Brownsvilles bond with Chinese city raises questions Sister city: Citizens air complaints about Chinas human rights record. - Brownsville Herald: Local News

default avatar
Welcome to the site! Login or Signup below.
|
||
Logout|My Dashboard

Brownsvilles bond with Chinese city raises questions Sister city: Citizens air complaints about Chinas human rights record.

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2001 12:00 am

By Daniel Borunda

The Brownsville Herald

Even as a Brownsville city commissioner visits China this week, human rights

and the sisterhood of cities in both countries is under scrutiny.

The idea is noble: Two different communities, separated by miles and culture,

collaborate as sister cities, fostering economic development and cultural

understanding.

But some people question whether human rights take a back seat.

Hundreds of U.S. cities have foreign sister cities, those with counterparts in

China a country criticized for human rights conditions are drawing the

most intense scrutiny.

Brownsville City Commissioner Joseph A. Zavaletta is in Beijing today as a

part of a Port of Brownsville trade delegation. The City Commission recently

approved a resolution to name Shenzhen, China, a sister city.

Shenzhen is also listed as a sister city to Houston, which has the busiest

port in Texas, stated Sister Cities International. Cities can have more than

one sister.

Groups like Amnesty International say everyone doing business with China, even

local politicians and businessmen, should use their access to address human

rights concerns. Some U.S. city officials say thats best left to the federal

government.

The federal government knows far better than us in terms of the grand scale

of things as far as human rights, said Larry Brown, Brownsville Acting

Assistant City Manager.

After the Erie Times-News reported last week that Eries sister city, Zibo, is

home to as many as four forced labor camps, officials in that Pennsylvania

city are debating how or if to address that.

Justin Coleman, who administers the program, said Erie doesnt advocate such

camps, but no one thought it was Eries place to denounce Zibo for its human

rights record.

That was the responsibility of the State Department.

The sister-city relationship is not really a political one, he said. It is

more of a people-to-people relationship.

Erie isnt alone in avoiding the issue.

Ann Erdman, a spokeswoman for Pasadena, Calif., said that when it became a

sister city with the Xiching District of Beijing several years ago, some

council members and residents wrangled over whether to form the relationship

at all because of Chinas human rights record.

But no one has raised the question since.

The cities relationship is mostly cultural and hasnt produced any business

partnerships.

At this point, its really been hands across the water, Erdman said.

Chinas human rights record was the topic of a few complaints about

Zavalettas trip aired by Brownsville residents.

Mulugetta Birru, who runs Pittsburghs sister city program, including its

partnership with Wuhan, said Chinas human rights conditions are a federal

diplomatic matter, not a local one.

But Rick Halperin, a project coordinator with Amnesty International, said

sister cities should use their access to foreign leaders to discuss human

rights.

It is fair for jurisdictions be they town councils, cities or states to

raise the issue and visibility of human rights as a major concern, he said,

adding that hes not sure thats being done as much as it could.

Economic development and economic gain have sadly taken priority over the

issues of human rights and that is just wrong, Halperin said. The two are

linked.

When Lansing, Mich., paired with Sanming, China, in October 1997, Mayor David

Hollister wrote to Sanming officials and Chinas U.S. ambassador about Chinas

record.

We dont want to pretend that it isnt an issue, Hollister said. We were

not going to formalize the relationship unless we registered our concern about

human rights.

Lansing doesnt have a significant business interest in Sanming, Hollister

said, explaining that its been largely educational and cultural.

He said student exchanges let foreign students see the American way of life

and that affects Chinese culture gradually.

Willard Workman, the senior vice president for international affairs at the

U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said businesses are concerned with human rights

abroad but believes business relationships themselves promote progress.

How workers are treated, he said, is very much our business because were

the ones training them and paying them.

The chamber has no formal partnership with Washington, D.C.-based Sister

Cities International, a nonprofit group formed in 1967 which grew out of

post-World War II efforts to rebuild Europe.

The groups executive director Tim Honey said its inappropriate for the

national organization to take official political stands on human rights

conditions or economic justice issues although individual cities might.

But he feels its better to engage cities rather than isolate them and is

unaware of any U.S. city severing sister city ties over human rights.

Brownsville City Commissioner Ernie Hernandez expressed similar views.

All countries have been pretty barbaric at some time, even the United States.

China is evolving, Hernandez said, adding sister city relationships could

help spur change.

And sometimes foreign cities object to what they consider to be human rights

abuses in the United States, said Amnesty Internationals Halperin.

In June, Halperin spoke to the city council in Reggio Emilia, Italy, the

sister city of Fort Worth, about death penalty executions in Texas.

Theyre very fervently anti-death penalty and are very torn over what to do,

he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow us on Facebook

Pet Central

pets

Having a pet is a lot of responsibility, and we’ll help by giving you lots of tips and tricks! More >>

Fitness

Fitness

Our fitness articles will help teach you how to work out with gym- and home-based exercises. More >>

Crosswords

Crosswords

Enjoy the crosswords challenge in our free daily puzzles, from the harder Sunday crossword to the quicker daily. More >>

Sudoku

Sudoku

Every Sudoku has a unique solution that can be reached logically. Enter numbers into the blank spaces so that each row, column and 3x3 box contains the numbers 1 to 9. More >>




Online Features

Pet Central

pets

Having a pet is a lot of responsibility, and we’ll help by giving you lots of tips and tricks! More >>

Fitness

Fitness

Our fitness articles will help teach you how to work out with gym- and home-based exercises. More >>

Crosswords

Crosswords

Enjoy the crosswords challenge in our free daily puzzles, from the harder Sunday crossword to the quicker daily. More >>

Sudoku

Sudoku

Every Sudoku has a unique solution that can be reached logically. Enter numbers into the blank spaces so that each row, column and 3x3 box contains the numbers 1 to 9. More >>