Whanganui needs to be patient and smart about building new sister city relationships but China should be the first port of call.

Those are two of several recommendations to come out of a Whanganui District Council review of its international relations.

Past and current sister city relationships with Reno, Nagaizumi-cho and Toowoomba had not resulted in any "tangible social and economic gains for the district", the review said.

Chief operating officer Bryan Nicholson told Wednesday's council meeting it needed to choose international partners "properly" and the review set out a process for doing that.

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"We shouldn't jump in bed with the first one that comes knocking on our door.

"We seem top be a relatively popular destination for a number of Chinese cities. We have had a number of approaches quite recently."

Mayor Hamish McDouall said he understood there would be some concern in council looking at new sister city relationships given the failing of previous ones.

But having returned from the New Zealand-China Mayoral Forum this week "potential business relationships are really there".

"I do think there's benefit but we are living in an era where we've had three historical accidents," Mr McDouall said.

"I think we need to be careful and go cautiously. We certainly don't want to look needy or graspy."

Councillor Helen Craig supported the review but was concerned Whanganui was just a small player among hundreds of cities trying to align with China.

"I have an issue concentrating on China for the reason that they are a great big country, a lot of people," she said.

Mr McDouall said China could not be ignored with its emerging middle class of 200 million people.

"There's a brand new middle class with disposable income and they enjoy what Westerners enjoy. They enjoy coffee, they enjoy good clothes, they enjoy independent travel.

"It may not be the biggest economy in the world but it's going to monster every other one very, very soon. It's no longer a developing nation."

But he said any future relationship needed to "resonate" for both communities.