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Phoenix celebrates long China connection

By MAY ZHOU in Houston | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-09-27 10:29
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A panda statue stands at a gift shop in Kuanzhai Ancient Street in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan province. [Photo/IC]

The city of Phoenix in Arizona celebrated 34 years of its sister-city relationship with Chengdu, China, at the Mayor's International - An Evening in Chengdu. 

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, along with other city officials and business and community leaders, attended the party Saturday evening and enjoyed Chinese cuisine and cultural performances.

Chengdu Mayor Wang Fengchao joined the celebration virtually and spoke on video.

In an exclusive Zoom interview with China Daily prior to the event, Gallego said Phoenix has a deep partnership with Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China.

"We have sent young people back and forth. We do business across the communities. When you come to Phoenix, in our big park, one of the first and most beloved things you see is a gift from the people of Chengdu to Phoenix, which is a giant panda," Gallego said. 

Through the sister-city connection, Phoenix and Chengdu have built ties by sending youth ambassadors to each other, by competitions between sports teams, and by sharing artwork between artists. 

"We want to recognize our long-standing relationship with Chengdu and celebrate our work together. We want to make sure that people in Phoenix know about our strong Chinese American community here," Gallego said of the event.

The city really appreciates the partnership, Gallego said. "We have been there for each other in good times and bad times. After the [2008] earthquake in Chengdu, we raised $200,000 to build the kindergarten that was destroyed, and we sent a Phoenix delegation to support that when it was reopened in 2011 to help dedicate the school. So, that has been a wonderful partnership."

Beyond Chengdu, Phoenix enjoys business ties with China in general. China is the third-largest trading partner of Arizona as well as of Phoenix. China is the state's and the city's second-largest import market and third-largest export market, said Eric Toll, communication manager at Phoenix Community and Economic Development. 

Chinese investments also have gone to Phoenix. Data from the Maricopa Association of Governments shows that Chinese businesses own 18 companies based in Phoenix, with nearly 1,000 employees, according to Toll.

"Some of the taller hotels in downtown were built with investment from Chinese. It really changed the skyline of Phoenix with that investment partnership," Gallego said. 

Some Chinese companies are currently looking at possibilities of investing in Phoenix. "We offer a very warm welcome and we can really help any unique need whether it's a startup or a large company. If you are looking for a North American outpost, I think a Chinese company will succeed in Phoenix," she said. 

"Even the name of our city, Phoenix, is after the mythical bird that rose. I believe it's a sign of prosperity, and I hope Chinese companies will feel the same way," Gallego added.

The Arizona State University (ASU) campus in Phoenix also has strong ties with China, the mayor said. "We have more than 3,000 students attending ASU, and 9,000 ASU alumni from China."

ASU has various academic and educational programs in collaboration with China's Sichuan University, Soochow University, Shanghai National Accounting Institute and Beijing Normal University.

Gallego visited China a few years ago when there was a total eclipse in China, because she loves astronomy. Her fondest memory of that trip was seeing baby pandas. 

"A baby panda had been just born in Chengdu; that was really wonderful to see. I am a mother of a 4-year-old, and he just loves pandas right now. When I have pictures that can say that I was able to see them, he's really a bit jealous of mom. The first place he very much would like to go would be the panda sanctuary," Gallego said.  

Gallego became one of the youngest mayors among the US' top 10 cities in 2019, after serving on the Phoenix City Council since 2013. When the pandemic is under control and normalcy resumes, "I would like very much to do a delegation [to China]," she said.

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