Wim Kok in China: “Sister cities offer economic, cultural, environmental and social benefits”

   Wim Kok’s speech to the 2014 China Internationa Friendship Cities Conference & Guangzhou International Urban Innovation Conference

Deepening exchanges and cooperation between sister cities and at local government level

Being former Prime Minster of the Netherlands and on behalf of the Club de Madrid, let me thank the organizers of the 2014 China International Friendship Cities Conference & Guangzhou International Urban Innovation Conference for their kind invitation and for offering the opportunity to address this very engaged and distinguished audience.

The Club de Madrid is a worldwide organization that brings together nearly 100 former Heads of State and Government from over 60 countries, working to foster international and human values, leadership and governance. As political leaders we are keenly aware of the fact that nowhere is the impact of these three elements more directly felt than in cities, where more than half of the world’s population currently lives. We have, therefore, worked with cities and at the local level since we were established. At the local level of government you are closest to the citizens and this offers unique opportunities to address the problems and challenges that concern people most and to make a real different.

The Club de Madrid has worked and still works on urban issues, being increasingly prominent on national policy agendas, from a number of different angles, such as issues related to pollution and climate change, and initiatives promoting social inclusion and shared societies.

Sister Cities and its importance

The concept of town twinning, was initially intended to foster friendship and understanding between different cultures and even between former foes, as an act of peace and reconciliation, based on the hope that “people who know each other cannot hate each other” and that these types of efforts would contribute to more stable and peaceful relations. Gradually, twinning also became a means of encouraging trade, tourism and cultural exchanges. 

Given deepening globalization, the role of cities as effective nodes for this purpose became even more apparent, as did their recognition as major contributors to national economies. Such cooperative relationships have become good examples of peaceful co-existence and win-win cooperation between cities from different countries with different social systems, cultural backgrounds and development stages.

I would like to take this opportunity to express, on behalf of the Club de Madrid, our sincere gratitude and recognition of those cities, represented here today, which have contributed to more stable and developed communities and across-the-border relations.

The partnerships cities have developed have the potential to carry out the widest possible range of activities. Sister City programs are also unique in that they inherently involve the three main actors and stakeholders in a community: local government, businesses, as well as citizens (individually and organized in civil society or non-profit organizations).

Sister city exchanges can be broken into: cultural, academic, informational, and economic. And, although economic exchanges are perhaps the hardest to foster between sister cities, there are good reasons to encourage them.

The sister city relationship sets the foundation for diverse participants from each city to come together to promote engagement and mutual understanding, what we, from the Club de Madrid call a Shared Society.

But these forms of cooperation are not only established for economic purposes. There are many examples on the sustainable urban environment field, such as the “sister-city partnerships” between Guangzhou, Shanghai, or Beijing with other major cities around the world to boost cooperation on ways to increase energy efficiency and meet renewable energy targets, as well as in the reduction of congestion problems in the two cities.

In this framework, practical benefits accruing to both cities from the partnership include developing sustainable urban heating and cooling infrastructure, and public transport systems. Another field for this type of partnership is water management.

Those examples show how, by recognizing the value of strategic partnerships in the globalized world, cities have leveraged existing sister city relationships to meaningfully contribute to the international global economy, the preservation of cultural heritage, and the protection and good management of our environment and natural resources.

Sister cities relationships offer an economic, cultural, environmental and social benefit that leads to the promotion of peace and the understanding and validation of other cultures.Cities around the world must see these relationships as a source of environmental, social and economic development, as an opportunity for its citizens to have a sustainable living in a shared a society and a way to position them in the global economic sphere while promoting peace and prosperity.

The Club de Madrid with its experiences and diverse membership will be happy to work with you or to advise you on a number of these issues being beneficial to everyone in a world of growing interdependence. We are dedicated to the promotion of the EU-China relations and the Netherlands-China relations in particular. I wish you a fruitful conference.