The largest inland city in New South Wales has officially dumped its sister city in China over the Communist regime’s ‘cover up’ of its deadly coronavirus outbreak.
Best known for producing a string of national sporting heroes, the City of Wagga Wagga, population 64,000, voted to cut ties with Kunming – a provincial city in southern China with 6.3million people – at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
Sporting greats from Wagga Wagga in the NSW Riverina district include Australian cricketers Geoff Lawson, Michael Slater and former captain Mark Taylor, AFL stars Paul Kelly and Wayne Carey – as well as rugby league legend Peter Sterling.
The motion to ditch the 22-year sister city relationship was put by councillor Paul Funnell who said Kunming was part of a regime that ‘lied to the world’ about the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Daily Advertiser.
There is growing criticism across the globe over China’s failure to properly disclose the severity of COVID-19 when it first emerged in Wuhan in December.
Since then, 1.9 million people worldwide have become infected with 129,000 deaths.
The City of Wagga Wagga voted to cut ties with its sister city of Kunming, southern China on Tuesday
The main street of Wagga Wagga (pictured) in the New South Wales Riverina region
The vote to dump Kunming was tied with three councillors supporting the motion and three against, before a deciding vote was cast by Cr Tim Koschel who led the meeting because Mayor Greg Conkey was absent.
Cr Funnell said the vote was not about racism but an attempt to set an example that Wagga Wagga does not ‘tolerate lies and subterfuge’.
‘This action is in no way stopping international trade, communication or the opportunity to deal with China in a fair, transparent and beneficial manner,’ he said.
‘This is not about the people, obviously everyone’s coming out calling it racist… You are not dealing with the people themselves. You’re dealing with the ruling authority which is a communist regime.’
Some councillors argued the scheme was important to promote understanding between different cultures rather than political statements.
‘I don’t think this is the time to stir up a hornets nest when we should be focused on other things at hand rather than Wagga supposedly dabbling in international relations,’ Cr Vanessa Keenan said.
Since the signing of the relationship in 1998, there have been several exchange events between Wagga Wagga and Kunming.
People wearing face masks scan a QR code to submit their personal information while security volunteers check their temperatures at a grocery market, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Kunming, Yunnan province, China February 24, 2020
Wagga Wagga is the largest inland city in New South Wales with farming a big industry
NSW Nationals MLC Wes Fang said the last few months had been hard for Chinese-Australians who are proudly Australian but have been abused because of their name and appearance.
‘We are better than this as a city, a state, and as Australians. No one is going to defend the Communist Chinese Government, but the people of Kunming have been a sister city with Wagga for more than three decades,’ Mr Fang told the ABC.
‘To throw that away because of a dog whistling act about who we’re going to punish for COVID-19 is really dangerous,’ he said.
Crs Funnell, Yvonne Braid and Tim Koschel voted to discontinue ties with the Chinese city while Crs Hayes, Keenan and Kendall voted against the idea.
Two councillors excused themselves from the vote because of a conflict of interest.
The coronavirus outbreak is understood to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in the country’s east.
China’s response to the outbreak has been widely criticised with reports of doctors who sought to alert the public being detained.
Travel out of China was also allowed to continue after the outbreak was discovered, even after travel from Wuhan to other Chinese cities was banned by the Chinese government.
Mayor Greg Conkey who was absent because of illness said he was ‘appalled’ by the decision and there will be a rescission vote in two weeks.
There will be another vote by the City of Wagga Wagga in two weeks that could reverse the decision