A buzz of activities filled several conference rooms at the U.S.-China Sister Cities Conference in Chicago on Friday, with more than 200 attendees marking the 30th anniversary of sistser cities relationships between Chinese and U.S. cities.
"Chicago Sister Cities is celebrating our 30th anniversary of sister cities relationships with Shanghai and Shenyang," said LeRoy Allaya, executive director of Chicago Sister Cities International (CSCI).
In conjunction with the celebration, the CSCI hosted this year's U.S.-China Sister Cities Conference, the second for the Sister Cities International (SCI).
Founded by former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, the SCI is a national nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington D.C.
At the conference, two sister cities agreements were signed between Heyuan, Guangdong Province and Tustin, California, and Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province and Yorba Linda, California.
"We visited Tustin a few days ago," said Zhu Weiwei, deputy mayor of Heyuan. She found similarities between the two cities and was looking forward to working with Tustin city in tourism and environment development.
"I'm so impressed with the development in China," said Charles Puchett, mayor of Tustin who visited China five times before.
"Compared to Heyuan, Tustin is small, with 80,000 people. But both Heyuan and Tustin are quite residential," he said, "I hope more Chinese will come and visit Tustin."
Puchett said sister cities relationships will help people better understand one another.
Mary Kane, president and CEO of the SCI, told Xinhua that sister cities relationships have been evolving. "There are student exchanges, cultural exchanges, municipal officials exchanges. And now, a lot of economic development opportunities."
Chinese President Xi Jinping is one of the most famous people setting up sister cities between the United States and China, she said.
"He signed the Sister Cities Agreement between Fuzhou in China's southeastern Fujian Province and the port city of Tacoma in Washington State 21 years ago," Kane said.
During Xi's tour to the Lincoln High School in Tacoma, "he invited 100 students to visit him in China next year as his guests. The place went crazy," Kane said, laughing.
It is such "people to people exchanges" that help strengthen the relationship between the two countries, she added.
Lisa Hamrick, a member of the Cincinnati Sister Cities International in Ohio, told Xinhua that she found the topics of the conference "right on the point for what we are looking for."
"I've learned a lot about the economic options out there. It's very important to get on board with our local government," she said.
The establishment of sister cities relationships between China and the United States started in 1979, when central China's Hubei Province and the U.S. State of Ohio forged sister cities relationships.
During the subsequent 16 years, more 100 pairs of provinces and states or pairs of cities established such links and conducted fruitful cooperation in various aspects such as industry, agriculture, science and technology, trade and culture.
As of today, 202 cities in China have established sister cities relationships with their counterparts across the United States, according to the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.