Five Chinese officials and a handful of local leaders embraced the symbolism of a bridge Thursday as the top brass of the potential new sister cities posed for a picture on the walkway to the Japanese Garden on Lake Sacajawea — a garden helped along by Longview’s existing sister city in Japan.
Leaders from the Qishuyan District (pronounced chee-shoo-yen) of Changzhou, China, were in Longview to scope out their perspective new partner, and after a whirlwind tour and exchange of niceties, it seems more likely than ever that they’ll join the family.
“I think it went extremely well; they seemed to enjoy the visit very much and they’re very sincere about continuing to pursue the relationship,” said Longview City Councilman Tom Hutchinson, who’s a member of the Sister City Commission. “We took them all over local businesses -- Norpac, the port, went to the Mint Farm ... these folks are serious about the economic development aspect of it.”
A sister city relationship goes beyond regular business transactions and helps ensure a more intimate and lasting cultural and economic exchange.
Qishuyan Mayor Dong Caifeng said via a translator that Longview is “very beautiful,” and she looks forward to developing a lasting friendship between the cities.
Hutchinson said the relationship is different from Longview’s partnership with sister city Waco, Japan, in that the economic ties will be stronger than the cultural connection most sister cities start with.
The Qishuyan delegation was offered a welcome presentation at City Hall — featuring a surprise appearance by Squirrel Fest mascot Sandy B. McNutt — before touring local industries, the lake and Lower Columbia College.
It was a bit of a departure from the metropolis the mayor and other representatives come from: the district is home to about 100,000 people, roughly the size of Cowlitz County, and the city it’s in, Changzhou, contains about 5 million.
From space, Qishuyan looks like a circuit board: Tightly packed high-rise apartments flank warehouses and green, undeveloped industrial parks along a major railway.
“The best part is their district is very similar to our area in that they are heavily involved in manufacturing like we are,” said Ted Sprague, president of the Cowlitz Economic Development Council.
Sprague joined City Manager Bob Gregory and LCC President Chris Bailey on a trip to China in April, when the groundwork was laid for a sister city relationship.
“They were really impressed with Norpac — there’s a perception by some in China that the U.S. is averse to any kind of manufacturing because environmental regulations are so strict,” Sprague said.
The city’s relationship with Qishuyan comes as LCC also looks for more international students from a burgeoning partnership with the nearby Changzhou Technical Institute of Tourism and Commerce.
That relationship is still making its way through Chinese bureaucracy, as is the sister city agreement, which could take up to a year to finalize.
In the meantime, Longview’s Sister City Commission has been invited to China to get fresh eyes on the city on the other side of the bridge each side is building.
On the local tour, Qishuyan’s mayor was joined by He Haojun, director of Lucheng sub-district; Zhou Ru, director of Dingyan sub-district; Yao He, director of Qishuyan’s Commerce Bureau; and Wang Humin, president of Changzhou Wayon Technology Development Co., a locomotive engine and parts manufacturer.