Mayors from China and New Zealand met in Xiamen, Fujian province, at the 1st New Zealand-China Mayoral Forum on Monday to further strengthen cooperation in tourism, education and primary industries.
Twenty-five mayors from both countries participated in the forum, themed "Innovation and Development", and exchanged opinions about regional development trends. New Zealand was represented by 12 mayors from cities and towns around the country.
"The commitment of this forum to promote mutual understanding and cooperation by cities from both countries are commemorative," said John McKinnon, New Zealand ambassador to China, during a keynote speech at the forum's opening ceremony.
Len Brown, mayor of Auckland, said the forum "will help us build up very good relationships and continue the strong trust and respect between China and New Zealand".
"The consequence of this strong relationship is that we will build strong economic growth and introduce businesses to each other," Len added.
The China-New Zealand Mayor Forum mechanism, launched in Auckland, New Zealand, in November 2014 during a meeting between President Xi Jinping and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, aims to build up a platform of peer-to-peer exchanges for mayors from both countries to discuss issues of mutual interest, strengthen cooperation and enhance friendships.
Ma Peihua, vice-chairman of the national committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said the mechanism plays an important role in strengthening bilateral relationships. "Government collaboration will strengthen ties in economic and cultural areas. It will help people in different countries have a better understanding of each other," said Ma.
Lawrence Yule, president of Local Government New Zealand and mayor of Hastings, said the relationship will help support and strengthen a free trade agreement signed by both countries in 2008.
Since the Sino-New Zealand FTA was signed, China has been New Zealand's largest trading partner of goods since 2013. Bilateral trade of goods jumped from NZ$10 billion ($6.27 billion) in 2010 to NZ$20 billion in 2014. The figure is expected to reach NZ$30 billion in 2020.
Since the 1980s, cities in China and New Zealand have had long-standing sister city relationships. In 1981, Guilin, a popular city for tourists in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, became the first city in China to establish a sister city relationship with New Zealand. Over the past three decades, more than 30 Chinese cities have partnered with towns and cities in New Zealand.
"The direct role that cities often play is to develop economic relationships. But the role of a city to develop people-to-people and cultural links is equally important. Sister city relationships are an important part of that," McKinnon said.
The Xiamen Declaration, which aims to deepen cooperation between China and New Zealand, was released during the closing ceremony on Monday. All participating mayors agreed to take turns to host the mayoral forum between the countries, according to the declaration. The second forum will be held in Wellington in 2017.