Sister cities mingle in Chicago

Updated: 2015-10-26 10:50

By HEZI JIANG in Chicago(China Daily USA)

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Sister cities mingle in Chicago

Heyuan Deputy Mayor Zhu Weiwei and Tustin Mayor Charles Puckett exchange gifts after signing agreements for their towns to become international sister cities on Oct 23 at the second US-China Sister Cities conference held in Chicago. HEZI JIANG / China Daily

China and the US have two new sister-city partnerships.

Tustin, California and Heyuan, Guangdong province, and Yorba Linda, California, and Tongchuan, Shaanxi province signed sister-city agreements on Oct 23 in Chicago, adding to the more than 200 US-China sister cities and 41 sister states and provinces.

"They (China) count 10 percent of all of our partnerships," said Mary Kane, president and CEO of Sister Cities International, founded as an initiative by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 to promote people-to-people diplomacy.

"We hope to learn about municipal management from Yorba Linda, and they will learn about our traditional culture," said Yang Changya, mayor of Tongchuan, a city undergoing a transformation from an economy reliant on coal and construction materials to a more sustainable city and travel destination.

"We lost our sister city Matamata in New Zealand due to political change," Tustin Mayor Charles Puckett said. "Now we are getting a new sister."

Puckeff was introduced to the city of Heyuan during a trip to China in 2014 and fell in love with it immediately. "We are known as the tree city, and they are the dinosaur city. Tongchuan is beautiful, and they treat us like royals."

The agreements were signed at the second US-China Sister Cities Conference from Oct 22-23. The event drew more than 100 delegates from both countries to meet their sister cities and look for new friends. The conference also celebrated the 30th anniversary of Chicago's sister-city relationships with Shanghai and Shenyang.

"China is the only country that we have more than one sister city, so it has a very special role for our program with 28 cities around the world," said Leroy Allala, executive director of Chicago Sister Cities International.

Earlier this year, Shanghai Vice-Mayor Xu Zezhou visited Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago and discussed strengthening business and cultural ties, and Chicago Deputy Mayor Steve Koch led a delegation of Chicago's business leaders to Shanghai, Shenyang and Beijing to build on the Gateway Cities Agreement.

Six social services officials from Chicago will spend a week of immersion in Shanghai's elder care system in November, and 11 medical professionals from Shenyang will visit the University of Chicago Medical Center to learn and share best practices in the medical field around the same time.

Kane said she witnessed President Xi Jinping's return visit to Tacoma, Washington, after 21 years. His first visit in 1993 led to a sister-city partnership between Fuzhou, Fujian province, and Tacoma.

In September, Xi chatted with football players at Lincoln High School and invited 100 students to visit China next year.

"It is a wonderful showing of what sister cities can do," Kane said.

The delegates from both countries discussed ways to nurture partnerships during eight conference sessions held on the second day. Topics included forming international partnerships with universities and colleges, protocol of doing business between the US and China, and reviving inactive sister-city partnerships.

Sister-cities relationships often face challenges of funding, political change and managing many partnerships at once.

"Relations with the US are rather easy because Chinese people are passionate about building a bond with the US," said Liu Qian, deputy secretary general of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. "Now people are more rational about starting a sister-cities relationship, and we always thoroughly evaluate if they are a good fit."

"I'm a fan," said Travis Tanner, senior vice-president and COO of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, regarding the sister-cities partnerships. Tanner said that when he was in Muscatine, Iowa, he found out that the city has a dozen US-China initiatives with its sister city Zhengding.

Delegates from Xian Yang and Wei Nan of Shaanxi province will form two more sister cities with Santa Monica, California, and North Las Vegas, Nevada, on their trip to the West Coast following the conference.