Foreign Policy Blogs

San Francisco Politicians Pander to China on National Day

Mayor Ed Lee and PRC consul-general Luo Linquan raise the Chinese flag over San Francisco City Hall (Xinhua, Oct. 1)

Mayor Ed Lee (left) and PRC consul-general Luo Linquan (2nd from left) raise the Chinese flag over San Francisco City Hall (Xinhua, Oct. 1)

Question: When was the last time the mayor of a major Chinese city attended an American Independence Day celebration or raised an American flag over the city hall? Answer: Never.

San Francisco mayor Ed Lee and other local politicians, however, pulled out all the stops to pander to China in observance of National Day, the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. Among other highlights, Chinese history since 1949 has left us with the chaos of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the massacre on Tiananmen Square, the imprisonment of countless dissidents and human rights activists, forced live organ harvesting, the slow death of Hong Kong under mainland Chinese control, and the current tension in the East and South China Seas due to mainland Chinese territorial greed: hardly cause for celebration in the United States.

Nevertheless, in a video posted by the Communist Party’s English-language mouthpiece China Daily, (0:20-0:24), Mayor Lee can be seen with other notables holding his hand over his heart as the Chinese national anthem is played at a Sept. 28 National Day event hosted by the PRC consulate-general in San Francisco. Lee’s attendance at the event was not reported by any local San Francisco or other domestic U.S. media, nor was it mentioned on @MayorEdLee‘s Twitter page or his official website. After all, some San Franciscans might wonder why the mayor of an American city would be holding his hand over his heart for the national anthem of a foreign dictatorship with one of the world’s worst records of human rights abuse.

State-run Chinese media, on the other hand, reported the mayor’s presence at the event with glee. Under the headline “San Francisco’s Chinese Community Celebrates the 67th Anniversary of the Motherland,” the Communist Party’s official newspaper People’s Daily featured photos of Mayor Lee, PRC consul-general Luo Linquan (罗林泉), and other notables including San Francisco businesswoman Florence Fang (Fang Li Bangqin / 方李邦琴), previously noted at this blog for her pro-PRC activities particularly regarding Taiwan. In Chinese media Fang has expressed her undying patriotism for China despite living in the United States since 1960 and serving as a U.S. federal official, vocally supported mainland Chinese claims on Taiwan, and called Taiwan a “fake democracy.”

Florence Fang (right, in white) joins San Francisco mayor Ed Lee and PRC consul-general Luo Linquan to celebrate Chinese National Day (China Daily, Sept. 30)

Florence Fang (right, in white) joins San Francisco mayor Ed Lee and PRC consul-general Luo Linquan to celebrate Chinese National Day (China Daily, Sept. 30)

Ed Lee is a noted beneficiary of mainland Chinese money. Lee was a close associate of recently-deceased San Francisco power broker Rose Pak, who maintained deep ties with the PRC government and moneyed mainland Chinese interests as an overseas executive director with the China Overseas Exchange Association, a foreign affairs organization under the direction of the PRC State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office. Pak’s activities on behalf of Beijing included blocking persecuted Falun Gong practitioners from participating in the annual Chinese New Year parade she controlled as “de facto head” of the city’s Chinese Chamber of Commerce

In 2013, complaints were filed against Lee with the San Francisco Ethics Commission and the California Fair Political Practices Commission for potentially illegal travel gifts linked to Rose Pak totaling $18,000 to cover expenses for a trip to China. Among Lee’s benefactors for trips to China in addition to Pak are the Wuhan Municipal Government in China; and PRC “power couple” Gordon Tang and Huaidan Chen, who funnel contributions to U.S. politicians through their San Francisco-based company American Pacific International Capital (APIC). In August this year, a complaint was filed with the Federal Election Commission against Tang, Chen, and APIC for allegedly illegal campaign contributions to Jeb Bush’s “Right to Rise” PAC totaling $1.3 million.

Among others in attendance at the National Day event according to People’s Daily and China Overseas Network was California state assemblyman and former San Francisco supervisor David Chiu, like Mayor Lee a beneficiary of Rose Pak’s dubious largesse for trips to China; and who like Lee made no mention of the event on his official webpage or his @DavidChiu Twitter page. Lee, Chiu, and others in attendance at the event listened attentively as the PRC consul-general praised the leadership of “Comrade Xi Jinping,” China’s most authoritarian and most anti-American leader since Mao.

A further associate of Rose Pak’s at the event, according to pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper Sing Tao Daily, was Chi Honghu (池洪湖), likewise noted previously at this blog for his pro-PRC activities including persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in San Francisco. As noted, Chi is the founding chairman of the San Francisco Bay Area Committee to Promote the Reunification of China (旧金山湾区中国统一促进会, CPRC-SF), an overseas chapter of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification in Beijing; and served with Pak as a consultant with the China Overseas Exchange Association.

Chinese National Day activities in San Francisco also included a Chinatown flag-raising ceremony on Sept. 26 and a National Day dinner on Sept. 27, likewise emphasizing mainland Chinese patriotism, Xi Jinping’s authoritarian “Chinese Dream,” and support for mainland Chinese claims on Taiwan and the South China Sea. Featured at the dinner was a singing of the Communist Party anthem, “Ode to the Motherland.” As if these events were not enough, the PRC consul-general and mayor Lee met again on Sept. 30 to raise the Chinese flag over San Francisco City Hall.

This year’s flag-raising over city hall also went unreported by local San Francisco media. In 2014, however, Lee was strongly criticized for raising the PRC flag over city hall as pro-democracy demonstrators were being tear-gassed in Hong Kong. The previous year, the mayor of suburban San Leandro halted plans to fly the PRC flag over his city hall following protest by human rights activists. Nothing stops Ed Lee from pandering to China, however, and he again flew the flag over San Francisco city hall in 2015 and 2016.

In Vancouver this year, a pandering display of the PRC flag and red scarves by city officials for National Day angered many Chinese Canadians. “My family and I suffered greatly under that national flag,” said former mayoral candidate Meena Wong, “During the infamous Cultural Revolution, the red guards wearing red scarves came to our home and took everything valuable. They abused my aging grandmother and threatened my parents.”

Events in commemoration of Taiwan’s “Double-Ten” (Oct. 10) National Day are also planned by the Taiwanese American community in the San Francisco Bay Area. In contrast to mainland China, Taiwan is a democracy and a friend of the United States with a positive record of respect for human rights. Unlikely to do anything that might upset his pro-Beijing benefactors, however, Mayor Lee is not expected to attend any of these events or to raise the flag of Taiwan over San Francisco City Hall.



Mark C. Eades

Mark C. Eades is an Asia-based writer, educator, and independent researcher. Located in Shanghai, China from 2009 to 2015, he now splits his time between the United States and various locations in Asia. He has spent a total of seven years in China since his first visit in 1991, and has taught at Fudan University, Shanghai International Studies University, and in the private sector in Shanghai. He is also widely traveled throughout East and Southeast Asia. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Social Science and a Master of Arts in Humanities from San Francisco State University with extensive coursework in Asia-Pacific studies. His previous publications include articles on China and Sino-US relations in U.S. News & World Report, Asia Times, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and Atlantic Community. Twitter: @MC_Eades