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Friendship comes before business for Chinese delegation

A delegation of officials from the Chinese city of Shangrao visited the Town of Prescott last weekend, where Shangrao's Party Secretary Chengzu Ma (front, right) was welcomed by Prescott's mayor, Brett Todd (front, left), and a host of local dignitaries

Friendship comes before business for Chinese delegation

PRESCOTT - There is still more than 6000 miles between the Town of Prescott and the City of Shangrao, but the two places seem a little bit closer now, thanks to a remarkable meeting last week that both sides hoped was the beginning of a lucrative friendship.

A six-member delegation from Shangrao, the central hub of a municipality of more than six million people located about six hours southwest of Shanghai, arrived in Prescott from Montreal in the mid-afternoon last Saturday and attended a reception at the town hall, where they met and exchanged pleasantries with not only Prescott's officials, but dignitaries and business leaders from throughout the region.

This meeting was mostly about pleasantries. Prescott's mayor and councilors have been briefed over the last several weeks as to the particulars of doing business with the Chinese, and they learned that business is seldom transacted on the first visit. Or the second, third or fourth, for that matter. The Chinese, council was told, will only submit to a business relationship once a more personal relationship - a friendship - has been established, and it would seem the friendship started out on the right foot last week.

"We are very honoured that you would come to our community," said Mayor Brett Todd at a brief council meeting that followed the formal reception.

On one side of the council table sat Prescott's six councilors. On the other, five members of the Chinese delegation were joined by interpreter Will Sheng, who sat nearest the end of the table, where Todd and party secretary Chengzu Ma exchanged official expressions of gratitude before signing a letter of intent that established an agreement in principle that the two municipalities would eventually become sister cities.

"We are moved by your sincerity," said Chengzu, through the interpreter.

Chengzu went on to talk about how Chinese children learn about Canada at a very early age and how they are taught about the exploits of Canadian physician Norman Bethune, who helped bring modern medicine to China in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

"The Chinese people have a great affection for the Canadian people," said Chengzu. "Canada has a very positive image in China."

The welcome the Chinese delegation received in Prescott should only add to that affection. The formal reception gave the Canadians and Chinese a chance to mingle and learn more about one another, all while enjoying a delicious spread of Chinese food put on by George Jin of Prescott's Wok House restaurant. And to wash it all down, there was a traditional Chinese tea service provided by Susan Peters of Prescott's Adelaine's Tea Room, which is located in the new LUXE Boutiques complex.

There were also a great many local dignitaries. Not only was all of Prescott town council in attendance, so too were the mayors of Edwardsburgh-Cardinal, Pat Sayeau; Augusta Township, Doug Malanka; North Grenville, David Gordon and Front of Yonge, Roger Haley. Todd also welcomed to Prescott the mayor of Cornwall, Leslie O'Shaughnessy, and Peter Emon, chair of the Eastern Ontario Mayors Caucus.

Everyone in attendance hoped that this initial meeting would be the start of a fruitful and prosperous relationship between the two municipalities. Chengzu pointed out that while first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai come first to one's mind when the topic turns to China, it is smaller cities, such as Shangrao, that have developed most rapidly in recent years.

It is anticipated that if the relationship flourishes and a sister cities agreement is signed, Prescott may benefit from not only a cultural exchange but also from tourism and direct investment in the local economy.

It will take time, though, before negotiations advance that far, but this entire process has been a long one, having started back in 2011, when Todd first discussed the idea with Shawn Connors, a local resident who works with Ottawa-based Ercel Baker Inc., a consulting company that specializes in China-Canada relations. Connors, along with Ercel Baker himself, made a presentation to Prescott Town Council several weeks ago, during which they apprised town officials just how to put their best foot forward. Connors was also on hand for the meeting on the weekend.

The next step is likely a visit to Shangrao by officials from Prescott. A relationship of an order that might foster worthwhile business ties will require that Prescott put in as much effort as Shangrao did in coming here to visit, and Chengzu, for one, is looking forward to playing host.

"We sincerely hope that Prescott can form a delegation to visit Shangrao," he said.

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