China and India appear to be strengthening bilateral ties through a series of soft power initiatives. The world's two most populous nations have recently engaged in cross-border exchanges designed to generate goodwill, with the primary focus of connecting Kunming and the Indian city of Kolkata.
This week The Times of India reported representatives from both cities discussed establishing sister city relations. Yunnan vice-governor Gao Shuxun (高树勋) broached the subject with West Bengal Sports Minister Madan Mitra.
The two met March 6 in Kunming to mark the end of another goodwill event — the 2013 Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Road Rally (2013 BCIM). The 3,000-kilometer race, which began this year on February 22 in Kolkata, had its inaugural run in 2008. Not coincidentally, that same year marked the first time Kunming and Kolkata discussed a sister city partnership.
Relations between China and India have had high points since then, such as when the two countries held joint military drills in 2011. However, the two have also been unable to agree on rebuilding the World War II era Stilwell Road and border disputes have, in the past, led to the cancellation of cooperative military exercises as well as the BCIM race.
Despite the recent warming of relations, establishing city ties is by no means guaranteed. According to The Times of India report, India has no formal policy regarding such relationships and all proposals must first be approved by officials in New Delhi. Nevertheless, Chinese administrators appear hopeful. Lü Tianyun (吕天云), director of the Kunming Office of Foreign Affaris, was quoted as saying:
Sister city status allows us to better economic and cultural ties beyond the constraints of the federal or national government. From training of civil servants to sharing of best practices in civic management to cooperation in healthcare and investment in city-specific projects, there is tremendous scope for exchange between the two cities.
Relatively small bilateral cooperation such as the BCIM rally and subsequent sister city discussions may be connected to the upcoming China-South Asia Expo. The trade and cultural exchange expo will be held in Kunming from June 6-10. It aims at expanding trade and improving economic ties between China and neighboring countries while positioning Yunnan as a "South Asia Gateway" for the rest of China.
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