By Zedeck Siew

If you’ve looked around Brickfields recently, you’ll have noticed the all the cosmetic work: decorative arches, snazzy lampposts, enlarged sidewalks, a pastel-purple paintjob on everything. The new Brickfields is being rushed — workmen are up painting them arches until 11pm — for the Indian PM Manmohan Singh’s official visit to KL come 27 Oct.

The Indian premier is here for several reasons. He will, of course, be launching the new Brickfields: “Little India”, an RM35 million upgrade project — from Jalan Travers to Jalan Tun Sambanthan — that includes road expansion, new business spaces, and the tallest fountain in Malaysia, standing at 7.62 metres. (Ejacultastic!) He is also set to officiate the sister-city status of Chennai and Kuala Lumpur.

This second bit got us a little curious. Once the relevant official documents are signed, or whatever, KL will be Chennai’s 6th sister-city, while Chennai will be KL’s 16th.

Er, what in the world are sister cities? What are they good for? And we’ve got 16 of those things? What sorta benefits do KL’s sistahs give us, if any? Here’s a handy Cheat Sheet, if you’re wondering:

  • “Sister cities” is one of a number of terms — also “twin towns”, “brother cities”, “partner towns”, “friendship towns”, all very fraternal — used to describe cooperative agreements between cities or provinces in geographically and politically distinct areas.
  • The earliest sister-city pair recorded was between Paderborn, Germany, and Le Mans, France, in 836.
  • Among KL’s sister cities are: Delhi, Isfahan, Mashad, Ankara, Berlin, New York, London, Malacca, Dubai, Casablanca, Osaka.
  • Sister-city schemes are ostensibly to promote economic ties. While formalising the KL-Chennai sister-city agreement, Manmohan is also set to announce the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), a free trade pact that will aim to enhance the USD7.1 billion (RM22 billion) trade between Malaysia and India.
  • They are also apparently good for culture. In explaining why Delhi has so many sister cities, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said: “There will be frequent exchanges of cultural troupes between Delhi and its sister cities. This will afford greater exposure to our artistes. Besides, the food, art and crafts of Delhi will be showcased on a global platform.”
  • The forging (or not) of such ties can make for formidable political statements, as seen in the controversy around ties between the Israeli town of Rosh Ha’ayin and Dachau, Germany; or the declaration of Istanbul and Gaza as sister cities — the latter came with a condemnation of Israeli attacks on the Gaza peace flotilla.
  • It’s an open question whether these schemes actually make much of a difference. Sure, politicians get to go on junkets to far-flung cities. But look around: what do we actually know about Ankara? Does KL have any particular special trade agreements with Casablanca?

That’s all I’ve been able to find out about the topic, so far. Know anything I don’t? Leave a comment, ya?

Bonus fact: Manmohan Singh’s slated visit is not without controversy; Malaysia Consumer Advisory Association’s M Varatharajoo styled the Indian PM a “traitor”, apparently because the Indian government had played a role in the killings of 80,000 ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka in 2009.

(Photo from http://abhinavj.wordpress.com/)

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