Cankao Xiaoxi: Beijing’s international “circle of friends” has expanded greatly over the past 40 years
Date: 2019-11-13
Source: Cankao Xiaoxi
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Forty years have passed since Tokyo officially became Beijing’s sister city in 1979. Over the years, Beijing has been expanding its international “circle of friends”. So far, it has established close ties with 55 sister cities in 50 countries, in addition to 173 sister districts and cities with friendly exchanges.

On November 8, Cankao Xiaoxi published a special report on Beijing’s efforts to cement sister-city ties over the past 40 years. Now, let’s take a look at what interesting things have happened in Beijing’s “circle of friends”.

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The Yuyuantan Park in Beijing is bustling with people enjoying the beauty of colorful leaves in the cherry grove and the natural splendor of autumn.

Many people may not know that there is an interesting story behind the cherry trees in the Park. After the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan in 1972, then Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka sent 1,000 Prunus Sargentii to China. More than 180 of those trees were planted in the Yuyuantan Park, which have grown into the cherry grove we see today. These cherry trees are a beautiful symbol of the friendship between China and Japan.

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Cherry blossoms in the Yuyuantan Park in Beijing

Beijing’s sister city ties also started with Tokyo, Japan. Tokyo officially established a sister-city relationship with Beijing on March 14, 1979, thus becoming Beijing’s first sister city.

Sister cities are also known as twin cities. The first recorded city twinning agreement was between Keighley in Yorkshire, United Kingdom, and Poix-du-Nord, France, following the end of the First World War, marking the beginning of the history of city diplomacy assisting the development of state-to-state relations.

Over the past 40 years, Beijing has been continuously expanding its international “circle of friends”. Beijing and New York City became sister cities in the year after the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States in 1979. In 1993, Beijing and Seoul established a sister-city relationship. In the following years, Beijing continued to establish sister-city ties with such cities as Paris, Brussels Capital Region, and Amsterdam. After the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Beijing stepped up its efforts to twin with foreign cities. So far, Beijing has established sister-city relationships with 55 cities in 50 countries and the number of sister districts and friendship cities has reached 173.

As a component of the country’s diplomacy, Beijing’s sister-city programs have effectively promoted pragmatic international cooperation, and helped advance the Belt and Road Initiative. They play an important role in increasing China’s participation in global governance, and in building a community with a shared future for mankind.

Beijing and Its Sister Cities: Mutual Help

In the early days of the reform and opening-up, Beijing was in urgent need of technical, human resources, and financial support, and many of its sister cities extended a helping hand in a timely manner.

In the 1980s, exchanges and cooperation with Tokyo were an important part of Beijing’s sister-city programs. Tokyo provided strong support for Beijing’s economic and social development as well as Beijing’s effort to open to the outside world. The vehicles for food safety inspection, sanitation trucks and fire trucks donated by Tokyo promoted the R&D of special-purpose vehicles in Beijing. With the help of the Tokyo Fire Department, Beijing opened its first firefighter training school. Tokyo also provided technical support to Beijing in such areas as building plastering, mildew prevention in soy sauce, stabilized production of key camera parts, testing of iodine in food, testing method of aflatoxin and other technological projects.

“Tokyo has made important contributions to the industrial modernization in Beijing," said Li Hui, Deputy Director-General of the Foreign Affairs Office of the People’s Government of Beijing Municipality.

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In March 1979, Beijing and Tokyo signed the sister-city agreement.

In the past 40 years, Beijing has also provided all-round, multi-level support to Tokyo in a wide range of areas within the framework of the sister-city agreement. In recent years, the two cities have launched 24 cooperation projects concerning the development of the Greater Tokyo Area and the capital economic circle of Beijing, refined urban management, and air pollution control and prevention. As of this June, the cumulative direct investment of Beijing companies in Japan had reached US$110 million.

As 2019 marks the 500th anniversary of the founding of the city of Havana, Beijing sent advanced sanitation trucks to its sister city Havana in support of its waste disposal.

Over the past years, Beijing has turned from a recipient of assistance to one that also offers much-needed help to its sister cities. The mutual help between them has resulted in genuine and close partnerships. Take foreign aid as an example. In recent years, Beijing has made in-kind donations to African, Asian, European and Latin American countries, including Ethiopia, Laos, Indonesia, Myanmar, Albania, Belarus, and Costa Rica, and provided assistance in construction projects.

In the 1990s, to attract foreign investment within the sister-city framework, Beijing sent delegations to Japan, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, the United States, South Korea and other countries to hold trade fairs. Each of these fairs resulted in deals worth billions of dollars.

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Beijing Enterprises Water Group Limited’s project company in Portugal

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Beijing Hotel in Minsk, Belarus

In recent years, especially after the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Beijing has combined foreign aid with companies’ go-global initiative, encouraging Beijing-based companies to build their global presence and at the same time play an active part in Beijing’s sister city programs. Road cleaning vehicles donated by Beijing to Vientiane came from Beijing Environment Sanitation Engineering Group. Beijing Hotel in Belarus was built and operated by Beijing Tourism Group. Foton Motor recently delivered 50 electric buses in batches to New Cairo and has planned to localize the production of electric buses there. Beijing Enterprises Water Group Limited acquired a Portuguese water utility and launched an environmentally friendly water treatment project in Lisbon.

Beijing and Its Sister Cities: Mutual Learning

In the past 40 years, a series of events have been held, including Interviews with Mayors of Foreign Metropolises on Planning, Beijing-Tokyo Seminar on Urban Issues, Beijing International Sister Cities Summit, Beijing Forum on Sustainable Development of Cities, and the Forum of the Mayors of the Capitals of the Central and Eastern Europe and the People’s Republic of China. These events have promoted mutual learning and sharing of development practices between Beijing and its sister cities, and strengthened government cooperation, information sharing and civil servant exchange programs. Through in-depth studies of the latest developments in city planning and management, industrial development, and key projects of sister cities, Beijing has learned best practices from sister cities and also shared its own experience in city development with them.

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Fourth Forum of the Mayors of the Capitals of the Central and Eastern Europe and the People’s Republic of China

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2019 Charming Beijing Photo Exhibition in Tirana, Albania

In recent years, Beijing Municipal Commission of City Planning has maintained close contact with its counterparts in such metropolises as Seoul, Paris, and Moscow, and engaged them in in-depth discussions on topics such as planning of large cities. The Commission has dispatched civil servants to London, Dublin, and Seoul on short-term or long-term assignments which allowed them to better understand how other city governments work and to learn good practices in refined governance and high-quality development. Beijing has made a special effort to engage its sister cities in Northern Europe in discussions on bicycle lanes and other low-speed transportation systems.

In April 2013, Beijing and Seoul established the Beijing-Seoul Joint Committee, the first all-round intergovernmental cooperation and exchange platform established between Beijing and a sister city. In the six years since its establishment, the committee has effectively facilitated the communication between the 29 functional departments of the two sides, and launched more than 130 cooperation projects and exchange events in the fields of economy, trade, science and technology, culture, education and environmental protection, which epitomizes the cooperation between capital cities.

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The cooperation mechanism of Beijing-Seoul Joint Committee

An environmental group has been set up under the Beijing-Seoul Joint Committee to better respond to the challenge of air pollution. In the first half of this year, five sub-district work committee secretaries from Xicheng, Shijingshan, Tongzhou, Changping, and Yanqing Districts of Beijing were invited to attend a training workshop held in Seoul. This provided them with a great opportunity to learn about Seoul’s air pollution control practices, and to incorporate the best practices they learned from the sister city into neighborhood management.

Since the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed, Beijing has responded positively to the call of the initiative and established sister-city ties with 24 cities in countries along the Belt and Road. Since 2015, the Foreign Affairs Office of Beijing has held six municipal management-themed exchange projects with Beijing’s sister cities in Indonesia, Laos and other countries along the Belt and Road. These projects covered a wide range of fields, including transportation, water, and sanitation, and received positive response from these countries.

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Participants in an exchange project make a trip to the Huilongguan-Shangdi bicycle lane

In September this year, Beijing launched the BRI Sister City Program under the theme of urban planning and shared its experience and practices in the protection of cultural heritage and the construction of important hubs. Battsetseg Batchuluun, an urban planning specialist of Uran Standard and Environmental Safety Control and Coordination Agency of Ulaanbaatar, participated in this event. She said that Ulaanbaatar's population has grown rapidly in the past few years, and problems such as traffic congestion have become increasingly serious. The burning of a huge amount of coal in the coming winter will exacerbate air pollution in the city. She said she would bring Beijing’s experience back to Ulaanbaatar and apply it in city planning.

“When hosting multilateral international events such as G20 and APEC in recent years, Beijing has applied best practices it had learned from its sister cities. For example, we have learned a lot from previous host cities of the Olympic Games, such as Tokyo, Rome, and Helsinki and applied what we have learned to the staging of the upcoming Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games,” Li Hui said. In sub-center construction, coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, tackling urban malaise, and other areas, Beijing has also benefited from its sister cities’ experiences.

Beijing and Its Sister Cities: Dialogue and Exchanges

"I have been to China many times and had a great time during each visit. Beijing has changed a lot in recent years. Mobile payment is very convenient, and Vienna is also developing a similar multi-functional software. I hope that the two cities will have more dialogues on technological innovation," said Schadler, Case officer of Department for European Affairs and International Activities, City of Vienna.

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2018 Chinese Training Program for Officials from Sister Cities

Sixteen government officials from 11 countries, including Schadler, participated in this year’s Chinese Training Program for Officials from Sister Cities launched by Beijing. Participants learned Chinese language and traditional Chinese culture, visited the Beijing City Sub-center Planning Exhibition Hall, Shougang Park, the rail transit command center, Qianmen, Beijing Fun, Taikoo Li, Sanlihe and Sanlitun communities, and gained a deep understanding of China and its capital city through a variety of activities.

“Beijing has implemented the training program annually in the past 11 years. We mainly invite officials from government departments of our sister cities. The program provides participants with an opportunity to practice simple communicative tasks in Chinese and explore Beijing through lectures and tours,” Li Hui said.

The training program is one of Beijing’s signature programs promoting sister-city ties. Back in the 1990s, Beijing held youth football invitation tournaments with Tokyo, Seoul and Jakarta, invited musicians from 7 cities (including Berlin and Vienna) in 6 countries to the Beijing International Sister Cities Music Week, held the Beijing Week in cities such as Moscow, and built Chinese-style pavilions and gardens in Cairo, Berlin and other cities.

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Beijing Week in Tokyo in 2019

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Beijing Day in Moscow in 2018

In recent years, the Foreign Affairs Office of Beijing has launched a series of signature programs such as Beijing Week, Beijing Day, and Beijing Night to tell stories of Beijing and spread Beijing’s experience. The Beijing Week in Ottawa in 2017, the Beijing Day in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 2018, and the Beijing Week in Helsinki in 2018 were all well received by local people.

Beijing has held the Chinese New Year celebrations in Helsinki for 13 consecutive years, and local people regard the celebrations as a must-attend winter event. This event serves as a bridge of friendship between the two cities, facilitating cultural exchanges and people-to-people ties.

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Beijing Night in Rio de Janeiro in 2018

Guilherme Sampaio Dias, who has been passionate about Chinese culture from an early age, came to China eight years ago and became the first foreign performer of the China National Acrobatic Troupe. He said, “I participated in the Beijing Night show held in my hometown Rio de Janeiro last year, and served as the host. I was dazzled by facial makeup in Peking opera, paper-cutting and other amazing traditional Chinese art forms, and highly appreciated the expression of friendship by the Chinese people.”

In 2012, Beijing joined hands with Berlin, Ottawa and other sister cities to initiate the establishment of the first city-centered international tourism organization, the World Tourism Cities Federation (WTCF), the secretariat of which was set up in Beijing. With 218 city and organizational members from 73 countries and regions across five continents, it is now one of the most influential international tourism organizations. As one of the founding members, Beijing plays an important role in the organization.

“Compared with other cities in the country, as an international exchange center, Beijing is home to regional headquarters of many international organizations,” Li Hui said. This is also one of the favorable conditions for the continuous expansion of the international “circle of friends” of Beijing.

“Looking back at Beijing’s twinning history, most of Beijing’s sister cities are capital cities as well, and this is in the interest of the country’s diplomacy. Sister-city programs have played an indispensable role in promoting regional development and cultural exchanges,” said Li Hui, “Next, Beijing will continue to expand communication channels, support the city’s opening-up and high-quality development, and create a top-class business environment. In the meantime, we will continue to promote sister-city ties with a focus on countries along the Belt and Road.”

Next, Beijing will work with its sister cities to launch more international projects, including the international sister school partnership program, the ice and snow town alliance, the International Horticultural Expo town alliance, and the resort town alliance, and expand the scope of cooperation between Beijing and its sister cities.