— Just as Mankato Mayor Eric Anderson started to sign a sister-city agreement with Tongxiang, China, bombastic music blared from the speakers.
The triumphant signing ceremony was one of several moments during the trip where Anderson felt out of place as a mayor of a small Minnesota city rubbing elbows with some of China’s elite.
There was lavish food — like bird nest soup, held together with the saliva of swallows — and thoughtful gifts, such as a cashmere scarf, chrysanthemum tea and old coins.
And when he was given a ride to the airport, he got a police escort.
“I want to convey how extraordinarily gracious everyone was,” he said.
But all the hospitality didn’t come with strings attached, Anderson said. The early December trip was a trust-building exercise, an important part of deal-making in China.
Anderson signed sister-city agreements with two cities: Tongxiang and Yongcheng.
So what do Mankato’s newest sister cities look like? They’re much bigger, to start; each has more than 1 million people.
They are growing quickly, Anderson said, but both have vestiges of their past, including poor infrastructure and parts of town that look more like rustic villages.
“They’re looking to get these guys opened up to the rest of the world. That’s what this is really about,” Anderson said.
The sister-city agreements, identical with each city, are vague.
Both cities pledge to “actively study the feasibility of the enterprises of both sides to cooperate.”
It also reads: “Each side will organize visits to the other side regularly.”
But while Anderson hopes the next step is that Chinese leaders will visit America, he said the deal doesn’t commit the city to anything, including more travel. The city paid for Anderson’s plane ticket.
The impetus behind the trip — and likely the driving force behind any deal-making that would result — is Chinese businessman Changdong Xu (pronounced “shoe”).
“The truth is, that’s pretty much all I saw, was respect and reverence being conveyed to him. He’s a man of high esteem in China and in the business community in China,” Anderson said.
What these deals will look like is still unclear.
A deal to train Chinese helicopter pilots at Minnesota State University, which fell apart sometime in 2011, is still a possibility, Anderson said.
“It’s not dead,” he said.
The delegation visited the Jade Buddha Palace in northern China, and MSU may be part of a deal involving these artifacts. The school was also interested in deals with colleges, such as Yongcheng Vocational College, though Anderson isn’t familiar with those details.