Before the White House, President Xi Jinping Heads to Sister City Tacoma, Washington

Blog contributed by Mary D. Kane, President and CEO, Sister Cities International. Click here to view original post on Medium.

This week when President Xi Jinping visits the U.S., his first stop will be in Tacoma, Washington. Seattle would not be an unusual place for the president of the largest nation on Earth to visit, especially since it is the home of Microsoft, but Tacoma? What most people do not know is that 21 years ago, President Xi personally witnessed the establishment of Tacoma’s sister city relationship with Fuzhou while he was the Chairman of the Standing Committee of Fuzhou Municipal People’s Congress. Since then, over 30 delegations from Fuzhou have visited Tacoma to engage in educational, cultural, and business exchanges.

As we witnessed in 2012, President Xi visited another sister city that was very important to him, Muscatine, Iowa. In 1985, on an agricultural exchange, Xi Jinping stayed with his host family in their high school son’s bedroom. This interaction left such an impression, or as it’s called in sister city circles, a “life changing” experience, that he wanted to visit his host family as he was preparing to become the leader of China in 2012. During a dinner hosted by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, then-Vice President Xi stood up and said that when he thinks of the U.S., he thinks of his host family. Due to the attention of his visit, Chinese interest in Iowa has continued over the past several years and, as a result, the Muscatine Cultural Center was opened in Jinan, China in May 2015.

Launched as a major presidential initiative by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, Sister Cities International’s mission is premised on the idea that by forming these community-led relationships, people from different countries and cultures would learn from one another and develop mutually beneficial ties that would lessen the chance of new international conflicts. Today, there are 545 cities in the U.S. with over 2,100 sister city partnerships in 145 countries spanning six continents.

The U.S. and Chinese people have come a long way since the 1970s, and the relationship will continue to be fruitful as long as both countries continue to focus their energies on the respect for their peoples’ dignity and prosperity. The way we treat one another will set the direction for the rest of the world. It seems that President Eisenhower understood the power of citizen diplomacy through sister city relationships and the 160+ members of Sister Cities International that have connections with communities in China would certainly agree.

Sister Cities International is proud to have played a part in strengthening U.S. relationships in China and is excited to host the second U.S.-China Sister Cities Conference October 22–23, 2015. This conference, through panel sessions and networking opportunities, will serve as a forum for mayors, senior city officials, business leaders, and citizen diplomats to discuss vital opportunities for growth between the U.S. and China. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is looking forward to welcoming Mayor Han Zheng of Shanghai as well as dozens of Chinese delegates. Please click here for more information and to register.