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Published: Wednesday, 5/25/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

CHINA CONNECTION

Sister city closes streets to greet Mayor Bell

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Zhang Guoqiang, director of Qinhuangdao's Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, walks with Toledo Mayor Mike Bell through Qinhuangdao. Zhang Guoqiang, director of Qinhuangdao's Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, walks with Toledo Mayor Mike Bell through Qinhuangdao.
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QINHUANGDAO, China -- Toledo's friendship in China with this coastal city, well known as the country's summer capital, can lead to new business, new enterprise, and a better tax base, but it can also lead to hangovers.

That's just the way business is sealed in China: first with a formal meeting and then ending with the bond of friendship, even family, over drinks. And the food is never-ending and constantly spinning around the table.

Mayor Mike Bell was in the thick of it all here Tuesday as the honored guest of a city that closed off streets for his arrival by bus from Beijing, provided two police escorts, and gave him a guided tour of the starting point of the Great Wall of China near the Yellow Sea.

Mr. Bell was initially thought to be the first mayor to visit the city after the sister-city relationship was established 26 years ago. But Donna Owens, former mayor of Toledo, first led a trade mission of 13 people in the 1980s, which resulted in the sister-city relationship.

Qinhuangdao Mayor Zhu Haowen greeted Mr. Bell during a formal meeting and lunch at the Qinhuangdao Grand Hotel, which is surrounded by skyscrapers, busy streets, and construction cranes in the distance. They are a common example of China's explosive growth in many metropolitan areas. With nearly 3 million people, Qinhuangdao dwarfs its sister city in Ohio.

"We feel very pleased to have the mayor of our sister city," Mr. Zhu said. "It is over these past 26 years that we have had the exchange of top leaders, including many students to the University of Toledo and doctors. ... I think through your visit, we will deepen our friendship."

Mr. Zhu, who speaks English but used a translator, said he wants Qinhuangdao to learn more about Toledo's history of making glass and attempts to promote green-energy businesses.

Mr. Bell seemed overwhelmed by the welcome deserving of a head of state.

"Coming to this city, it was so amazing how much growth there has been and how pretty it is," Mayor Bell said. "It is very, very important we at least get this first ability to talk."

Mr. Bell said he would return to Qinhuangdao in September, when he is set to travel to Japan on city business.

As Toledo is near the much-larger Detroit, Qinhuangdao is a three-hour drive from Beijing. It is famed for its natural and historical scenic attractions, but also known for its reception of high-ranking Chinese leaders who want to escape the heat and find a cool place during the summer months, said Zhang Guoqiang, director of Qinhuangdao's Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office.

"This is a win-win for you and for us," Mr. Zhang said after the mayor's visit Tuesday to the Qinhuangdao Economic and Technological Development Zone. "Your mayor is trying to improve your city, and we can help by also helping ourselves."

Toledo has 10 sister cities in all, with the most recent being a agreement this year with a delegation from Hyderabad, Pakistan.

The first sister city was Toledo, Spain, in 1931. It was a relationship disrupted by the Spanish Civil War and then World War II, but rekindled especially from the late 1950s onward by a group now called the Association of Two Toledos. The next sister-city agreement came in 1985, with Qinhuangdao. Szeged, Hungary, followed in 1990, Poznan, Poland, in 1991, the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, in 1998, Toyohashi, Japan, in 2000, Tanga, Tanzania, in 2001, and Delmenhorst, Germany, in 2002. Last year, Coimbatore, India, became a sister city.

Mr. Bell, along with Dean Monske and University of Toledo professor Yueh-Ting Lee, were introduced in China to the president of the Qinhuangdao's only solar panel company, Rayking Solar.

Its president, Zhao Guo Yang, asked Mr. Monske and Mr. Bell for help to crack into the American market to sell its products.

After the meetings, the real relationship building began.

Toasting is woven into the fabric of business and Mr. Bell was not excluded. Mr. Zhang, the dinner host, toasted Mr. Bell throughout the night.

Mr. Zhang raised a glass of clear 106-proof alcohol and the food kept coming all night, finally ending the celebratory welcome for Mr. Bell.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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