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Invercargill councillors debate worth of sister city relationship

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Local Democracy Reporter

26 March 2024, 9:50 PM

Invercargill councillors debate worth of sister city relationshipInvercargill city councillors have discussed this week whether a sister city relationship with Suqian, China, has been worthwhile. Photo: ODT/Supplied

A sister city relationship between Invercargill and Suqian, China, has been questioned by a city councillor wanting to know if promises of economic opportunity have been kept.

In 2013, Invercargill began a relationship with the city of 1.7 million by signing a memorandum of understanding.

It signed a second one in 2017 to develop closer ties and economic opportunities.

Delegates have travelled to the city on five seperate occasions between 2012 and 2018, with Invercargill also playing host four times.

Councillor Ian Pottinger said a memorandum was a strong document that required political accountability, and questioned what commercial opportunities had materialised seven years after the most recent signing.

“Or do we retract what we’ve put on our website, and say it didn’t happen?”

Deputy Mayor Tom Campbell responded by saying it was “almost impossible” to track the tangibles of the agreement.

“The thing I would observe is over $700 million of exports through Bluff go to China.

“Thirty percent of all Southland’s exports go to China. Whether it would be 29.9 percent (without the agreement), you will just never know.

“To me it’s just sensible to have a sister city agreement with a country which takes 30 percent of our exports.”

Councillor Darren Ludlow agreed the relationship was worth more for the export market than what was apparent, while Mayor Nobby Clark said his views on sister cities were well known: “I don’t particularly like them”.

But having the relationship meant you had to put in the work, and he feared pulling out would send the wrong message to China.

“It’s a little bit like having a family member but you never visit them.”

Councillor Ria Bond noted sister city relationships hadn't been reviewed since 2011, and asked if it would be worth doing to see if ratepayers were still happy with money going down that avenue.

Ultimately, councillors moved that a follow-up report be presented on how Invercargill could reactivate its relationship with Suqian.

Invercargill was invited to visit the city in January 2023 to acknowledge the 10 year anniversary of their relationship, but declined in favour of non-travel options such as exchanging letters and online meetings.

The last contact Invercargill had with Suqian was in May 2023 when Mayor Clark wrote to congratulate the election of new Mayor Liu Hao.

Travel restrictions caused by Covid-19 were highlighted in the council report as a “factor” in the relationship.

Invercargill also has a sister city relationship with Kumagaya, Japan, which a delegation last visited in July 2023.

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air

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