Day 1

Welcome Reception

Sister Cities International and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries jointly hosted the 2014 U.S.-China Sister Cities Conference in Washington, DC, March 26-28. Over three days, more than 400 community leaders, citizen diplomats, business executives, educators, mayors, provincial leaders, and municipal officials from the U.S. and China discussed strategies to grow and strengthen exchanges and business ties at the sub-national level.

The Conference opened with a welcome reception at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China. Conference attendees, government officials, and special dignitaries came together to enjoy traditional Chinese entertainment and hear of the wonderful events to come over the next two days.

Sister Cities International’s President and CEO, Mary Kane, welcomed all to the beginning of a productive conference. Speakers such as Assistant Secretary of State, Daniel Russel, Congressman Mike Honda, and Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries President, Xie Yuan, expressed their excitement for 35 years of successful U.S.-China sister city relationships and citizen diplomacy efforts. Sarah Lande from Muscatine, Iowa reflected on her 30 year friendship with President Xi Jinping and introduced American and Chinese student singers to the stage to perform “The Peony and the Rose,” a song written as a result of musical diplomacy exchange. To conclude the evening, four new Sister Cities signed agreements to renew and strengthen their partnership. Officials from Jinan & Sacramento, Cincinnati & Liuzhou, Westbrook & Wanzhou District, and Zhengding & Muscatine  signed on as sister cities!

Day 2

Opening Ceremony and Welcome

The first day of the U.S.-China Sister Cities conference, held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, started with an opening ceremony and welcome from Mary D. Kane, where she read from President Obama’s recent letter to Sister Cities International. The letter highlighted the importance of providing opportunities for meaningful cultural, educational, and economic exchanges between the U.S. and China through citizen diplomacy on a local level. Ms. Kane expressed excitement for collaborating to strengthen and grow the U.S.-China sister city network and tackling bilateral regional and global issues together.

Mary Jean Eisenhower, President of People to People International, gave a moving speech on U.S.-Chinese sub-national relationships and the importance of people to people interactions during the Information Age. She moved the audience with quotes from her grandfather, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, including a quote from his second inaugural address:

“May we pursue the right—without self-righteousness
May we know unity—without conformity
May we grow in strength—without pride in self
May we, in our dealings with all peoples of the earth, ever speak truth and serve justice.”

After Eisenhower’s uplifting words, Ye Changqing, Executive Vice President of Hebei Provincial People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and Sarah Lande, city of Muscatine, Iowa, each described the 30 year relationship between Hebei and the state of Iowa including the unique story of how Lande first hosted current Chinese President, Xi Jinping, in her home nearly 30 years ago. Being his first visit to the U.S., Jinping has fondly noted that, to him, Muscatine is America. Their strong friendship over the years is the perfect example of how powerful citizen diplomacy can be. Lande says, “When we spread understanding, there is opportunity for growth, peace, and prosperity in more and more communities around the world.”

Community Engagement Programs



Panelists discussed ways to involve communities with U.S.-Chinese sister city programs. One of the questions posed by Dr. Yawei Liu was, “how do we increase trust between the U.S. and China?” Robert Daly suggested that if people would bring education, language study, and cultural exchange into policy discussions, it would help create a platform in which we could solve joint challenges together. Dr. Curtis Sandberg added that with a mission to promote international understanding, visitor exchanges can help better situations abroad as long as we work slowly to cultivate relationships because building trust in relationships takes time and understanding.

Planning Effective Exchanges



Panelists talked about how planning successful international exchanges can take time and highlighted how to learn from excellent pre-existing programs. Xu Changming described success behind the innovative trilateral Sino-African relationship between Denver, Kunming, and Nairobi. He credits the success largely to playing off each other’s urban planning strengths while solving problems since each city brings something different to the table. Stan Litow touched on how collaboration across multiple economic sectors, cities, countries, and platforms can engage and involve all citizens to help make the planet smarter. Social media is a quick way to add data to what’s happening in communities and disseminate that information to engage communities worldwide.

Energy and Sustainable Development Programs



Panelists explored ways in which energy and sustainable development programs are changing the landscape of cities. There was a particular focus on expanding the use of renewable energy. The panelists also agreed that university as well as municipal-level exchanges and best practices-sharing were keys to creating energy solutions for cities.

Keynote Luncheon

Keynote Speaker:


Mayor Vincent Gray and Maurice Jones were proud to announce that Air China will begin hosting non-stop flights from Beijing to Dulles International Airport starting June 10, 2014. Yang Luyu was happy to proclaim the 30 year benchmark of the Jinan-Sacramento sister city relationship and promoted the importance of engaging youth to continue future successes. Mack McLarty focused on strengthening not only U.S.-China commercial ties, but also energy, sustainable development, community, and civic engagement to promote fully comprehensive relationships. He commented that globalization brings growth as well as its own set of challenges. For cities and states to manage such challenges, we must be willing to think outside the box to create innovative ideas. Click here to read Mack McLarty’s entire keynote speech and here to read Mayor Vincent Gray’s remarks.

Mayors Panel – How to Attract Business to Your City



U.S. and Chinese Mayors shared their experiences utilizing sister city relationships for continued economic growth and how to attract business to cities at a local level. Victor Hoskins highlighted Washington, DC’s goals he created based off of the Chinese five-year economic development strategy plan. With one goal to become the top destination for investors and tourists, new relations with Air China will open the door for fantastic tourism and business trip opportunities. Yang Lizhong and DeWayne Hopkins discussed how great agricultural connections between Zhengding and Muscatine have provided great economic benefits between the two cities.

Commercial Service Panel – Protocol of Doing Business between the U.S. and China



Panelists discussed U.S. and China business culture, etiquette, and experience. Moderator Shao Ning asked the panelists for their thoughts on how to improve the business end of development. Zhao Ming stated that we need to innovate sister city relationships and not restrict ourselves to one city. Each relationship can help us go beyond to find new opportunities to meet new challenges and resolve problems. Craig Allen argued that there is a deficit of knowledge that is needed by business communities. It’s important to take steps to promote information, introductions, and to support the standard processes of trade on either side.

CEO Panel – Building Business Between the U.S. and China



Panelists representing various U.S. and Chinese companies, discussed guidelines and regulations behind successfully conduct business between the U.S. and China. Paul Palmieri said that his experience working between the two countries has included a good amount of relationship building and people to people contact as a key element of growing a presence in new tech company markets. Wang Tianmin explained that economic and trade ties must be more practical and targeted in the future. Jim Murren provided useful advice for companies entering the China market. Companies must develop a brand with products and services that are uniquely Chinese. The bottom line of the panel was if we continue to build bridges between companies and countries, everyone stands to gain; the biggest obstacle in international business is ignorance.

Documentary Screening – Finding Samuel Lowe: From Harlem to China

The Africa Channel screened the documentary, Finding Samuel Lowe: from Harlem to China, followed by a Q&A session with creator Paula Madison. 

Awards Dinner and Ceremony

A special dinner was held to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the first U.S.-China Sister City relationship and recognize successful U.S.-Chinese programs in the categories of youth, economy & trade, arts & culture, sustainable development, and outstanding individual. For a list of the winners, click here. 

Day 3

Bonus Session: Sino-African Initiative Panel

Representatives from each trilateral Sino-African Initiative project (Zomba-Urbana-Haizhu, Osobogo-Asheville-Raleigh-Xiangyang, and Nairobi-Denver-Kunming) participated in a closing presentation from the two-year program. Panelists reflected on lessons learned and best practices utilized throughout the duration of their projects. Panelists explained how each project, whether it involved primary schools, waste management, or healthcare, ended up being multi-faceted and each city’s participants were able to provide unique knowledge and skills to fixing the issues at hand.  

Overall, the U.S.-China Sister Cities Conference was a great success. Global leaders shared their insights on current issues as each panel provided an open platform for engaging and productive dialogue between panelists and audience members. American, Chinese, and African delegates discussed lessons learned from multicultural trilateral partnerships, and the Sino-African Initiative’s overall positive impact on communities served. The Awards dinner and ceremony were fun for all, as winners were honored to receive their special awards.