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Sister Cities and Citizen Diplomacy
Author:  Source:Haikou Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office   
At the central part of the most frequently visited Wanlvyuan (Evergreen Park) in Haikou, a new sculpture, named Friendship Gate, was recently erected to welcome the Antalya delegation from Turkey. The sculpture, with a cartoon-style handshake on top and five ladder-blocks painted with Olympic flag colors beneath, was unveiled by Mayor Ji Wenlin of Haikou and Mayor Akaydin of Antalya. Both mayors then walked hand in hand through this Friendship Gate before planting the Friendship Tree together.
Antalya is the twentieth international sister city of Haikou, before which Haikou has twinned with 19 other sister cities across the globe covering five continents in the past twenty years. A sister city (county or province) relationship is a broad-based, officially approved, long-term partnership between two cities (counties or provinces). In retrospect, Haikou's sister city program traces its roots in September 1990, when Haikou established its first international sister city with Darwin of Australia. This special sculpture indicates a special historical moment -20 years of twinning period-and a special number (twenty pairs of twin cities). More importantly, it represents an unremitting effort on the part of Haikou to engage with the outside world by weaving a network of international sister cities.
Having worked for nearly eight years as the Chief of the Haikou Foreign Affairs Office, I have witnessed firsthand the increasing power of sister city relationships in citizen's diplomacy. Sister cities relationships form strong bonds across a wide range of issues including culture, education, economy and politics, thus providing an excellent avenue for people to people's understanding and friendship.
In Perth, Scotland, dozens of English teachers from Haikou No.1 Middle School have been trained over the past consecutive five years as part of an on-going educational cooperation program between Haikou and Perth. The biannual Arafura Games hosted by Darwin city in Australia has seen active participation from Haikou City. Athletes from the Haikou delegation won not just gold medals in table tennis and weightlifting, but fans and friendship among the citizens of Darwin. On September 2, 2010, Mayor Sawyer of Darwin paid a special visit to Haikou, and remarked at the ceremony marking the twentieth anniversary of the twinning relationship between Haikou and Darwin, "We believe in the sister cities movement to achieve increased cultural understanding through person-to-person contact". In Scottsdale, United States, when Madame Ding Mengfang, a famous oil painter from Haikou, held her exhibition last March, it attracted a huge number of visitors. By showcasing her artworks, Madame Ding also presented the beauty of Haikou and the friendship of Haikou people towards the citizens of Scottsdale. In Curitiba of Brazil, an internationally famed eco-city designated by the United Nations in 2001, which Haikou was twinned with in September 2008, senior leaders from Haikou City and Hainan Province, who have recently visited Curitiba, were all amazed by its mass transport systems and garbage treatment operations, and vowed to learn how to adopt these methods.
Sister city relationships have contributed tremendously to making Haikou better known internationally, near or far. In Donghae city, South Korea, in October 2007, when a Haikou citizen delegation, composed of members representing middle school teachers, taxi drivers, villagers, journalists, street cleaners, traffic policemen and tourist guides, arrived at the airport, they were warmly received by their counterparts in Donghae. Citizens from both cities met and shared their job experiences, fostered friendship and blessed each other for a better future.
As far as in Africa, where Haikou has established three sister cities, the time tested traditional Sino-African friendship has been exemplified and amplified. Technicians from Haikou helped train local workers in Seychelles to make coconut handicrafts and worked with them to improve their technological skills. The modern automatic rear compressing garbage truck in Zanzibar of Tanzania, donated by Haikou city in 2008, was the first ever of its kind in that city. As Zanzibar's Mayor Machano said to me, "As the truck rolls on the streets everyday, it reminds us of our friends in Haikou every minute".
One week after returning to Antalya from his Haikou trip, Mayor Akaydin of Antalya met with H.E. Mr. He Guoqiang, one of the top-ranking senior leaders from China, who was on an official visit to Turkey. Mr. He praised the twinning relationship between Haikou and Antalya, and expressed good wishes for this relationship to grow in the future in various areas. In his letter of thanks sent respectively to Mr. Wei Liucheng, Mayor Ji Wenlin and myself, Mayor Akaydin hoped for the Antalya-Haikou friendship to last for the lifetime of the "Friendship Tree" he planted with Mayor Ji.
Sister cities are an excellent model for nourishing citizen diplomacy. As former United States President, Dwight. W. Eisenhower once said, "The sisterhood of the cities will lead to the brotherhood of the peoples". Haikou's growing number of sister city relationships established during the past twenty years, particularly in recent years, is a good example and credible proof of what President Eisenhower had envisioned more than half a century ago.
As Hainan International Tourism Island gets on its way, the sister cities program must head forward. There are a number of unique roles that sister cities can play in helping make Hainan a truly international tourist destination.
Firstly, by twinning with more international sister cities (and sister provinces based on that), Hainan will be more connected with and better known by the outside world, which will result in increasing number of international tourists.
Secondly, sister cities base their relationships on people to people's understanding and friendship, pertaining to each other's history and culture. These relationships matter a lot for Hainan as it shifts to a cultural tourism strategy.
Thirdly, among the established sister cities (and/or sister provinces), there are famous international tourist destinations like Hawaii, Phuket, Jeju and Antalya. As a late comer, it is cost effective for Hainan and Haikou to learn from the successful experiences and to adopt internationally recognized norms. Take Antalya as an example, it received a pitiful number of 100,000 international tourists in the earlier 1980's, incredibly, that number jumped to more than 10 million in the year of 2010.
Finally, the sister cities program can help foster a wide variety of citizen volunteers, since sister city programs inherently involve three main sectors: government, businesses, and citizen volunteers. Such volunteers are indispensable in making Hainan an international tourist destination.
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