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Winnipeg looks at severing ties with sister city in China over human rights concerns

City councilors are considering splitting ties with Winnipeg’s sister city in China over concerns about human rights abuses in that country.

Winnipeg has been in a sister city relationship with Chengdu, China, since 1988.

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But a motion brought forward by Transona Coun. Russ Wyatt calls for an end to the relationship, citing a number of issues, including the Chinese government’s actions against the Uyghur people and other Turkic Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China.

“There is a growing recognition in western liberal democracies that existing foreign policy focused on engagement with China has largely failed and that the time has come to pursue a policy of “decoupling”,” reads Wyatt’s motion, which was seconded by St. James Coun. Shawn Dobson.

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“Continuing a Sister City relationship with Chengdu, in light of China’s human rights abuses, is morally untenable for the City of Winnipeg and is no longer reflective of modern foreign policy realities or domestic economic demands.”

Winnipeg currently has 11 sister cities around the world, including Taichung, Taiwan, and the motion also points to a “direct threat” posed to that city by China’s official state policy of “unification” with Taiwan.

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The motion also mentions China’s “unlawful and retaliatory detention of Canadian citizens Michael Solvig and Michael Spavor” for nearly three years and allegations China interfered in Canada’s 2019 federal elections.

“Continuing a Sister City relationship with Chengdu risks the City of Winnipeg’s implicit endorsement or ignorance of China’s human rights abuses and reflects an improper prioritization of domestic interests,” the motion reads.

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The move to look at decoupling with Chengdu comes after Canadian lawmakers voted to support a motion formally recognizing China’s treatment of its ethnic Muslim Uyghur population as a genocide last February.

Wyatt’s motion is scheduled to come before councillors on the mayor’s executive policy committee Jan. 17.

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Winnipeg’s sister city status with Chengdu was cemented in 1988 when a delegation of city officials were sent from Winnipeg to participate in the twinning with Chengdu. As part of the relationship, an exchange was made — Winnipeg sent a pair of polar bear cubs to Chengdu in exchange for a pair of giant pandas.

The relationship was last renewed in 2018.

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