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Sister cities 'infrastructure of peace': mayor

Updated : 2019-07-22
By KONG WENZHENG in Houston (China Daily Global)

Sister cities 'infrastructure of peace': mayor

Ron Nirenberg, mayor of San Antonio, is interviewed by a reporter from China Daily, in Houston, July 17. [Photo by Gao Tianpei/For China Daily]

The erhu, a traditional Chinese two-stringed fiddle, and scholars' rocks, uniquely shaped stones appreciated by Chinese scholars for centuries, are both identified as representatives of southern Chinese culture, but less likely to be associated with a southern US city.

Thanks to a seven-year-long sister-city relationship, those Chinese icons paid visits from the Chinese city of Wuxi to the south Texas city of San Antonio, part of a robust cultural exchange between the two cities that was greatly appreciated by one town official in particular.

Ron Nirenberg, mayor of San Antonio and chair of Sister Cities International (SCI), a US organization devoted to facilitating sister-city relationships, told China Daily in an interview on July 17 that the sister-cities relationship between Wuxi and San Antonio has made possible great educational, business and cultural exchanges, with more expected in the future.

"Sister cities is a demonstration that people-to-people exchange is really how we create a more peaceful, and more functioning world," said Nirenberg, who was in Houston to attend the fourth US-China Sister Cities Mayors' Summit on Wednesday.

The China-US sister-cities relationship is one of the most established, as evidenced by the four-year-long annual summit devoted just to the bilateral exchanges, he said. According to the Chinese embassy in Washington, there are 227 pairs of sister cities and states relationships established between the two countries.

And since China, like the US, is "a large country ripe with opportunities," Nirenberg said it is also one of the organization's fastest-growing networks.

Formally established in 2012, the sister-cities relationship between Wuxi and San Antonio is a relatively young one. The oldest one for China and the US was initiated in 1979 — the same year when the two nations began their diplomatic ties — between Nanjing and St. Louis.

The Wuxi-San Antonio relationship is nevertheless a booming one, with San Antonio sending representatives to Wuxi annually for conferences and also hosting delegations from China every year, according to Nirenberg.

"There is a lot of partnership that's taking place below the government level through our educational institutions, businesses, art community, etcetera," said Nirenberg.

In 2018, Wuxi sent musicians to join an ensemble celebrating the tricentennial celebration of San Antonio, with an erhu playing a central role.

In late May this year, Wuxi sent a 6.5-ton scholars' rock to the San Antonio Museum of Art as part of the museum's exhibition on Chinese scholars in the Ming and Qing dynasties, which is co-hosted with the Wuxi Museum and set to run for three months starting this November.

With San Antonio being the seventh-largest US city in terms of population and home to a strong art and cultural community, the artistic exchanges between the two cities "have been quite enriching for our community", said Nirenberg.

Visiting Wuxi and other southern Chinese cities in 2016, Nirenberg was impressed by the region in many ways, including its history and well-developed infrastructure — a challenge San Antonio is facing now.

"Wuxi seemed to be very closely aligned with San Antonio in terms of its economic make-up, its educational institutions and so forth," said Nirenberg, who sees a bright future ahead.

"My hope for Wuxi is that it continues to bring more exchanges between the educational institutions and the businesses that are present in both countries, as well as provide an example of how cities in China and the US can build strong relationships," he said.

The US-China Mayors' Summit is a platform to celebrate and deepen those relations, with experts describing it as coming at "a critical moment" for China-US relations, which are not only celebrating an important anniversary but have also experienced some challenges in the past year in the form of trade disputes.

Hundreds of representatives from both sides attended this year's summit, which, according to Nirenberg, remained focused on people-to-people exchanges, despite constant changes in national-level politics.

"What doesn't change is the need to have strong partnerships between people at the local level, the subnational level, because that allows for educational partnerships, commerce and cultural understanding in general, which is what this world will continue to thrive on," he said.

And as a mayor and the leader of Sister Cities International, which co-hosted the summit, Nirenberg said he saw a great love of people across borders that goes beyond politics, that friendship being the infrastructure of peace.

"Politics changes. And we want to make sure that relationships are durable, that they are mutually beneficial, and they create opportunities for peace," he said.


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