OPINION: When China Calls, Let’s Say Yes!
WINNIPEG, MB. – It wasn’t that long ago when Winnipeg was a star on the world map, a place where new ideas radiated outward to illuminate the farthest corners of the planet. And in some ways, this is still true. People from our fair city make their mark no matter where they go and, no matter where you go, you will always find someone who has had a wonderful experience with our town or who knows someone else who has.
It is not enough to rest on our laurels, however, and there is a whole new generation of thinkers and doers who need to make a contribution.
A number of years ago, in 1988, Winnipeg reached out to Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province in China. Chengdu, population 14,427,500, is a river city and has many other things in common with Winnipeg. It is a transportation hub. Its economy has been based on agriculture and manufacturing, including machinery, automobiles, medicine, food, information technology and a small but vibrant aviation and aerospace industry.
Chengdu is a centre for arts and culture and it has taken the lead in attracting conventions to the city. It has a similar climate to that of Winnipeg, with warm summers and cold winters – well, -5 C average with little snow, but still on the chilly side.
In recent years, Chengdu has forged ahead, reaching out to its other sister cities in the world – there are 24 in total – to bring in investment and attract attention. It has been named a “benchmark city” for investment in inland China and the city has attracted no fewer than 200 Fortune 500 companies to set up shop there.
I recently learned that Chengdu has been reaching out to Winnipeg inviting us, along with other sister cities, to participate in their Chengdu International Sister Cities Youth Music Festival. The festival, which has been held each year for the past 10 years, takes place the last week in July. I have no idea where previous invitations have gone (this one is dated December 2016), but the possibilities that arise from taking advantage of this opportunity get me very excited. While it is probably too late this year, it is not too late to start thinking about next year.
The invitation letter says the festival’s stated aim is “enhancing international friendship and exchanges, and (it) offers a wonderful platform for young artists and musicians from home and abroad to show their artistic talents.” Winnipeg certainly has no lack of these kinds of talents to showcase.
While this is in itself a laudable goal, accepting the invitation would be a perfect segue to re-establishing our relationship with a city that has become an economic powerhouse in China. The relationships created though the sister city organization are sincere and rewarding in many ways. Thirty years ago, it opened the door for our town to be the first Canadian city to be honoured with a visit from the pandas. This put our zoo back on the map and paved the way for the attraction it has become today.
There are other opportunities, too. A delegation of like-minded businesses could see doors opening for them that would have taken years to open on their own, if they opened at all. I don’t know why our sister city relationship as an avenue for economic exchange was abandoned, but we should take advantage of this now.
Just as the barriers to Portage and Main should be dismantled, so should our insular thinking. We live in a big world that could be much smaller and more accessible if we opened our minds to the potential of reaching out, especially when we have international friends reaching back.
Winnipeg is the home of an important Chinese population that has brought us many rewards over the years. Now that China is open for business once again, why would we turn our back on the friendship and on the promise of increased commerce that this historic relationship offers?
Dorothy Dobbie for MyToba News