Portland and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia Ready for Sister City Relationship


The cities of Portland, Oregon and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia cannot wait to be siblings. On May 26, Ellen Schmidt-Devlin of the Portland-Kota Kinabalu Sister City Association and Dr. Nadja Wielebnowski of the Oregon Zoo presented a sister city proposal to Kota Kinabalu Mayor Abidin Madingkir in an effort to improve the people-to-people connection between Americans and Malaysians. “We are putting this connection together because we want to make [a] real difference in our city and in your city as far as building friendship and building understanding,” said Devlin at the meeting. Mayor Madingkir expressed similar delight in this initiative and was eager to have Kota Kinabalu learn from Portland. Three weeks earlier, US President Barack Obama and Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak issued a joint statement supporting an increase in sister city ties.

In regards to compatibility, Portland and Kota Kinabalu are perfect matches; both have vast forests and mountain ranges that create a common concern for environmental conservation. As Devlin explained during the meeting, “We have many people that are in green energy and we believe there is a connection point there […] you’ll see us approaching conservation of the Oregon Zoo, the World Forestry Centre on our side as well as the ideas on green energy and eco-tourism.”

If all goes well, Kota Kinabalu and Portland will become friendship cities in September of this year before upgrading to sister city status in 2015, becoming just the fourth sister partnership between the US and Malaysia. Until then, efforts are being made to deepen the relationship. The University Honors College of Portland State University, for instance, is planning a 10-day exchange program with the University of Malaysia Sabah (UMS) that is set to begin in March of 2015. The new partnership is one of many small steps contributing to the strengthening of the US-Malaysia relationship.

Andy Nguyen is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a graduate student at Georgetown University.