In Celebration of Seattle, Surabaya’s First Sister City

By Ario Bimo Utomo

We may have already known that Surabaya is a city that has been quite active in reaching out to its foreign counterparts. At the moment, Surabaya has conducted sister city partnerships with 14 cities in the world, of which 7 of them are located in Asia. However, unexpectedly it all began with an initial partnership with Seattle, a port city located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.

In 1992, the Surabaya City Government, then led by the late Mayor Poernomo Kasidi, and the Seattle City Government, represented by Mayor Norman Rice, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on September 29. It all started with a delegation visit by Mr. Kasidi and his team to the United States, where both parties showed a great interest in understanding and learning from each other. The aforementioned Memorandum of Understanding served as the first milestone of the Surabaya City Government’s international activities.

Later on, the Memorandum stipulates that the sister city agreement would be conducted in several main aspects such as port management, science and technology, commerce, education, culture, and tourism. To further facilitate dialogues between Seattle and Surabaya, an institution called the Seattle-Surabaya Sister city Association (SSSCA) was established as well. The SSSCA serves as a means of public diplomacy, as well as to be a bridge to foster more people-to-people cooperation.

Do you know that, like Surabaya, Seattle is also known for its identity as a port city? Indeed, the city is one of the industrial hubs of the United States, especially in the Western United States. Seattle is one of the most important economic nodes in the Pacific Northwest. "The Emerald City", as Seattle is called, is also a diverse city like Surabaya with a colorful demographic composition. Seattle is home to approximately 724,305 people from different backgrounds and ethnicities. This, actually, makes the Surabaya and Seattle partnership strategic enough to support the public diplomacy activities of Indonesia and the United States.

As 2021 unfolds, Surabaya and Seattle are also close to entering their third decade of cooperation. There will certainly be challenges to maintain the sisterhood. The biggest challenge, of course, is about maximizing this existing relationship to encourage a closer relationship between the two societies. This requires intensive dialogues between the two parties so that the existing framework of cooperation can be translated into useful activities. At CENTRIUS, we believe that the city-foreign partnership relationship must also be based on a good understanding between all the sectors that cover it. All communities, policymakers, academics, and other sectors have the potential to take part in maximizing sister city cooperation. Only in this way, sister city activities such as those carried out by Surabaya and Seattle can get out of mere formality and become an activity that is truly beneficial to the public