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February 8, 2010

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Enlightenment for the future

AS Shanghai plays host to World Expo 2010, the eyes of the world will be focused on this great city. Such publicity will give Dunedin, New Zealand, particular pleasure.

For the past 15 years and more, Dunedin has enjoyed the special pleasures and privileges which accompany our sister city relationship with Shanghai.

We are proud of our sister-city status, and because of it, we are the envy of every other New Zealand city.

As with any such relationship, we look to our "big sister" for guidance and wisdom and in return we are aware of the affection you have for your "little sister."

"Little" barely describes the nature of Dunedin when compared with Shanghai: Only 120,000 people live here in New Zealand's biggest city by area, but each and every one of those people is grateful to be nurtured and supported by a "big sister" so understanding of our place in your history and, more importantly, yours in ours.

Recently our burgeoning relationship has been brought into sharper focus as Dunedin sought to build a lasting reminder to those settlers of Chinese descent who arrived in New Zealand as part of the discovery of gold in the latter half of the 19th century.

Many of those early settlers stayed on in Dunedin long after the gold ran out, and they became an important part of Dunedin's former, pre-eminent position as New Zealand's commercial capital.

The families of many of those Chinese pioneers still live and work here and have become highly respected members of our community. My own family arrived here from China before my birth and I am proudly bi-cultural.

With widespread support, our city embarked on the creation of an authentic Chinese Scholar's Garden built in the very heart of Dunedin to recognize Dunedin's Chinese heritage.

The project highlighted all that is good and worthwhile about our sister-city link. Wholehearted support and professional guidance from Shanghai, and top-level endorsement from New Zealand's government of the day, led by Prime Minister Helen Clark, became hallmarks of the project's successful completion.

The garden, which has now been open just over a year, is a daily reminder of our strong links, through Shanghai, of another exciting cultural thread in the rich tapestry of Dunedin's short history.

The theme of the World Expo 2010 Shanghai, "Better City, Better Life," combines on the one hand the wish of every civic leader and every resident to make their communities bigger and better places to live - safer, more sustainable, free from violence and disease, hunger and famine - with the daily challenges of maintaining essential services and infrastructure with which to achieve those aspirations, both for the present and future generations.

Environment challenge

There is an increasing awareness around the world of the frailty of our planet and of the need to manage better those resources which we have hitherto so profligately taken for granted: fresh water, clean air, our use of fossil fuels.

To that end I welcome your country's commitment to a vast forestry project aimed at countering harmful industrial emissions as announced by China's Premier Wen Jiabao at the UN Summit on Climate Change 2009 in Copenhagen.

Even in a city as small as Dunedin we face the challenges of waste minimisation and recycling of household rubbish, of the treatment and disposal of sewerage, and of the threat climate change could bring to coastal communities. Dunedin has many seaside townships that are potentially threatened by sea-level increases.

World Expo 2010 will provide an opportunity for some 200 countries to gather in Shanghai and share their challenges and solutions.

Here in our city we place great store in education - learning and the sharing of knowledge is our biggest industry. Many of the thousands of students visiting Dunedin come from China, and we feel privileged that we have been entrusted with nurturing their young minds.

We have a hard-earned and jealously guarded reputation for our clean environment and our abundant natural resources of clean air and water. But we can't maintain this position in isolation.

While such isolation protects us from many of the less desirable excesses of more populated and industrialized countries, we are by no means self-sufficient and remain dependent on trading with those countries.

Shanghai, on the other hand, is a major city in a country whose culture and civilization is measured in millennia. It is swiftly coming to an understanding of the threat posed by climate change and the conditions which cause and contribute to it.

So what can we learn from one another?

We can learn from you that not all answers to life's challenges are to be found via a computer or in a laboratory test tube. The solutions to some problems rely on ancient wisdom and experience, and a willingness to consider alternative solutions - lessons we are only now beginning to appreciate from our Maori leaders - and in sharing ideas.

We can learn from you the respect you have for those whose longevity entitles them to being consulted and treated with care and understanding.

On the other hand we are young and brash. New Zealanders are still learning, still have a hunger for answers and are still on the journey to discovering our own identity.

What a potent combination these two approaches - those of Shanghai and of Dunedin - when harnessed, could be.

It is this willingness to recognize alternative views and solutions which is the most exciting ingredient of World Expo Shanghai.

During the construction of our Chinese Scholar's Garden we were guided by a vision statement which read in part that the garden "honored the past, celebrated the present, and provided enlightenment for the future."

World Expo Shanghai, too, offers that exciting prospect on a much bigger stage - a forum for a face-to-face sharing of ideas and a celebration of the human race's infinite ingenuity.

In the sisterhood of friendship, I extend my best wishes to all those whose contributions will ensure Expo's success.

Together, those contributing, and those who visit, will undoubtedly advance the event's objective: "Better City, Better Life."


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