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Mayor Rybak’s Nixon moment: 10 days in China

Well, not really a Nixon moment, but Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is leaving Sunday for wide-ranging travel in China. The trip is meant to boost tourism and economic development and forge relations with a sister city.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is leaving Sunday for a 10-day stay in China, arriving Monday in Beijing, moving on to Harbin — a Minneapolis sister city — and then eventually Shanghai.

“We’ve been looking for some time to try to go to China,” Rybak said during a media conference this morning outside his office at City Hall.

Why now?

According to the mayor, several factors fell into place. For starters, the Northwest/Delta merger gives the Minneapolis “deeper access” into China, Rybak said. Further, the sister city of Harbin is opening a “Minneapolis Hall” at something called the Harbin International Sister Cities Museum.

And Rybak is scheduled to speak at an international forum on high-tech enterprises at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The event will feature a number of big-shot speakers from China, as well as people like the mayor of Geneva, Switzerland. Rybak’s subject: regional development in a world economy.

“Normally, I don’t work off of text,” Rybak quipped, “but this time …”

Not like there’s an entire delegation going. Rybak will be joined solely by Bill Deef of Meet Minneapolis, the city’s official convention and visitors’ association. Deef joined Rybak to meet the press.

(Coincidentally, Rybak’s daughter will be on a separate, private trip while he’s there, escorted by the mayor’s mother.)

The city is picking up the tab, to the tune of $3,900 for Rybak’s visit, Deef said. Rybak added that the money was coming from sales tax revenue, dollars that don’t come out of the city’s general fund.

For Deef, the trip is about promoting tourism, both the business and leisure kinds.

Business travelers might want to “study some facet [of Minneapolis], whether it’s retail distribution, urban development of river development,” Deef said, noting that the Mississippi is of particular interest for the Chinese, calling it “one of the three great rivers of the world.”

As for “leisure” travel, he noted that because of Delta/Northwest, Minneapolis is an “international gateway” and posited that the Mall of America might become a destination for Chinese travelers.

Rybak, for his part, noted that even if Minneapolis “is a second-tier destination, that’s millions and millions of dollars into our economy.”

And though there’s been no formal announcement of a Rybak campaign for statewide office, the mayor certainly talked broadly beyond the bounds of the City of Lakes, playing up his chance to promote such local-global businesses as Best Buy, Target, Mortenson Construction and, of course, Delta.

Ultimately, the trip might not be a bad idea for citizens of Minneapolis, since it allows Rybak to do what he does best: Cheerlead on behalf of this city. (Of course, he noted, he’ll be with a translator the entire time, which might crimp his style just a bit.)

“Minneapolis continues to be an international city,” Rybak said, “and it needs to start acting like one.”