Councillors of an Australian city have voted to ditch its Chinese sister city after a motion was put forward calling for distancing from “the corruption of the Chinese government” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The inland NSW city of Wagga Wagga has been partnered with Kunming for 32 years, yet on Tuesday night Councillor Paul Funnell put forward a proposal to sever tires with the city in a bid to “reject the corruption of the Chinese government”.
“This is the same Chinese Communist Government that delights in lies, subterfuge and cover-ups, for example, by now trying to claim that the US military is responsible for the spread of COVID-19,” Cr Funnell said.
He said China’s inaction over the virus has led to “death, destruction and turmoil” in the weeks following and the City of Wagga Wagga must do “what is right”.
In a vote on Tuesday night, the motion was approved four votes to three following an initial tie, with Councillor Tim Koschel deciding the final vote.
Two councillors declined to vote citing a conflict in interest, The Wagga News reported.
Widespread backlash over motion
There has been widespread backlash over the move and an extraordinary meeting has been called for next week in a bid to rescind the motion.
Wagga Wagga-based NSW Nationals MLC Wes Fang released a statement condemning the move, saying it is “nothing short of appalling”.
“I will call it out for what I believe it is, racially motivated dog-whistling of the worst kind,” he said.
Mr Fang said blaming Kunming for the events in Wuhan, 15,000km away, was like “blaming our other sister city Nordlingen in Germany for the events of the past two World Wars”.
He said such incidences would only worsen sinophobia within Australia.
“The events of the past few months have been particularly difficult for those Chinese-Australians who love our country, but have been abused because of our name and our looks,” Mr Fang said.
“[Tuesday’s] decision only strengthens those opinions and bigotry against us.”
The move has also been criticised by the Chinese consulate-general’s spokesman who said it had “damaged the interests” of Wagga Wagga, the ABC reported.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack reminded the city’s councillors that Wagga Wagga’s agricultural industry benefited directly from Chinese business.
Motion not racist, councillor says
Cr Funnell moved to clarify his stance, insisting it wasn’t a racist move.
"This is not about the people. I mean, obviously everyone's coming out calling it racist,” he told the ABC.
"This is not about the Chinese people. It wouldn't matter where it is. You're not in China, you are not dealing with the people themselves.
"You're actually dealing with the ruling authority which is a communist regime. I don't want to be in a relationship with a communist regime."
Councillor with deciding vote backflips
In a remarkable twist on Wednesday, Cr Koschel took to Facebook to backflip on his stance and admitted he no longer supported the motion.
“This has been playing on mind since the decision was made last night and deep down in my gut I knew I had made the wrong decision,” he said.
Cr Koschel said he allowed the environment and emotions of the current COVID-19 situation where thousands had lost work in Wagga Wagga to get in the way of his decision making.
“For this I apologise to our sister city of Kunming in China, my fellow councillors as well as my local community for my actions,” he said.
The city’s mayor Greg Conkey was absent from Tuesday’s meeting due to illness and is “appalled” by the decision, however is hopeful it will be overturned at next week’s meeting.
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