IN Brief

Banks calls on Carmel to withdraw from Chinese sister-city agreement

By: - January 30, 2024 2:11 pm

Carmel isn't the only Hoosier city to have a sister-city agreement with a Chinese municipality. Batesville, Columbus, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis are among the cities with such agreements in place. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana on Tuesday asked the city of Carmel to withdraw from a sister-city agreement with a Chinese municipality and to refuse trips organized by groups linked to China’s ruling party.

His letter came after Washington Post reporting detailing China’s renewed focus on diplomacy with local U.S. leaders featured a trip former Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard took to China. During that tour, Brainard signed a sister-city agreement with Xiangyang.

Brainard left the mayoral post this month after 30 years in office. Mayor Sue Finkam, also a Republican, won the race to succeed him.

“China has successfully leveraged sister-city agreements to force American and foreign politicians to endorse its one-China policy and to oppose policies that could harm China,” Banks wrote. The policy asserts that Taiwan, governed by an opposing party, is part of China.

Banks is a member of the U.S. House’s Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, which he said is “leading Congress’s efforts to combat China’s illicit influence in our country.

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“I am committed to fighting this influence in Indiana and other states … You have a golden opportunity to play a crucial part in these efforts and undo others’ mistakes by disentangling Carmel from the Chinese Communist Party,” Banks told Finkam.

At a select committee meeting on Tuesday, Banks said former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned local officials of accepting gifts.

“When the Chinese Communist Party shows up at your school and offers a free swing set, it is not because they care about the health of your children … In the end, it is about them, not us,” Pompeo said. “… This is an effort at every level for the Chinese Communist Party to have the capacity to influence our government. The Chinese
Communist Party is truly evil.”

Finkam’s administration said it was reviewing all agreements and contracts into which Brainard entered “as part of our transition.”

“We appreciate Congressman Banks raising this concern, and we agree that protecting Hoosiers should be our first priority,” Finkam said in a statement to the Capital Chronicle.

‘In the meantime, we have no plans for any travel to China, and the CCP will have no influence over my administration or the city of Carmel,” she added.

Brainard, however, told Current in Carmel that Banks’ comments are “symptomatic of the dumbing down of America.”

“Representative Banks’ response is simply immature and impractical,” he said. “China and the United States make up the two largest economies in the world. We have to have a dialogue, and we need to have it at all levels. It doesn’t mean we back down on anything that’s important, but it’s critical that we continue to talk at all levels, not just the state department.”

He additionally told the Capital Chronicle via email that the exchanges are “opportunities for everyday Americans to share and spread our values.”

But Carmel isn’t the only Hoosier city to have a sister-city agreement with a Chinese municipality. Batesville, Columbus, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis are among the cities with such agreements in place.

The state of Indiana itself has maintained a sister-state relationship with Chinese province Zhejiang since 1987, according to an Indiana Economic Development Corp. document from the Gov. Mike Pence era. The agreement was signed under former Gov. Robert Orr’s administration.

Banks said he hoped Carmel would “lead the way by becoming the first of many Indiana cities to distance itself from the Chinese Communist Party by dropping its sister city agreement.”

The congressman also raised concerns about sister-city agreements with Chinese cities in 2021.

Note: This story has been updated with comments from former Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard and a mention of Indiana’s sister province Zhejiang.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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