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Juneau will adopt a Chinese sister city this weekend, if Uncle Sam doesn't get in the way.
Four officials from the city of Mishan, on the northeastern border of China, have plane tickets to Juneau, but their visa applications seem to be stuck in the U.S. consulate, said interim City Manager John MacKinnon.
"It's kind of frustrating," said MacKinnon, who is having difficulty planning an agenda for an official visit in two days that may or may not happen.
"I'd like to know yesterday, but we have somebody working on what the holdup is with their visas there," MacKinnon said.
MacKinnon believes the visa delays are related to increased scrutiny since Sept. 11. MacKinnon and four other Juneau residents had no trouble getting visas to visit Mishan a year ago. They were in Beijing when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred.
Stanley Zhang agrees with MacKinnon. As a member of Juneau's International Relationship Advisory Committee, Zhang has been helping to arrange the visit.
"After 9/11 everything became more strict for the visa process," said Zhang, who grew up in Beijing. He said the delegation members may receive their visas tonight.
Mishan initiated the sister city process two years ago with a letter to Juneau. That region of China already has a sister province relationship with Alaska. Mishan was interested in Juneau because it is trying to develop tourism, fisheries and some timber-manufacturing businesses, said MacKinnon and Zhang.
Like most of China, Mishan depends on agriculture and some coal mining. At about the same latitude as Seattle, it is in a green area of rolling hills with two large lakes nearby, Zhang said.
If the Mishan dignitaries arrive as scheduled at 1 p.m. Friday, a public signing ceremony will be held that evening. On Saturday and Sunday they hope to tour a cruise ship, the Douglas Island Pink and Chum salmon hatchery, and the University of Alaska Southeast, Zhang said.
Mishan is a two- to three-hour drive from Vladivostok, another of Juneau's sister cities. Juneau also has established sister-city relationships with Whitehorse, Canada, and Chai-ya, Taiwan.
Sister-city relationships can help Juneau's economy, said Lance Miller, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council.
"We're in a global economy and actions from both social and economic actions on one side of the globe have ripple effects all around the globe," Miller said. "The Pacific Rim is a major trading partner for Alaska for export, so economically they're very important.
"The other thing I think these sister cities do for a place like Juneau is bring a more global perspective."
After three nights in Juneau the Mishan delegation plans to visit Los Angeles, New York City and Miami during the rest of its 15-day trip, Zhang said.
Kristan Hutchison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.