Tale of 2 Sisters: Irvine Favors Taiwan

Times Staff Writer

In an effort to dampen mounting criticism from the Taiwanese community, the Irvine City Council rescinded a sister city agreement with mainland China that required the Orange County city to renounce its ties with a Taiwan partner.

The unanimous vote late Tuesday capped five hours of debate and impassioned pleas from dozens of mostly Taiwanese speakers who urged Irvine leaders to start from scratch on a new pact with the Xuhui district of Shanghai that steers clear of foreign policy.

The council agreed to draft a new agreement mirroring the old one but removing a pledge to abide by a joint communique signed by the U.S. government in 1979. That document acknowledged -- but didn’t accept -- the People’s Republic of China claim as the legitimate government of Taiwan.


It remains to be seen, however, whether Chinese officials will agree to a new relationship without Irvine’s pledge. In a letter sent this week to Irvine Mayor Beth Krom, Xuhui Mayor Sun Chao said he expected the city to abide by the principles of the communique, known as the “one-China policy.”

Any new sister city agreement remains in limbo “until we hear from Xuhui whether they’re going to be political with us again,” Councilwoman Christina Shea said.

Shea and Councilman Steven Choi insisted that the city void the original agreement as well as a second memorandum that barred Irvine officials from making official trips to sister city Taoyuan, Taiwan.

The two documents were signed May 30 during a trip to Xuhui by Krom and a delegation from Irvine. Krom signed the sister city agreement; Valerie Larenne, a city staffer who coordinates the sister city program, signed the memo, which also prohibited Irvine from referring to Taiwan as a country, flying its flag or playing its anthem.

Political commentator Bruce Herschensohn was among the first to speak during public comments, urging the city to dump the agreement. “There is one China and there is one Taiwan,” he said. “Stick to your guns. You’re taking a moral position.”

James Dunning, president of Irvine’s Sister City Foundation, asked the council to suspend the Xuhui accord unless city officials there drop the political dictates.


Irvine resident Henry King, who led the Xuhui sister city effort, apologized for the furor. He said he encouraged Larenne to sign the contentious memo after being reassured by a Chinese official that council members could still travel to Taiwan.

“I deeply regret the misunderstandings that have arisen from this,” said King, whose wife works as an aide to Councilman Larry Agran.

Krom apologized at the meeting, as did other council members, for any damage done to the city’s relationship with Taoyuan. That city became an Irvine sister city in 2000. Irvine’s other sister cities are Tsukuba, Japan, and Hermosillo, Mexico.

Krom and Councilman Sukhee Kang joined their colleagues in repudiating the memo that limited its relationship with Taoyuan. However, they initially balked at calling for the agreement to be rescinded until it became clear that the city’s Taiwanese community would accept nothing less.

Agran, who traveled to China with Kang in 2005 to help set up the agreement, said he wanted to salvage the relationship. “We have to see if we can redeem all the work that’s been done with Xuhui,” he said. “You know, saving face isn’t only a Chinese term.”