A community outcry has forced Maribyrnong’s mayor to abandon a proposal to forge a ‘friendly exchange’ relationship with a district in China.

Cr Martin Zakharov flagged a motion ahead of last week’s council meeting that recommended Maribyrnong council enter a relationship with Wuxi-Huishan District in Jiangsu, China, and explore further opportunities for cementing the exchange into a ‘sister city’ relationship.

The proposal raised the ire of the area’s large Vietnamese community, which turned out in force at the meeting and forced the mayor to withdraw the motion despite it already being published on the agenda.

Resident Celia Tran, addressing the councillors, said the issue was clearly close to the hearts of many in the Vietnamese, Tibetan and Uyghur communities, “many of whom have been oppressed by the Chinese government”.

“Whilst we welcome partnerships with international cities … the choice of city is very important, that we stand by the principles and values which we were founded upon, which is human rights and democracy,” she said.

“I would highly recommend you look into other strategic partnerships.”

Vietnamese Community in Australia (VCA) Victorian chapter vice-president Phong Nguyen told the meeting that although he welcomed the motion being withdrawn, he was concerned it had even been considered.

“We encourage cities to make friend with other cities around the world… however we should only makes friends with careful consideration,” he said.

“We cannot just blindly be friends with dictatorships, with regimes that really go against our values.”

Mr Nguyen said given Maribyrnong’s role as a home for victims of oppressive regimes, it should be working to become a beacon of freedom.

“We are Maribyrnong and we do have a history, we are the combination of many migrants and refugees among our community and that must count for something.”

The imbroglio comes as Cr Zakharov’s Labor party maintains pressure on Liberal politician Gladys Liu over her alleged links with the Chinese Communist party.

Cr Zakharov told the meeting about 50 councils in Australia including 10 In Melbourne already have friendship relationships with China, but he wouldn’t be discussing the merits of the proposal given he had withdrawn the motion.

“We are not talking about anything unusual here,” he said.

“We could get into discussions about the behavior of every country that we have relationships with, but that’s not going to be the issue tonight.”

Maribyrnong has an existing sister city relationship with Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in Vietnam.