US Ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Y. Yun said the initiative was a response to the joint-statement made by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and US President Barrack Obama that encouraged sister city relationship between the cities in the US and cities in Malaysia.
"When the two leaders met three weeks ago, the big part of their discussion was how to elevate the relationship between the two countries and the importance of people-to-people relationship that is outside of formal diplomatic channels so our groups of people can come together.
"To kick that off, I cannot think of a better example than Kota Kinabalu," he said at a press conference here on Monday.
Portland-Kota Kinabalu Sister City Association President Ellen Schmidt-Devlin and Oregon Zoo Conservation and Research Manager, Chair of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) Dr Nadja Wielebnowski were on hand to present the sister cities proposals to Mayor Abidin Madingkir. Devlin said one of the reasons Kota Kinabalu was chosen was the similarities between the people in both cities. "We are among the friendliest place in the USA same like Sabah. We also have beautiful forests and we have mountains. The Portland-Kota Kinabalu Sister City Association was started because people in the city are interested in connecting with another city.
"So Dr. Nadja and I are here as representatives of Portland but there are over 50 people that we represent that are part of our core team in putting together sister city connection. We are putting this connection together because we want to make real difference in our city and in your city as far as building friendship and building understanding.
"I think that what happens when there is no understanding is that we have difficulties as countries and when we have understanding, we can find, we all want the same thing," she said.
The arrangement will explore environment, economics, education and health links between the two cities.
Devlin explained that the people in Portland care deeply about the environment particularly the conservation aspect as well as the element of green energy and land preservation.
"We have many people that are in green energy and we believe there is a connection point there. Part of the reason that we are out here is to find that connection. Oftentimes, I think people come and they think we have all the answers, we think we have all the questions.
"We want this to be a give and take relationship. So I think environmentally, 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 which we believe could be a really great opportunity between Portland and Sabah," she said.
Devlin also said the relation will provide opportunities to connect businesses in both countries and both Portland and Kota Kinabalu are perfect-sized cities to make the connections.
In terms of education, she said the Portland State University is currently working on an exchange programme where they would be sending 24 students to Kota Kinabalu this summer in order to connect and find out what the kind of things that both cities can begin to work together.
"We can say that we can start this relationship with all of us that are perhaps in our 50s and 60s but the real connection will happen with the young people and I think that the colleges are the best place for us to get those relationships start," she said.
The Oregon Health Science University (OHSU), a teaching and researching university, she added, is also interested in Sabah and figure out ways to begin to do research together.
"They are not able to come for this visit but they will be coming in August to better understand how they can connect and be able to make some real changes, some real difference between our two cities.
"So I think you can see with these four areas, we have a lot of work to do, and you will be hearing about us.
"We are not your first sister city but we are the first sister city between the US and Malaysia and we are very proud of that but we also know that that is a tremendous responsibility for us, that we need to make a difference," she said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Nadja reported that the Bornean pygmy elephant that was acquired by the Oregon Zoo in 1995 is doing well and part of the reason for the sister city initiative is to support the countries where the animals in the zoo are from.
"We believe we need to make that the representatives we have from the different regions of the world are actually connected with the areas they come from. We want to do much more than we have in the past," she said.
Earlier, Yun and his entourage paid a courtesy call to the mayor's office where they were briefed on Kota Kinabalu by Mayor Datuk Abidin Madingkir.
Madingkir who welcomed the sister city initiative said as a young city, Kota Kinabalu has a lot to learn and can benefit from the city management of far advanced city such as Portland.
Kota Kinabalu currently has seven sister cities namely Yongin City, South Korea, Ratchaburi Province, Thailand, Rockingham City, Western Australia, Vladivostok, Russia, Heyuan City, China, Jiangmen City, China and recent one, Yeosu City, South Korea.
The association is hoping to be granted friendship city status with Kota Kinabalu by September this year before eventually becoming sister city a year later.