Carmel Mayor Sue Finkam formally withdrew from the United States Heartland China Association, or the USHCA, in a letter to the organization this week.
The nonprofit organization's mission is to foster a “mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and China” according to its website.
The move comes after Indiana Congressman and Senate candidate Jim Banks sent a letter to the mayor in January asking her to end an agreement with one of Carmel’s sister cities.
The Chinese city of Xiangyang is one of seven sister cities for Carmel. Carmel has had a sister-city agreement with Xiangyang since 2012 - making it the city’s second-oldest sister-city agreement
The informal contracts between cities aim to build relationships and connections in the international community.
In his letter, Banks called for Finkam to “disentangle Carmel from the Chinese Communist Party.” The letter followed a report in the Washington Post about a visit to China by Carmel’s previous mayor, James Brainard. The article outlined an effort by China to influence U.S. policy by courting mayors in the Midwest.
James Brainard currently sits on the board of the USHCA.
Mayor Finkam determined not to renew the city’s membership with the USHCA but cited the annual $25,000 membership fees as the primary reason.
"Based on information gained during the first month of my tenure in office, I sent a letter to the US Heartland China Association sharing that we would not renew our membership initiated by the previous administration,” she said. “As stated previously, the Chinese Communist Party will have no influence over the City of Carmel."
Finkam added that the sister-city agreement would remain intact.
“Our sister city relationships around the world, like the one with Xiangyang, provide great cultural value to our residents, including the many freedom-loving Chinese Americans who call our great city home," she wrote.
In a statement, Banks wrote that Finkam had done a “great service” by cutting ties with a “dangerous group that puts the Chinese Communist Party and its interests first.”
The USHCA did not respond to our request for comment.