Since 1973, Beijing has used sister city agreements which “twin” a Chinese city, town or province with a foreign counterpart to strengthen commercial, cultural, and social ties with municipal officials and business leaders in other countries. Unlike Confucius Institutes (see below) sister city agreements are more evenly distributed between South Asia and Central Asia, with Kyrgyzstan receiving the most attention, followed closely by Kazakhstan.
The Chinese government launched its first sister city in the SCA region with Pakistan in 1984, but the bulk of new agreements were signed between 2013 and 2016. It may be the case that President Xi Jinping views sister city agreements as part of a broader package of inducements, along with new trade and investment deals, to encourage countries to sign on to the BRI. Notably, we see an uptick in new sister city agreements beginning in 2013, the year Xi assumed the presidency and announced BRI as his signature foreign policy agenda. Five years later, of the roughly 2,600 sister city and province relations that China has globally, more than 700 cities are in countries involved in the BRI.
Source: Silk Road Diplomacy