Victorian City Council Drops ‘Friendly’ Exchange with China After Residents’ Raise Concerns Over No Community Consultation

September 18, 2019 Updated: September 18, 2019

MELBOURNE, Australia—A proposal to engage in a sister city relationship with a district in China has been withdrawn after Vietnamese residents from the City of Maribyrnong expressed disdain over the mayor’s lack of community consultation over the proposed motion.

Speaking at a council meeting on Sept. 10, Mayor Councillor Martin Zakharov, confirmed that the proposed motion—which would have seen the City of Maribyrnong establish a “friendly exchange relationship” with Wuxi-Huishan District in Jiangsu, China—had been withdrawn and “will not be tendered.”

Councillor Martin Zakharov of Maribyrnong City Council in Melbourne, Australia announces the proposed motion withdrawal that would have seen City of Maribyrnong establish a sister city relationship with Wuxi-Huishan District in Jiangsu, China. (Maribyrnong City Council)

Zakharov did not provide reasons at the council meeting as to why the motion was withdrawn, but informed Phong Nguyen, vice-president of the Victorian chapter of the Vietnamese Community in Australia (VCA), about his decision earlier in the day.

“[Councillor Mayor Martin Zakharov] did concede that he had no support from the councillors … that’s the reason why he withdrew,” Phong told The Epoch Times.

“It’s his duty to consult, He did not do that,” Phong added.

According to the motion named ‘City of Maribyrnong-district of Wuxi-Huishan friendly exchange relationship’ (pdf), Zakharov travelled to China along with other Mayors of Victorian municipalities as part of the Victoria-Jiangsu Mayor’s Forum.

“During this visit, the City of Maribyrnong was invited to become part of ‘friendly exchange’ between Maribyrnong and Wuxi-Huishan District in Jiangsu, China,” the motion states.

The council had planned to work with other councils to “investigate and embrace opportunities to further promote and encourage, with China,” according to the motion.

At the council meeting, Zakharov said: “I should maybe clarify that there are already 52 [councils] in Australia, and 10 in Melbourne, that already have friendly relationships with China, but that’s not a matter of discussion tonight.”

Representation From the Community

Three speakers representing the area’s large Vietnamese community gave statements during public question time on why the council should not establish a sister city relationship with cities in China.

Celia Tran, an Australian resident of 30 years, said that while establishing relationships with international cities may be good for the economy, the choice of city is crucial.

Tran said that the sister city needs to “[stand] by the values and principles in which we were founded upon, which is human rights and democracy.”

Phong Nguyen added that the council should not turn a blind eye to the reported human rights violations carried out by the Chinese communist regime, such as persecution against ethnic and minority groups, as well as evidence of organ harvesting, mainly of practitioners of the Buddhist-school spiritual discipline Falun Gong.

“[We] cannot blindly be friends with dictatorships, with a regime that really goes against our values and against the values of the citizens as well the members of our communities here.”

Phong Nguyen, vice-president of the Victorian chapter of the Vietnamese Community in Australia (VCA) speaks to attendees after council meeting in Melbourne, Australia on 10 Sept. 2019. (Rita Li/Epoch Times)

Bon Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese Community of Australia, said that many community members in Maribyrnong have been victims of the communist regime that came into power in China in 1949.

“That’s including the people from China, the people from Tibet, Uyghurs, and the Falun Gong people,” Bon said.

“I think that by proposing [the motion], you are bringing all the pain that the victims of the communist regime—whether it’s the Vietnamese communist regime, Chinese communist regime—you are bringing it back. And I think by doing that, you are actually causing disharmony to this society.”

Speaking to attendees after the council meeting, Phong Nguyen said: “[The council] must consult, must respect the victims [of communism], which are your citizens. That is our main message.”