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China-US 'sister' ties are in full bloom

By Chen Weihua | China Daily USA | Updated: 2014-03-26 12:03

The US-China Sister Cities Conference in Washington's Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on March 26-28 is unlikely to draw media fanfare. However, the passion for engaging in mutual exchanges and fostering strong bonds between US states and cities with Chinese provinces and cities will be evident.

One example is the 81 applications in both English and Chinese submitted by those sister cities and states for the 30 awards to be presented.

"So you know how strong their relationships are if they can actually sit down and write applications for these awards together," said Mary Kane, president and CEO of Sister Cities International, a Washington-based non-profit organization that joins hands with the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries in sponsoring the sister-cities conference this week.

The history of the sister-city tie between China and the US coincides with the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two nations. The first sister city was between Nanjing in East China's Jiangsu province and St Louis, Missouri, in 1979, the year China and the US formally set up official diplomatic ties.

Over the years, the two cities have developed ties to include sister schools, such as between St Louis University High School and Nanjing Foreign Language School, and between Parkway South High School and Jinling High School, and sister gardens between the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Zhongshan Botanical Garden in the ancient Chinese capital.

China-US 'sister' ties are in full bloom

As a result, the two cities have won the much-coveted longest-relationship award to be presented on Thursday evening.

The same award will also be presented to Shanghai and San Francisco, which established their sister-city tie in January 1980, about a year after then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein explored such a relationship.

So while Feinstein has risen to be a prominent US Senator and national politician, many people in Shanghai still remember her as the charming mayor of their sister city, San Francisco.

Probably no such sister city or state relationship has drawn as many headlines over the years as the one between North China's Hebei province and the Midwest state of Iowa, when current Chinese President Xi Jinping, then a vice-president, paid a return visit to Muscatine, Iowa, two years ago.

Suddenly, the small town along the Mississippi River became one of the best-known American places among 1.3 billion Chinese. It was because Xi first went there in 1985 as a county leader in Hebei on a mission to study corn agriculture as part of the sister-state exchange program between Hebei and Iowa. It was also Xi's first trip to the US.

That trip left Xi with a deep impression of the friendliness of American people, so the highlight of his return trip was to visit Sarah Lande, who was his host in 1985. Xi chatted with Sarah and her husband Roger as they recalled fond memories.

Both 75-year-old Lande and Muscatine Mayor DeWayne Hopkins are attending the meeting in Washington this week.

Besides awards for longest relationship, other awards, such as outstanding individual, youth exchange, arts and culture exchange, economic and trade exchange, most innovative, community involvement, sustainable development and best overall, will also be presented Thursday evening.

For example, Chongqing, a sister city with Seattle has conducted more than 300 exchange programs in the last 30 years, winning them the best overall prize.

The past 35 years have witnessed sistership relations between 41 pairs of US states and Chinese provinces and 199 pairs of US and Chinese cities, engaging in a variety of exchanges, from trade, science and technology to education and culture.

The conference this week has also been endorsed by a high-profiled honorary host committee which includes former US Secretary of State Colin Powell and more than 20 governors, mayors, senators and congressmen. It will be attended by business leaders, government officials and citizen diplomats from both China and the US.

While contentious political rhetoric often dominates in Washington when it comes to the US-China relationship, the grassroots conversation is often starkly different. That has been demonstrated by an increase of US governors and mayors making trips to and seeking ties with China.

On May 15, the political capitals of the two nations, Washington and Beijing, will mark the 30th anniversary of their sister-city tie.

The Friendship Archway, a huge colorful art work that includes seven roofs up to 60-feet high, 7,000 tiles and 272 painted dragons done in the style of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911) and was dedicated in 1986 to the sister-city tie, is astride H Street in Washington's Chinatown as the most noticeable reminder.

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(China Daily USA 03/26/2014 page2)

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