Council will begin its first review of its Sister Cities relationships in decades next month, with the clear intention of shifting its focus solely to Asia.
Councillors unanimously supported a proposal by Clr Daniel Myles at the January 28 council meeting to review the current Sister City arrangements it has with Flagstaff, Arizona (since 1967) and Sanda City, Japan (since 1988).
According to the resolution passed, the review process is to be “informed” via a briefing session to consider support for establishing “one or more” Sister City relationships with cities or districts in China to expand cultural and economic links.
Clr Myles argued the level of activity with Flagstaff’s local government had fallen away sharply in recent years and there was an opportunity to establish a Sister City relationship with a Chinese city, which would be “a very useful tool to use” to improve relations and boost tourism to the Blue Mountains from China.
“China is very important for tourism — establishing a Sister City arrangement would be appropriate for an area where tourism is so important,” Clr Myles said.
Clr Brendan Christie agreed, saying. “China is a very important market to get into”.
Council’s representatives on the volunteer-run Blue Mountains Sister Cities Committee (BMSCC), Clrs Chris Van der Kley and Don McGregor, backed the review but with different levels of enthusiasm.
Clr McGregor said. “I welcome this shift to the East”. while Clr Van der Kley called for BMSCC members to be consulted throughout the review process, adding. “I think we have to be very careful how we do this”.
“If we are going to have a Sister City relationship with China, we have to put in a model that gives us some control.”
BMSCC chairperson Colleen Kime told the Gazette she was disappointed the committee was not approached about the upcoming review process.
“I got a call halfway during the council meeting [from a councillor] but we knew nothing about it,” Mrs Kime said.
“It’s up to the council [to determine policies for its Sister Cities program], it is not up to the committee.
“But I think it would have been nice for somebody to talk to us about this first.”
Mrs Kime said council’s Sister City relationship with Sanda City celebrated its 25th year in 2013 with visiting delegations and remains as strong as ever.
“They (Sanda’s local government) sent money to the Blue Mountains Bushfire Disaster Mayoral Relief Fund and to their sister schools St Columba’s College and Winmalee high school and the Sanda International Association also raised money for bushfire relief.”
According to council reports, the Blue Mountains Sister City Program is allocated $12,000 of funding per year, with occasional top-ups provided when council hosts visiting delegations.
Highlights of the Sanda City relationship include annual student, cultural, athletic and youth ambassador exchanges and a student arts program.