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NLC journeys abroad for exchange with China's local elected officials.

With some 1.2 billion persons, China accounts for 22 per cent of world's population (or nearly one in four persons). Even though it has a one-child-per-family policy, China grows by a population equal to Australia's each year. China's is the fastest growing economy in the world, with double-digit increases in Gross Domestic Product (13 per cent in 1992), far ahead of any other. China is now the world's third largest economy, surpassed only by the U.S. and Japan.

Five NLC leaders were provided a glimpse of this nation encompassing the world's oldest civilization during a two-week, four-city visit in August hosted by the Chinese Peoples' Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC).

The NLC team, invited by the CPAFFC to help establish and strengthen ties between U.S. and Chinese local governments, included: Mayor Gary McCaleb, Abilene, Tex., NLC board member and board representative to NLC's International Municipal Consortium; Alderman Melissa Mershon, Louisville and Councilman Brian O'Neill, Philadelphia, both members of NLC's Advisory Council; Mayor Larry Bakken, Golden Valley, Minnesota, 1993 chair of NLC's International Municipal Consortium; and Council Member Jack Valencia, Las Cruces, New Mexico, consortium steering committee member. Both McCaleb and Valencia are also presidents this year of their respective state municipal leagues. The group was accompanied by Don Jones, Director of NLC's Center for Member Programs.

Based on their visits with local officials and economic development officials in the four cities--described as the "golden line" consisting of the political center, Beijing; one of the oldest cities, Xi'an; the financial and industrial center, Shanghai; and the booming special economic zone of Shenzhen near Hong Kong--and graciously hosted by the CPAFFC and local friendship association staff in each city, the NLC group found this giant nation approaching the end of the 20th century:

* proud of its rich history and cultural heritage, eager to build and strengthen cultural, educational and governmental friendships with the U.S.;

* open to investment opportunities through joint ventures and direct foreign investment; and

* fervently hoping that Beijing will be selected as site for the 2000 Olympics (the decision will be made in late September).

Noted McCaleb: "One of our hosts in Beijing said, |While you are here, I hope you will visit with the people, see where they live and look into their eyes.' We did, and more than anything else I believe we saw a people with a renewed hope for the future and a genuine desire on the part of their municipal leaders to work together with their counteterparts in the United States for mutual benefits."

Mershon, who actively promoted Chinese participation in the 1994 conference of Sister Cities International, which will be held in Louisville said: "Our brief visit opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of the history of China, its people and its politics. My confidence in the future of this great country has been strengthened by this exchange. The Chinese people are resiliant and resourceful. Now that I have new-found friends in China, I will watch with hope for a bright future for all its people."

"This society, although ancient in may ways, also is a very new society. This large overpowering country has really been part of the international community for the last 60 to 70 years. Taking that into consideration, it is astounding to me that the economy and society reflected a vibrancy and optimism that can rarely be seen in other countries. I found people to be very optimistic, entrepreneurial and positive in their outlook as to the role of their country. It is clear that many of the opportunities in China are yet unexploited and that it will, if it continues to move along the modified entrepreneurial track, be a major influence in the global economy," said Bakken.

"Regardless of our political, economic and social benefits, people are people. Our one-on-one discussions lead me to believe that there is little difference in our mutual beliefs and expectations. As we were told at our U.S. Embassy briefing in Beijing, seeing is believing, and helps clear up a lot of misperceptions about China. We have seen and now we believe," said Valencia.

Beijing:

In addition to visits to the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, the Imperial Palace, Tian'Anmen Square, the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven, the group was hosted by Han Xu, former Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. and now CPAFFC president, at a formal Chinese banquet in a historic residence once used by Chiang Kai Shek when in Beijing.

The group met with Fu Be Nan, vice chair of Beijing Municipal Administration Commission, to talk about local governmental challenges in administering the capital city of 10.8 million population. The city is building a 65-mile subway system to augment its extensive surface transportation system of buses, relatively few private automobiles and countless bicycles (Beijing has 8 million registered bicycles). the city's congestion, pollution and housing problems. Arrangements were also made for the group to divide up and dine in private homes in one of the planned residential communities of the city. Built in 1951, it contains 17,000 living units with a population of 60,000, three parks, cinema and shops, a dancing hall and community center, a skating rink, 10 kindergartens, and six primary and four middle schools. The conversations over home-prepared meals provided un-matched opportunities for informal visits with families who described themselves as "ordinary middle-class citizens."

A showpiece of economic development in the Shanghai region is the Pudong New Area, across the busy Huangpu River from the famed Shanghai Bund and extending to the east China Sea where the Yangtze River empties into the ocean. Officially established January 1, 1993, the Pudong New Area is designed as a major commercial center involving initially four sub-areas -- a financial center and trade zone, a new industrial town, the country's first comprehensive free trade zone and what China refers to as its "Silicon Valley" high-tech industrial park.

Large-scale urban infrastructure is now under construction with major highways connected to Shanghai with new bridges, new port facilities, new telephone communications systems, and water, power, gas and sewer systems. All of these plans will occur without a major increase in the Shanghai area population. The Pudong New Area is planned to stimulate economic growth and bring jobs to those already living in the region.

In comparrison to the way this cities faces municipal issues with the Unites States, the grouped learned that tons of trash collected each day in Shanghai with a population of 13.45 million is about 13,000. However, each day Philadelphia with a population of nearly 13 times smaller or 1.5 million collects almost half as much trash at about 6,000 tons.

Shenzhen:

In many ways the most amazing of the cities visited, Shenzhen was a rural community near Hong Kong with 30,000 people in 1981 when the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone was designated as the target of foreign investment and economic development. Today, Shenzhen is a city of 2.6 million with sparkling new high-rise office towers, planned residential communities, parks, museums, stadiums and schools, its own sea port and its own international airport. By the end of 1992, 10,233 foreign-funded joint ventures involving local business in partnership with foreign investors from 34 foreign countries had been established or committed. Since February of 1993, when Shenzhen streamlined its permit process to guarantee approval or other action within 18 working hours, some 1,700 more joint ventures have been approved. The U.S. ranks third in Shenzhen foreign investment, behind Hong Kong and Japan.

The NLC group met with Deputy Mayor Li Chuan Fang, who is responsible for city planning and construction. Her tasks include overseeing planning and development of public infrastructure including such items as 10 new schools each year. NLC team member Melissa Mershon was delighted to learn that not only does China have an association of cities, it also has an association of female mayors and other municipal officials.

The NLC group concluded its crowded two-week itinerary having heard at every stop how China is open to and seeks foreign investment and foreign financial partnerships, having seen first-hand the economic boom sweeping the major cities, and having learned for themselves that despite cultural and political differences, Chinese people welcome friendship with peoples of the U.S.

There are currently 82 formal Sister-City relationships between cities in China and the U.S. The Chinese prefer to call these "Friendship City" relationship because the word "sister" translated into Chinese creates a definition requiring a junior and senior member of the relationship, and is therefore considered inappropriate in relationships between cities where equality is important. There are also "friendship" relationships between 22 states in the U.S. and provinces in China, not counting Taiwan. Taiwan alone has friendship relationships with 27 states in this country.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities
Author:Jones, Don
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 6, 1993
Words:1471
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