The Chinatown Friendship Gate is pictured in Philadelphia, the United States, March 13, 2019. The amazing similarities in port, science and cultural diversity have helped fostering 40 years of sisterhood between the Chinese coastal city of Tianjin and the U.S. eastern city of Philadelphia. (Xinhua/Li Muzi)
by Xinhua writer Xu Xiaolei
NEW YORK, March 17 (Xinhua) -- The amazing similarities in port, science and cultural diversity have helped fostering 40 years of sisterhood between the Chinese coastal city of Tianjin and the U.S. eastern city of Philadelphia.
"We are one of the firsts. We honor it. We want to do it well," said Samuel K. Chueh, director of international business at Philadelphia Department of Commerce, noting that his city is fully devoted to its Chinese "sister" Tianjin.
Philadelphia became one of the first U.S. cities to initiate a sister cities relationship with a Chinese city in December of 1979, after the two countries established diplomatic ties in the same year.
In the years to come, the sisterhood between the two port cities has produced mutual benefits in a wide range of fields, including education, commerce and culture.
"Tianjin to Beijing is like Philadelphia to New York," Chueh said, adding that both cities enjoy an abundance of cultural diversity.
"We just learned that Tianjin is upgrading its port and we are upgrading our port. Tianjin is developing their life science industry, and we are so good at life science," Chueh said.
Philadelphia has the largest temperature-control port along the east coast of the United States, he said, "so we do have our advantage and the sister city relationship can help us better understand our friends in China and see how we can find more connectivity."
Chueh said he hoped that Philadelphia and Tianjin will set up direct shipping route in the future.
He said that Philadelphia also plays a leading role in life science, with the presence of about 80 percent of the world's pharmaceutical companies. "Otherwise, they would be left behind. "
Next to Johnson and Johnson and GSK, many Chinese pharmaceutical companies have offices in Philadelphia, he said.
According to Brookings Institution, from 2010 to 2016, the foreign direct investment to Philadelphia from China in biotech industry is five times higher than that of Boston, which is home to Harvard and MIT.
In June, Tianjin is sending delegations to attend the BIO International Convention in Philadelphia, which excels in life science and looks forward to more collaborations with Tianjin.
"We are working very closely with China and see how we can support the life science development in China, " Chueh said.
Besides port and life science, Philadelphia has more to offer.
Siobhan Lyons, president and CEO of Citizen Diplomacy International (CDI) pointed to the city's advantage in accessibility, cost-effectiveness and educated workforce.
"We're close to New York and D.C.... If you travel, you can reach 70 percent of the U.S. population within one day," she said. "We are one of the cheapest cities in the United States -- 25 percent cheaper than any other city on the east coast."
"We have an incredibly educated workforce because... We have more university students -- about half a million -- than any other city in the United States," she added.
In 1998, a Sister City Scholarship was established to allow Tianjin high school graduates to study at Drexel University. Over the years, it has expanded to also include La Salle University, Moore College of Art and Design, and Temple University.
Yang Mu, the first recipient of the scholarship, pursued a degree in computer science and graduated second in her class. She later went to Temple Law School and is now an intellectual property lawyer at a local firm.
In addition, the sister city exchanges include a year-long "internship" with Philadelphia's finance department by a vice mayor from Tianjin, according to CDI, which runs the sister city program.
The cultural exchanges between the two cities are also expanding. In May, Philadelphia Orchestra, the first U.S. orchestra to perform in China in 1973, is returning to China for the 11th time to play for audiences in multiple cities, including Tianjin.
Philadelphia also boasts a strong Chinese community, which proudly has the "only authentic Friendship Gate" in the United States, as Nancy Gilboy, Lyons' predecessor, put it.
The landmark gate in Chinatown, a symbol of Chinese traditional architecture, was a gift from Tianjin, which sent the materials and artisans to build it in 1983.
In 2008, Gilboy oversaw a project to repair and repaint it. She fondly recalled all the trouble she went through to acquire the material the artisans needed to make the special paint.
Before she retired about three years ago, Gilboy had traveled to Tianjin three times. Each time returning, she was amazed at how fast the city had changed.
Lyons and Chueh shared her sentiment. In a 2017 trip to Tianjin, they were shown to a museum demonstrating the city's vision for its future.
"They have these amazing models of the city and showing how it's growing... We got the overview from these little, tiny models," Lyons said.
She went on to exclaim: "The Chinese government is now making all these plans. Even in the short time we were there, you could see things being built... It was so incredibly impressive!"