14 November 2001
Cities in China are now taking an active role in the Sister City Program, due largely to the expectation of China’s formal entry into the World Trade Organisation in December 2001.
China’s Sister City Program has special characteristics that are relevant to Australia-China relations:
Their main objective is economic co-operation,
which, in the Chinese context, implies a commitment to enhance economic and
commercial interests in the two cities on a mutually beneficial basis.
· They view the Sister City Program as a centre or starting point for a wider network of co-operative arrangements (or memoranda of understanding).
Although business practices are gradually changing in China, in a way that is bringing them closer to Western practices, the tradition of guangxi, or personal networks, remains an important element in they way Sister City arrangements are structured.
Adjusting to these differences has created strain for a number of local councils in Australia, and this is exacerbated by the substantial difference in the size of local councils, compared to municipal jurisdictions in China.
It is the Chamber’s view that a convergence in these practices is necessary for successful business relations between Australia and China.
We believe, further, that the Sister City framework is an important element in this process of convergence. It conveys the fundamental reason for the Sister City Program.
In the Australian context, this will require increased co-operation among the various participants in all forms trading and investment activities between Australia and China.
For this purpose, the Chamber is proposing that a forum be convened with a view to Making Sister City Relations Work for the Economic Benefit of Both Parties.
The Sister City Program is an important resource to the negotiations of governments in letting people themselves give expression to their common desire for friendship, goodwill and co-operation for a better world for all.
The initial objectives of the program focused on the development of durable networks of communications between cities of the world for the principal purpose of reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings and conflict among nations. In this sense, the program could be viewed as foreign relations at the local level.
The backdrop of circumstances in the early 1950s is relevant to this focus. Aid from the US to Western Europe, through the Marshall Plan, ended in 1952. While it is often credited with a significant contribution of US$13 billion in the post-war recovery of Europe, it was nevertheless controversial. The nature of the aid was rejected by the Soviet Union and this contributed to “cold war” tensions.
More specifically, over US$9 billion, or about 70 per cent of the funds, was spent on US manufactured goods and therefore comprised a form of tied aid. In addition, the newly formed Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC), which later became the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), was to be the administrator of the funds, working with the US Economic Co-operation Administration. Aid recipients were required to give a full accounting of how the funds were used.
As a consequence of this arrangement, there were suspicions that US industrialists would be major beneficiaries of the aid and that political “strings” would be attached to the funding. The Soviet Union formed a separate plan for the economic recovery of Eastern Europe and this was associated with the policy of isolation for which Winston Churchill coined the well-known expression: “ the iron curtain”.
Thus, when Eisenhower became the US President in 1953, “trade and aid” was not a popular phrase. The Sister City Program, which began in 1956, was not designed as a substitute for the Marshall Plan, but it was nevertheless hoped that such a network would recover some of the loss in goodwill that was associated with the tied aid.
The initial objectives remain as the foundation for many, if not most, Sister City agreements today. These agreements are formalised when two communities from different nations join together to develop a “friendly and meaningful” relationship. The central element is the exchange of people, ideas, culture, education and technology.
In recent years, “trade” has become effectively de-linked with “aid”, and most Sister City agreements contain explicit provisions for trade and economic co-operation. For example, the City of Boston (USA) states the following as the objectives of its Sister City Program (http://www.ci.boston.ma.us/mayor/spevents/sistercity.asp):
international relations in the areas of:
cultural and educational climate.
5. Creating a diplomatic atmosphere.
We cannot pinpoint the precise time at which trading interests became an explicit, as opposed to implicit, part of Sister City agreements. It is nevertheless clear that Japanese cities became an active participant in Sister City arrangements in the 1960s and 1970s and with that participation trade became a more visible outcome for the arrangements.
While it may be incorrect to say that Sister City relations were “orchestrated” by the Japanese Government, it is nevertheless clear that government participation existed. The pattern in the formation of these relations by Japanese cities was too coherent to be established through independent and random choices.
Perhaps more importantly, Sister City relations were associated with an increased amount of personnel exchanges involving young adults. This was beneficial in giving overseas exposure and training to Japan’s soon-to-be corporate managers and administrators. Part of the cost of these arrangements came from the Japanese Government.
Japan’s participation in the Sister City Program is more clearly seen with the US Pacific Coast states. The State of Washington, for example, has 107 sister relations, most of which are Sister City pairings, but some county-city and sub-city relations are included. Among these arrangements, 37 are with Japanese cities (shown in blue in Annex A).
It is of course not surprising the State of Washington has a strong interest in Northeast Asia, but the number of sister relations with Japanese cities far exceeds those with Taiwan (7 shown in green in Annex A) and those with mainland China (4 shown in red in Annex A) and South Korea (2 shown in brown in Annex A).
It is also instructive to note that this list of cities was compiled and published by the Washington State Office of Trade and Economic Development, reflecting the importance of trade in the name of the relevant state government office, but also in the relevance of trade in Sister City relations by associating them with the Office of Trade and Economic Development.
San Francisco, USA – 1968
While this demonstrates a willingness to participate, the number of these arrangements is much less than those associated with Seattle, which lists 21 Sister City arrangements (see Annex A).
The overall population is not relevant to the difference since Greater Seattle (which includes 4 counties in addition to the City of Seattle) has 3.1 million people compared to 4.0 million for the metropolitan area of Sydney.
The substantially larger number of local councils in the Sydney metropolitan area undoubtedly has an impact. The City of Seattle has a population of 540,000 compared to 24,907 for the City of Sydney, which means that the number of people within the jurisdiction of the City of Seattle is nearly 22 times greater. Since it has only 3.5 times more Sister Cities than the City of Sydney, the latter compares favourably.
Nevertheless, the number of independent local-council jurisdictions creates difficulties in the lack of co-ordination in Sister City arrangements in Australia and in the extent to which these arrangements contribute to mutual benefit arising from trade and economic co-operation.
We have not been able to obtain a complete list of Sister Cities for Australia or for individual Australian States. Sister Cities International, which accepts membership only from communities in the US, lists on its Internet site (http://www.sister-cities.org/) the partner cities, by country or region, of its members. For Australia, this yielded the following:
Albury (New South Wales) and
Berwick (Victoria) and
Blue Mountains (New South Wales) and
Brisbane (Queensland) and
Cairns (Queensland) and
Colac (Victoria) and
Cooktown (Queensland) and
Cootamundra (New South Wales) and
Darwin (Northern Territory) and
Delatite Shire (Victoria) and
Gold Coast (Queensland) and
Goulburn (New South Wales) and
Greater Bendigo (Victoria) and
Hawkesbury Shire (New South Wales) and
Lismore (New South Wales) and
Mackay (Queensland) and
Melbourne (Victoria) and
Mildura (Victoria) and
Millicent (South Australia) and
Mona Vale (New South Wales) and
Newcastle (New South Wales) and
Orange (New South Wales) and
Perth (Western Australia) and
Playford (Northern Territory) and
Port Stevens (New South Wales) and
Stroud (New South Wales) and
Sutherland Shire (New South Wales) and
Sydney (New South Wales) and
Tamworth (New South Wales) and
Wauchope (New South Wales) and
Kauai County (Hawaii)
Fort Lauderdale (Florida)
El Cajon (California)
Los Altos (California)
Temple City (California)
Eau Claire (Wisconsin)
Hawaii County (Hawaii)
San Francisco (California)
De Kalb (Illinois)
Canisteo (New York)
The connection between most of these city pairs is rather elusive. For example, Hawksbury Shire Council would appear to have little in common with Temple City, California, which is in Los Angeles County and not far from Pasadena. Lakewood, in Colorado, is a suburb of Denver, which would not seem to have much in common with either Sydney or Sutherland Shire Council.
This is not meant to imply that the city partnerships that appear to have little in common cannot be mutually rewarding. Rather, it is meant to indicate that cities having similar expectations and a basis for similar commercial interests are likely to be more successful in sustaining the partnership.
Assessing these similarities is rarely easy, and the typically small size of local-council jurisdictions in Australia precludes devoting substantial resources to locating a suitable Sister City. We nevertheless believe that more can be done than has been done, especially in the case of China.
It is therefore not surprising that a large portion of Sister City arrangements contain Chinese partners from the coastal provinces (refer to Annex B and Annex C). See also Key Cities for the Chamber’s description of China’s provinces.
The approaching entry into the World Trade Organisation widened further the scope of central government approval for municipal authorities to enter into contractual arrangements with foreign communities and enterprises. Thus, interest in these arrangements has intensified within the past two years.
First, the main objective of the Sister City arrangement is economic co-operation, which, in the Chinese context, implies a commitment to enhance economic and commercial interests in the two cities on a mutually beneficial basis. Exchanging import/export information, as well as information about projects for which foreign investors are invited to participate, is a major consideration.
Second, Sister City arrangements are viewed by the Chinese as a centre or starting point for a wider network of co-operative arrangements (or memoranda of understanding). This creates concern since it appears to commit mayors in Australia to obligations that are outside their respective spheres of influence, but this is not as much of a burden as it might appear.
The Chinese view is based largely on their ancient practice of guangxi, or network of personal relationships. Although an analogy between Sister Cities and matrimonial relations, as used, for example, by Sister Cities International has obvious limitations, it may nevertheless help to clarify the difference in approach.
In giving advice to communities searching for a Sister City, the Internet site of SCI http://www.sister-cities.org/ states:
We often compare the sister city search process to the intricate dance of matrimony, beginning with the awkward days of courtship to well beyond a golden anniversary. With this analogy in mind, it is crucial to be sensitive to the needs of your prospective community, and at all times, be aware that this relationship is intended to last a lifetime.
Guangxi in China often are more durable than marriages since they can be passed from one generation to the next. The critical difference is that the loyalties and commitments encompassed by guangxi are acquired through personal interactions, not by a formal vow that is taken when the partnership is initiated.
Thus, local councils in Australia are likely to ponder at length on the nature of the agreements they sign with the view to avoiding a commitment to something which they may have difficulty in fulfilling sometime in the future. Chinese, on the other hand, are less concerned about the wording since future commitments are based upon what they have received (not promised) in the past, as well of course, upon what they receive in the present.
If nothing has been received, then there are no obligations; but if an Australian mayor is the initiating factor in an outcome that is of considerable benefit to the Chinese city, then the Chinese obligation to that mayor, and to the local council he represents, is both considerable and durable.
Unlike a marital relationship, the Chinese do not expect a partner city to display exclusivity, and do not convey a willingness to be exclusive. They generally will, however, give to the partner city the first opportunity to respond, or, as is sometimes stated in Western terms, “the first right of refusal”.
While they may enter Sister City arrangements with the view that it may last a lifetime, they are realistic in recognising that most such arrangements do not result in guangxi obligations. The arrangements represent formal recognition of opportunities rather than of commitments.
This might help to explain the tendency for Australians to feel inundated with requests from Chinese, and the obligation to respond. For the Chinese, however, there is no obligation attached to the recipient of the request. The obligation occurs only if the request results in substantial gain to the one who requested it, and the obligation is then incurred by the one who made the request.
It also explains the Australian frustration in making requests to an MOU partner that are apparently ignored. Generally they are not ignored, but are not commented upon or explained if the requests cannot be fulfilled.
The more traditional view nevertheless remains as a framework for the Chinese and this should be recognised by all who enter into the agreements with them. Similarly, the Chinese should recognise that the “Australian framework” differs, and with this mutual recognition a convergence is possible.
Difficulties arising from the relatively small size of local councils in Australia can be partly remedied by establishing “guangxi with Australian characteristics”. We of course lack this tradition, and have traditions of self-reliance that tend to interfere with guangxi. Obligations, like “shouts” at the pub, are tallied on a contemporaneous basis. This seems to make life easier, and generally also more intoxicating.
Greater co-operation among Australian participants does not necessarily comprise a threat to self-reliance; it involves a willingness to communicate and to share in specific activities on a contemporaneous basis. For example:
If the mayor of a local council is informed
indirectly that the city with which he signed a Sister City agreement is
conducting a trade fair and sends a letter expressing regrets in not being
able to attend, and sends with it a congratulatory message, then the
opportunities conveyed by the trade fair are recognised. The Chamber is more than willing to pass
along announcements of such activities, but we cannot do so unless we know
that a Sister City agreement exists.
Chamber members may visit a city that has a Sister
City agreement with an Australian local government authority. If that member presents a letter of
greeting (not necessarily a letter of introduction) from the mayor, then both
the visitor and the local council acquire enhanced status. As before, this cannot be done if we do
not know about the agreement.
· A request for a joint venture partner by the Chinese may involve a type of enterprise that does not exist in the community to which the request was sent, but passing it along may result in a favourable response for which credit will be apportioned by the Chinese to the various part of the “information chain”. This of course requires that such a chain exists.
The key element is the need for mutual benefit through mutual adjustment within the Sister City Program, as well as among similarly situated organisations in both Australia and China. The gains from such adjustments are likely to be substantial, though they may not always be tangible.
Local Government and Shires Associations (http://www.lgsa.org.au)
Australian Sister Cities Association Incorporated (http://www.asca.asn.au) and
· Austrade (http://www.austrade.gov.au)
for the purpose of organising a jointly sponsored forum on “Making Sister City Relations Work for the Economic Benefit of Both Parties”.
Further information is available from:
Business mentor furthers relations, letter from Michael C. H. Jones, President of Australia-China Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New South Wales to Sister City News, January 2000.
Subsequent announcements and
documents will be available on this Internet site.
Sister Relations in Washington State (USA)
Source: Washington State Office of Trade and Economic Development. http://www.trade.wa.gov/sisters.htm
Australian and New Zealand Sister Relations with China
Sources: Compiled by the Chamber from various sources, with particularly useful information supplied by Austrade (http://www.austrade.gov.au) and Australian Sister Cities Association (http://www.asca.asn.au)
USA Sister Relations with China