“Sister Cities” leave me underwhelmed. It seems as if every city, state or province has several - and yet one rarely sees anything come out of them. They seem to be negotiated when some member of a city council has a link to the other city or province. Such relationships are usually touted for their potential to create business ties between the two parties, yet such business rarely materializes. Some are more honest, hyping the opportunities for two-way cultural enrichment. Still, I have never seen one so upfront as to say it builds opportunities for boondoggles by local politicians.
There are exceptions to my cynical stance. Europeans tend to take this sister thing more seriously than do Americans and I have seen much activity within Europe between their “twinned cities”. Asians, too, seem to take this more seriously than their U.S. counterparts. And I have seen a few sister relationships that have actually benefitted the U.S. partner.
I once helped negotiate a “sister island” relationship between Hawaii’s island of Oahu (home to Honolulu) and China’s Hainan island. Hainan was looking to build a tourism industry and wanted Hawaii’s expertise. Hawaii firms wanted to sell architectural know-how for resorts and resort management expertise. The sister island agreement may have helped create a good atmosphere for doing that.
There was an immediate surprising benefit. Hainan is home to an immense pineapple industry – a business with which Hawaii has much experience. Hainan’s initial delegation to visit Oahu under the sister island agreement included executives and engineers from the pineapple fields. We took them to visit the old Dole pineapple cannery in Honolulu’s Iwilei district (this gives a hint about how long ago this was). The managers and engineers expected to be bored, assuming they knew everything about pineapple canning. Their stunned faces were priceless when they saw the Ginacca machines.
Invented by Henry Ginacca in 1911 when he was an engineer at Dole, the Ginacca machine remains the gold standard for peeling and coring a pineapple, and putting it straight into a can. The Chinese knew all about Ginacca machines, but had groused that the machines they had on Hainan weren’t working very well. When they saw Dole’s version, the penny dropped. The Ginaccas on Hainan were counterfeits, made from inferior materials to inferior designs. No wonder they didn’t work! We then took them to the factory where real Ginacca machines were made. Orders from Hainan soon followed.
I am hopeful about the potential for a new sister agreement signed this week between the state of Hawaii and Indonesia’s fabled island of Bali. Common interests abound in tourism and agriculture is similar. Of course, that makes them competitors, too. The glue that will make this agreement work, though, is cooperation between Indonesia’s military and Hawaii’s National Guard that has grown for several years. Hawaii and Indonesia not only share tourism and agriculture interests, but both face volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. This means the two militaries want to train together to build disaster response capabilities. It may not be long before we see Hawaii troops helping out in Indonesia – or vice versa. Indonesia’s military is also experienced in United Nations peacekeeping, something that the Hawaii National Guard would like to learn about – and eventually take part in should Washington allow. We’ll see if this new “sister” agreement produces something, but it has a good foundation.