Hastings, Dordrecht, Sierra Leone and now Xiangshan?

A night view of one of Kiangshan's towns
A night view of one of Kiangshan's towns

WHAT do Hastings and a Chinese county of more than 500,000 people have in common?

Not a lot at the moment, but if local councillors get their way all that is set to change.

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) this week agreed to establish an economic link-up with Xiangshan, an area of China which sits on the eastern coast, around 200 miles south of Shanghai.

While not as rigid as tie-ins with twin towns Dordrecht in Holland or Hastings in Sierra Leone, the memorandum of understanding is designed to open up a host of opportunities for local businesses and pave the way for friendly relations between HBC and the rather more grandly named Xiangshan Municipal People’s Congress, China.

This could involve exchange trips between the two authorities as well the chance to pool expertise in areas of the economy, education and heritage.

Discussing the move this week, Cllr Jeremy Birch, said: “It would be short-sighted not to take up this opportunity.

“It will not be like our direct links to Sierra Leone and northern Europe - it will primarily be economically driven.”

And he revealed the offer came about after officials from Xiangshan randomly contacted the town hall - probably because the area boasts proud fishing heritage similar to that enjoyed by Hastings.

The county attracts more than 6.5million visitors a year and includes a popular tourist destination in Shipu, otherwise known as the Chinese Fishing Village, and it is partly that area of expertise that Cllr Birch and his colleagues want to tap into.

However, not everyone was as impressed with the local authority seemingly getting into bed with a country with a less than glowing record on human rights issues.

Conservative Cllr Peter Pragnell said: “I would welcome visitors because I suspect there is a lot we can teach them about human rights and certainly a lot we can teach them about democracy.”

He also voiced concerns that any subsequent trips to China should not be funded by the taxpayer, before saying that if the plan could benefit local business it “was a good one”.

Councillors agreed to invite representatives from Xiangshan to visit Hastings later this year and said the hope was the memorandum would help the town tap further into the lucrative foreign student market.

What do you think of the council’s decision?

Comment on this story and others online at www.hastingsobserver.co.uk or email a letter to observer@trbeckett.co.uk.