Updated 1:09 p.m. Sept. 21, 2013
A small city in California plans to raise the flag of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1, to the strenuous objections of residents who say it would be a betrayal of American values.
The date next month will mark the 64th year since communist insurgents established the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and is widely known as National Day.
The debate in San Leandro, whose City Council voted 4-3 to pass the measure on the evening of Sept. 16, swirls around what the gesture would signify.
According to Council member Benny Lee, who proposed the idea, the Five Star Red Flag, as it is known in Chinese, “basically represents the people of China.”
In an explanation and defense of the proposal at the City Council meeting on Sept. 16, he said that it would encourage Chinese investment in the area by demonstrating that the city of San Leandro feels welcoming towards China.
Lee did not specify the forms of investment that it would encourage. Investment by China regularly takes place in parts of the world where cities do not fly its flag. Attempts to contact Lee, at his home and at his office, were unsuccessful.
Lee sought to bolster the rationale for the proposal by pointing to a number of other U.S. cities that have raised the flag, including Houston, Alameda, and San Francisco, which also drew complaints.
The mayor of San Leandro, Stephen H. Cassidy, voted against the proposal based on human rights concerns. Eric Engelbart, assistant to the City Manager, said in a telephone interview that: “It was a 4-3 decision. There was some disagreement among council members.” One of the council members said that she supported closer ties with the Chinese people, but objected to raising the flag because it would be “too hurtful to too many people.”
To critics, the flag “is stained with the blood of Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Chinese,” according to Kunjo Tashi, the president of the Tibetan Association of Northern California, who spoke at the same City Council meeting.
After the motion was successfully passed by the council, pro-Tibetan blogs began criticizing the decision. Tibettruth.com posted a picture of a presumed torture victim hanging by the hands, while what appear to be Chinese police poke the individual with electric batons.
“People are shocked and baffled why such an action is being proposed,” the website says. “[They] find it extremely difficult to comprehend how a community built upon principles of freedom, democracy and respect for equality justice and human rights is respected by the prospect of raising a flag that represents tyranny, oppression, censorship and human rights abuse on an unimaginable scale.”
Other local residents, not steeped in daily reports about human rights abuses in China, also expressed their puzzlement online. “It is so incredible that a city in the Bay Area would be thinking of honoring the PRC in such a way, that when I first posted it one of my readers said he thought I was trying to be ‘The Onion,’” wrote Margarita Lacabe, a blogger in San Leandro who runs the website San Leandro Talk.
“Unfortunately I’m not,” she continued. “This is a real proposal.”
Update: On Sept. 19, Stephen H. Cassidy, the mayor of San Leandro, suspended the plan to raise the flag, saying that a “time out” was needed for residents to weigh in on the matter. He said the city does not have a policy on raising the flags from other countries.