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Richmond to become 16th sister of Xiamen

Richmond Couns. Bill McNulty and Harold Steves tour wreckage late last week in Onagawa, Japan, caused by a tsunami March 11, 2011. The force of the wave threw the pictured locomotive 200 metres. - City of Richmond photo
Richmond Couns. Bill McNulty and Harold Steves tour wreckage late last week in Onagawa, Japan, caused by a tsunami March 11, 2011. The force of the wave threw the pictured locomotive 200 metres.
— image credit: City of Richmond photo

Richmond will become the 16th sister city of the Chinese metropolis Xiamen in a signing ceremony expected this week.

Mayor Malcolm Brodie and six councillors are in China this week, leading Richmond's 22-member delegation on a five-day tour that began Wednesday.

Xiamen has signed eight sister city deals, including Richmond, in the last decade alone, according to the Foreign Affairs Office of Xiamen Municipal People's Government.

Richmond will be Xiamen's first Canadian sister city and fourth in North America, where Xiamen's other friends are Baltimore, Md., Sarasota, Fla. and Guadalajara, Mexico. Its other sister cities are Cardiff, Wales; Sasebo, Japan; Cebu, Philippines; Wellington, New Zealand; Penang, Malaysia; Marathon, Greece; Sunshine Coast, Australia; Kaunas, Lithuania; Zoetermeer, Netherlands; Kuching Malaysia,; Surabaya, Indonesia; and  Mokpo, South Korea.

Xiamen, located on an island in southeast China with a population of 1.8 million, will become Richmond's third sister city.

The trip follows a smaller city delegation to Japan that ended Tuesday. Couns. Bill McNulty and Harold Steves led that six-day visit, which included a tour of the devastation in Onagawa, caused by an earthquake and tsunami March 11, 2011. The delegation later visited Richmond's sister city Wakayama to arrange 40th anniversary celebrations of that link in 2013. Richmond officials also met with Japanese naval officers in an attempt to lure tall ships to visit Steveston.

The China trip is costing taxpayers an estimated $40,000, while the excursion to Japan rings in at $15,000. Both are part of $234,410 in funding approved by council to strengthen sister city relationships through to 2013.

Paul Evans, professor and director of the Institute of Asian Research at University of B.C., said yesterday sister city relationships can be "extremely valuable."

"First, they often generate commercial opportunities based on both planned and indirect spinoffs from visits and deepened human flows. Second, they give a focus for people beyond the business sector—schools, community groups, municipal officials—to think China and think global through a concrete connection across the Pacific."

Residents, however, have been critical of the trips on recent letters pages of The Richmond Review, questioning the benefits and calling them "vacations" for politicians.

Last Wednesday, Coun. Chak Au shot back with a letter of his own.

"I can honestly say that this is not a vacation trip," wrote Au, saying he envisions the sister city deal will result in new markets and investors for local businesses, new tourists, more international students and new overseas opportunities for arts and culture groups.

"Richmond should emerge from the old mindset of being Vancouver’s backyard and reposition itself as a centre for international trade and business, tourism, and technological and ecological innovation. We can show the world and the rest of Canada what we can accomplish as a vibrant city. But we can do that only by strengthening our ties with cities like Xiamen."

Besides Au, other councillors making the China trip this week are Derek Dang, Ken Johnston, Bill McNulty, Linda McPhail and Harold Steves. Three city staffers and four sister city committee members are also having their expenses paid by taxpayers.

To help boost ties in tourism, education and business, also making the trip are representatives from the Richmond board of education, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Trinity Western University, Richmond Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Richmond.

Richmond's other sister city relationship—now 45 years old—is with Pierrefonds, Que., a Montreal borough now known as Pierrefonds-Roxboro.

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