Leeds is celebrating 21 years with Hangzhou
During April 2010 Leeds celebrates 21 years of partnership with the city of Hangzhou, in Zhejiang province.
The city link aims for co-operation in the fields of business, education and culture.
But the link with Hangzhou is just one part of a much larger number of official overseas links.
The first city to 'twin' with Leeds was Lille, in France, back in 1968.
Links with Dortmund, Germany, came next year.
Karen Murgatroyd, from Leeds City Council's International Relations office, explains how the movement began.
Lille was the first of Leeds' partners in 1968
"It started after World War Two, there was a move towards twinning mainly with places in France and Germany. It was on the basis of peace, the idea being that if you were friends you were less likely to go to war again."
Although the relationship started in 1968 the Lille links really do go back even earlier, to the 1940/50s.
School links started with France through pupils writing to pen pals in Lille and that gradually developed into a city relationship.
Incidentally, although it is a traditional term, the council tends not to use the word 'twinning'.
Karen explains, "It's thought to be a bit twee and conjures up the idea of junkets. It is not a junket it is a strategic idea."
Brno, Czech Republic
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Durban, South Africa
Indeed during the 1990s the idea of partnership took a more strategic approach. As eastern European countries started to look to the EU, and there was funding available to help links. So new opportunities for partnership arose.
That is why, although the cities are not in the official list of eight, there are also strategic partnerships between Leeds and such as Brasov (Romania) and Nis (Serbia) amongst others. The links highlight an increase in business opportunities in the region.
A global dimension
Indeed the advocates of partnership claim that a lot of it is about economic arguments.
Karen suggests four main objectives for partnership:
1. Cultural opportunities
2. Trade and investment
3. Sharing best practice
4. International relationships
"It is not just about swapping dance troupes, for instance we involve schools in the exchanges so it is a benefit to our students and adds a global dimension to their studies.
"We share best practice, for instance about recycling. Also Leeds wants to be a World Cup host city for the 2018 bid, well Dortmund has hosted a World Cup game and Durban is just about to do so in 2010, using their experience is a solid learning opportunity."
Recently Leeds primary school children from eight schools have been in Lille, using British Council funding. The trip helped Leeds to be ahead of curriculum changes, due next year, about teaching a foreign language.
Nelson Mandela onstage in Leeds in 2001
So there might be more to 'twinning' than at first glance, but for Karen there is one highlight that really stands out.
"It has to be the visit of Nelson Mandela, our relationship with Durban was instrumental in getting Nelson Mandela to visit Leeds, his appearance was directly as a result."
Currently there is no official desire to add another city to the formal list. Nor is there any arrangements for divorce with partnership cities.
However relationships can definitely be put on ice. As the city of Hangzhou found out after the killings in Tiananmen Square, in the centre of Beijing in 1989, lead to a cooling of relationships. Leeds has only recently started to work with Hangzhou again, mainly with the chance to increase business opportunities.
Righting the wrongs
So politics play a part in the links.
"Politics was directly behind the Leeds links with Durban. So many local councillors had been involved in the anti-apartheid movement. They said 'we want to help right the wrongs' and our city links were part of that."
The new kid on the block is the arrangement with Louisville (2006).
The relationship started not with the council but because of the links between the University of Leeds and Louisville's institution. There were also links developed between the Royal Armouries and Frazier Museum in Louisville. Formal links started in 2005 with a signed memo of understanding between Leeds Chamber of Commerce and its counterpart.
Not everybody is happy with the thought of all of Leeds' partnerships.
"Criticism still happens, Leeds City Council constantly make the argument in favour of partnerships. We want to make Leeds an international city and this is part of it.
"Obviously it is very easy to attack us over our overseas links but we really do apply the lessons of partnership in many ways."
What do you think?
We would like to hear your experiences, or thoughts, on Leeds' international relationships.
Maybe you know a writer of a post-war pen pal letter to Lille?
A Flavour of China
The Lord Mayor of Leeds is hosting this charity fundraising event at Headingley Stadium on Tuesday, 27 April 2010 from 6pm.
The event include an evening of entertainment and celebration of Leeds' connections with Hangzhou and China, featuring performances from the Red Fan dance society from Manchester, the Leeds Chinese Community School and the local Wah Kwong Chinese Community Association.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org