Republican senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Josh Hawley of Missouri want to know what national security and transparency measures are used by U.S. mayors in “Sister City” agreements with Chinese authorities.
A total of 167 U.S. cities currently have “Sister City” deals with Chinese cities, a small slice of the more than 2,600 such agreements Beijing has entered into with local authorities throughout Europe, North America and Asia.
Ostensibly, the deals are intended to encourage mutual understanding and economic cooperation, but the senators told U.S Conference of Mayors President Greg Fisher in an Oct. 8 letter that “sister-city partnerships may be China’s newest political weapon” in that nation’s aggressive expansion of its geo-strategic influence around the world.
“For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), sister-city partnerships are instrumental to achieving China’s geostrategic objectives,” Blackburn and Hawley tell Fisher, who is mayor of Louisville, Ky.
“Li Xiaolin, president of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, characterizes sister-city partnerships as critical to cooperation ‘under the framework of the [Belt and Road Initiative]’ (BRI),” the senators write.
“The CCP revealed its political motivations in the Czech Republic, where the BRI’s promise of economic opportunity lured Prague into a sister-city agreement with Shanghai.
“But Shanghai terminated the agreement in January 2020—along with its myriad economic benefits—when Prague’s mayor refused to commit to the CCP’s ‘One China’ policy. Clearly, the CCP hides behind the veil of soft diplomacy and mutual benefit until their foreign partners exhibit ideological nonconformity.”
The “One-China” policy refers to Beijing’s longstanding demand that other nations recognize Taiwan, the island nation established in 1912, is part of China. The island is off of China’s eastern coast and lies in the South China Sea, bordered by the Philippine Sea and the East China Sea.
The Taiwan Strait between China and Taiwan is one of the world’s most strategically important locations because so much international shipping passes through it daily.
The Koumintang-led forces of the Republic of China moved to Taiwan after losing to the CCP led by Mao Zedong in the 1949 communist revolution.
Since 1979 the United States has had a one-China policy with a twist. It recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, but the United States does not recognize the PRC as having sovereignty over Taiwan.
Blackburn and Hawley said Chinese officials also use the agreements between cities in South Asia “to encourage economic and cultural compliance, a practice which has become increasingly exploitative amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In May of this year, the CCP offered public health assistance to Bangladesh on the conditions that the country establish six sister-city partnerships and support the CCP’s COVID-19 disinformation campaign.
“The CCP maliciously exploited Bangladesh’s vulnerabilities—namely, its small economy and struggling health infrastructure. A virtual lack of alternatives led Bangladesh to acquiesce to the CCP’s conditions, and China thus gained a foothold to infiltrate local institutions, steal intellectual property, and pressure officials into ideological conformity.”
The senators asked Fisher for information regarding how U.S. mayors deal with the Chinese on these issues:
“• How do your governments ensure transparency regarding sister-city partnerships’ contracts and activities?
“• Through what mechanisms do your governments safeguard freedom of expression within these partnerships?
“• What oversight practices do your governments implement to mitigate the risks of foreign espionage and economic coercion within these partnerships?
“• What precautions do your governments take to protect against foreign nationals’ potentially inappropriate use of visa programs to participate in activities relating to these partnerships?”
The senators cited Chinese human rights activist Jianli Yang, who wrote in a recent Newsmobile oped that “‘China’s ‘citizen diplomacy,’ ‘Covid diplomacy’, etc. are all part of its expansionist strategy to instill confidence in the host countries and then use the opportunities to its own advantage.”
Yang was a political dissident and prisoner in China before escaping to the United States.
A spokesman for the Mayors Conference could not be reached for comment.
Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc