Representatives from China and the United States meet here Wednesday to explore ways to further mayors cooperation as well as celebrate 40 years of diplomatic ties between the two nations.

Themed “40 Years Ahead: Stronger Friendship, Closer Cooperation,” the U.S.- China Sister Cities Mayors’ Summit has gathered some 200 representatives from dozens of Chinese and U.S. cities and provinces to discuss topics such as innovation and smart cities, Maritime Silk Road, metroplex collaboration and Sino-foreign education exchanges.

At the opening ceremony, Xie Yuan, Vice President of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), stressed the importance of developing people-to-people and sub-national relationship between China and the United States.

“Amity between people holds the key to sound relations between states, and the amity between people lies in mutual understanding. Mutual understanding and friendship of the people serves as the basis and guarantee for consolidating and developing China-U.S. relations,” he said.

Since the establishment of diplomatic ties 40 years ago, he said the people-to-people exchanges between China and the United States have flourished with the expansion of exchanges in many fields, and among them, sub-national government exchanges and cooperation are regarded as highlights.

He said till now, China and the United States have built 227 pairs of sister cities and 50 pairs of sister provinces and states. “The growing number of friendship cities between the two countries has provided an effective channel for local governments to carry out multilevel and diversified cooperation.”

The complementarity and concerted cooperation between the friendship cities has effectively promoted regional economic and social development and deepened the understanding and friendship between the people, he noted.

Ron Nirenberg, chair of Sister Cities International (SCI), for his part, said the summit is an “important moment” for the relations between the United States and China, as 2019 marks the 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

He said through this summit, participants are to highlight the success of the relationship and start a path toward even stronger cooperation between the two nations.

He invited government officials, business leaders and community leaders to share their expertise, experience and dedication, as they all “will have a positive impact on our bilateral relations.”

In addition, Nirenberg, also the mayor of San Antonio of Texas, said in the past 40 years hundreds of pairs of sister city relationships have been forged between the United States and China, and “countless personal relationships have also blossomed.”

He expressed his hope that the summit will help strengthen economic and cultural ties, and grow local developments and meet their needs across the United States and China.

Co-sponsored by the CPAFFC and SCI, the one-day summit features panel discussions, keynote addresses, case studies as well as a multimedia exhibit of more than 300 historic photos to commemorate the 40th anniversary of China-U.S. diplomatic ties. Three previous summits were held; 2014 in Washington D.C., 2015 in Chicago and 2016 in Nanchang, China.

The event is part of the three-day Sister Cities International Annual Conference held in Houston, the fourth largest city of the United States on July 17-19.

The establishment of sister city relationship between China and the United States started soon after the two countries established their diplomatic ties in 1979, when central China’s Hubei Province and the U.S. State of Ohio, and eastern China’s Nanjing city and the U.S. city of St. Louis, forged sister relationships.

Forty years on, bilateral sister city relationship has grown and flourished, and now the two countries enjoy 277 pairs of sister relationship at different levels, and the momentum is still going strong.