Reta Jo Lewis
Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs
2012 China International Friendship Cities Conference
Chengdu, China
September 12, 2012

Thank you for that kind introduction.

Good morning distinguished Madam Li and guests. I would like to express my appreciation to the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) and the Chengdu Municipal government for hosting us today at the 2012 China International Friendship Cities Conference.

Let me extend a special recognition to Mary Kane, president and CEO of Sister Cities International, and Laurel Pressing, mayor of Urbana, Illinois. We are delighted that you are here with us today.

I would like to take a moment to express my condolences to the people of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces who experienced a series of earthquakes last Friday. Our thoughts and prayers are with you at this difficult time.

When we speak about our countries, it is easy to fall into the habit of talking about our capital cities. When we say that “Beijing” and “Washington, DC” are working together, we typically mean the countries as a whole.

We all know, however, that the work of nations also takes place at the subnational level – the states, the provinces, and the cities.

As the Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, I am proud to be here to say that both “Washington, DC” and America’s subnational governments are interested in fostering better relations with China’s provinces and cities.

One of the real highlights for me during my two and a half years as Special Representative has been the development of the U.S.-China subnational initiative. Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) supporting U.S.-China subnational cooperation on January 19, 2011.

Since that time, we have witnessed a historic level of engagement at the subnational level, including dialogues and exchanges like the U.S.-China Governors Forum and this event that, that provide many opportunities to strengthen bilateral ties and build mutual understanding.

For example, Vice President Xi Jinping visited the United States in February. Vice President Xi traveled to Los Angeles with Vice President Biden after meeting President Obama at the White House. Vice President Xi’s visit coincided with an explosion of city-to-city and state-to-province ties, a surge in U.S. local governments’ setting up trade offices in China and increasing demand for foreign investment.

At present, there are over 200 sister-city and sister-state relationships between the United States and China, and more than 30 state trade offices working in China.

U.S.-China ties are clearly richer and more extensive than ever before. Bilateral cooperation and dialogue have moved beyond traditional diplomacy into the fields of economic and commercial engagement and cultural and educational exchanges.

The further we deepen our relationship, the more we need to bring into play the skills and energies of partners beyond our central and federal governments.

Citizen diplomacy networks, such as Sister Cities International, play an important role in creating and strengthening partnerships between U.S. and Chinese communities.

I would like to offer my congratulations to Sister Cities International and CPAFFC on the MOU they will sign tomorrow formalizing an ongoing partnership to collaborate to create new sister city, sister county, and sister state/province relationships between U.S. and Chinese communities to promote peace, mutual understanding, and prosperity in their respective communities. This agreement will significantly benefit the U.S.-China bilateral relationship.

I believe that engagement at the local level will continue to offer an exciting and effective method for Americans to discuss issues of mutual concern with Chinese provincial officials.

Our host city, Chengdu, understands the importance of local engagement, counting several international cities as sister-city partners, including Honolulu, Phoenix, and Knoxville in the United States.

I look forward to continued collaboration with our Chinese friends to further enhance existing sister-city relationships and to foster new relationships to facilitate greater understanding between our two great nations.