, set up in 1983.

When Xi visited the US in February 2012 as China's vice-president, he returned to Muscatine to meet his old friends.

In September 2015, when Xi paid a state visit to the US as China's president, he first went to the state of Washington, and made a trip to Tacoma's Lincoln High School to talk to the students.

Tacoma has had a sister-city relationship with Fuzhou, in East China's Fujian province, since 1994. Xi was the Party secretary of Fuzhou in the early 1990s and later became the governor of Fujian province.

"But tonight we are here to sing Happy Birthday to Sister Cities International. It has been six decades, six wonderful decades of peace through people," Kane said.

Her words were followed by song, and a birthday cake soon was cut by her, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and Minister Li Kexin of the Chinese embassy.

The sister-city relationship has blossomed in the past four decades, with Chinese cities and provinces setting up 2,315 pairs of such relationships in 134 countries. That includes 258 with localities in the US.

Bowser, who took office in January 2015, talked about how her first international trip was leading a DC delegation to Beijing last November. Beijing and Washington established their sister-city tie in 1984.

"And I have to tell you that the mayor of Beijing, the Friendship Association, and all of the people in Beijing rolled out the red carpet for us," she said.

"We are very keen on our relationship, the wonderful relationship with the city of Beijing," she said.

Xie Yuan, vice-president of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, described the cooperation between his organization and SCI in the past three decades as a "perfect couple".

The two organizations have joined hands in holding two China-US sister cities conferences in the last two years. A third one will be held in November in Nanchang, in East China's Jiangxi province.

Xie noted the expanding relationship at the sub-national levels, such as with organizations like the National Governors Association and State Legislative Leaders Foundation.

US states and provinces have forged stronger bonds with China, with China being a top trade partner and export destination for US states. More US governors and mayors embark on trade missions to China to expand trade and investment ties.

An updated report this year by the Rhodium Group and the National Committee on US-China Relations showed that Chinese investment in the US grew to a record of more than $15 billion in 2015. The investments extend across more than 80 percent of congressional districts.

About 300,000 Chinese students are studying in colleges and universities across the US, accounting for almost a third of all the international students on US college campuses.

Since November 2014, when the two countries announced visa-extension programs, the number of Chinese tourists to the US has soared. About 2.67 million Chinese visited the US in 2015, compared with fewer than 400,000 in 2007. That number is expected to jump to 5 million by 2025, according to Goldman Sachs.

Karen Richardson, US deputy assistant secretary of state for public outreach, praised the partnership between SCI and the Friendship Association for forging a new relationship that promises to build peace and understanding between the two peoples.

"We at the State Department hope that this effort will continue and encourage US and Chinese cities to come together and build on the long legacy of citizen diplomacy and peace-building of the sister-city tradition," she said.

The US sister-city program started in 1956, when then-president Dwight Eisenhower proposed a people-to-people, citizen diplomacy initiative. Originally a program of the National League of Cities, SCI became a separate non-profit entity in 1967 due to the rapid expansion of the program.

Minister Li of the Chinese embassy congratulated SCI on its 60th anniversary, and he said, that according to the Chinese lunar calendar, 60 years represents a full cycle of time, or Samsara in Buddhism.

"We hope to see more sister cities set up between China and US, as well as other countries and the US. More substantial activities and cooperation can come out among sister cities," he said.

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