Deputy Lord Mayor in post-COVID travel first to China
City of Melbourne councillor’s trip to Tianjin marks Australia’s first local government trip to China since 2019.
Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece has become Australia’s first local government representative to travel to China since the onset of COVID-19.
Cr Reece’s trip to Tianjin was as part of an Australia China Business Council (ACBC) delegation, the first industry-wide business delegation to both Hong Kong and mainland China since 2019.
The visit included meetings with Tianjin civic leaders and University of Melbourne alumni, but perhaps most importantly saw confirmation that the city’s biggest company, Rockcheck Tewoo, had expansion plans into Melbourne.
The company’s chair informed Cr Reece and the delegation that they would be establishing their Australian New Zealand headquarters in Melbourne in the coming year, in what the Deputy Lord Mayor called a “real boost to our city as a business and financial centre”.
“There was a really strong sense of, on the part of Chinese people, organisations and government leaders that we met, to want to engage with Australia after years of lockdowns and border closures,” Cr Reece said as part of his post-travel report presented at the May 30 council meeting.
Prior to the pandemic, Melbourne and the Northern China city – “sister cities” since 1980 – had coordinated the Tianjin Government Leaders Program, which had seen 450 Tianjin government leaders spend up to three months in Melbourne to participate in a formal learning program supported by RMIT University.
Suspended in recent years, Cr Reece’s meeting with Tianjin Vice Mayor Yang Bing (a program alumni) saw a commitment from both parties to recommence the initiative.
[It’s] a fantastic way of us strengthening those people to people relations with China.
There were also early plans to showcase Tianjin’s food culture at future Melbourne Food and Wine Festivals.
Cr Reece said meeting with many Melbourne university alumni now back working in China was eye-opening.
“Many people might not realise that there are now over one million Australian university graduates living in China. If it was a city, it would be close to the size of Adelaide, and these are people that are really scaling the heights of civic business and life in China,” Cr Reece said.
He also visited the Tianjin Haileybury International School, a sister school of Haileybury Australia which has a campus in West Melbourne.
In summing up his five-day visit, the Deputy Lord Mayor said, “I’m not sure I can sit here tonight and say I ‘brought home the bacon’, but I certainly do feel I brought home a couple of dumplings for Melbourne.”
The ratepayer-funded trip was approved by fellow councillors on April 18, at a final cost of $16,096.38.
This included airfares ($8732.74), accommodation ($2134.48), ACBC delegate fees ($5000) and incidentals ($229.16).
Now into a 43rd year as a sister city with Tianjin, only the Japanese city of Osaka has a longer standing formal relationship with the City of Melbourne (partnership established in 1978).
The council also has sister city ties with Thessaloniki (since 1984), Boston (1985) and Milan (2004).
Its 34-year association with St Petersburg was terminated in May in protest against “Russia’s continued armed aggression in Ukraine”.
Caption: Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece meets with Tianjin Vice Mayor Yang Bing.