SUNDERLAND CELEBRATES THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY of its Friendship Agreement with one of China's biggest cities - Harbin - this year.
Over the last decade the two cities have forged ever closer ties, with delegations from the respective communities regular visitors to each partner city and strong educational links.
The latest event highlighting these closer ties with Sunderland and the wider region, is the Five Universities New Year Gala being held at The Sage in Gateshead on 12 February to help mark celebrations for Chinese New Year.
The highest percentage of International, overseas students studying at the University of Sunderland are from China, and it is the Sunderland Chinese Students and Scholars Association which has invited the Deputy Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor David Snowdon, to represent the city at the regional event.
The annual gala helps celebrate Chinese New Year, the contribution of Chinese students to their respective Universities and local communities, and the support and welcome received from their regional UK hosts.
There are approximately 500 students currently studying at the University of Sunderland on a range of courses from Business Management, Accounting & Finance, and Marketing Management to International Tourism & Hospitality Management and Human Resource Management.
The Deputy Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor David Snowdon said: "I am delighted to have been invited to represent our city and our Chinese students who contribute so much to life in our communities at this celebratory event.
"Developing closer educational and economic ties with China is vital to our country's future development, and Sunderland's Friendship Agreement with Harbin is really important to us as a city.
"Sunderland is proud to provide a home to so many students from China while they study here, and I hope they return to their friends and family with fond memories of their time in our city."
Chair of the Sunderland Chinese Students and Scholars Association Miss Jiang Yuxin added: "Sunderland and the North East of England is a home-away-from home, but when students come to study in the UK they really appreciate anything which reminds them of their homes in China.
"Celebrating Chinese New Year together is a really enjoyable way to bring Chinese students from across the North East together, and celebrate their culture at this time of year.
"It is a fantastic celebration of Chinese Culture, with a variety of vibrant and colourful performances, bringing the unique traditions to the region."
Most recently as part of the Friendship Agreement with Harbin, the Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Graeme Miller was invited to represent the city at the China-Harbin International Sister City Conference.
Here he addressed representatives from many of Harbin's 36 'sister cities' from 28 countries, on Sunderland's experience of building strong, long-lasting international partnerships and the mutual social and economic benefits they can bring.
During his visit Cllr Miller also met representatives from Harbin Municipal Government, Harbin Education Bureau and Harbin Economic Development Zone to discuss future plans for further co-operation and collaborative projects between the two cities.
The Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Graeme Miller said: "We can all be proud of our city's Friendship Agreement with Harbin, a major city in a country with one of the world's fastest growing economies.
"The Agreement represents a strong and practical working relationship between our communities to explore mutually beneficial partnerships.
"Since it was signed we have taken forward a wide range of activities including educational exchanges