Beijing-by-the-Bay: Rose Pak and China’s Hidden Influence in San Francisco

June 16, 2016 6:15 pm Last Updated: June 16, 2016 8:06 pm

News Analysis

San Francisco political operator Rose Pak, recently returned to the city from an extended stay in China, has frequently been accused of hidden ties to the Chinese government. These charges have have been prompted by incidents such as her refusal to allow Falun Gong practitioners to participate in the annual Chinese New Year parade she controls as “de facto head” of the city’s Chinese Chamber of Commerce and allegations that she controls local elections on behalf of moneyed mainland Chinese interests.

“Shifting political winds” have long been observed in San Francisco, as Beijing has sought, bought, and gained influence in the city’s large and once staunchly pro-Taiwan Chinese American community. Beijing’s hand is suspected in the murder of pro-Taiwan Chinatown community leader Allen Leung in 2006. In such tales of political intrigue in Chinatown, Rose Pak’s name is never far away.

Pak is long-suspected of being a key player on Beijing’s team in San Francisco. Her accusers have included Falun Gong practitioners in San Francisco as well as city supervisors Aaron Peskin and Chris Daly. Pak has always denied any such ties to the Chinese government.

Pak does, however, have very specific and demonstrable ties to the Chinese government. Under her Chinese name, Bai Lan (白兰), Pak is an overseas executive director with the China Overseas Exchange Association (COEA), a foreign affairs organization under the direction of the Chinese government’s State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office (OCAO).

COEA poses as a “non-governmental organization” while acting in fact as an overseas propaganda agency of the Chinese state and the Chinese Communist Party. As political scientist Ming Xia observes, “The Party commands, controls and integrates all other political organizations and institutions in China.”

COEA’s leadership is composed entirely of Chinese Communist Party officials representing various foreign affairs and “overseas propaganda” agencies of the Chinese government. OCAO director Qiu Yuanping (裘援平), a member of the Communist Party Central Committee, is also the executive vice-president of COEA. The president of COEA, Han Qide (韩启德), is also the vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee; and the vice-president of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification (CCPPNR).

These agencies, as Taiwan affairs analyst J. Michael Cole notes, are engaged in an increasingly aggressive propaganda campaign in the United States aimed at undermining U.S. support for a free and autonomous Taiwan. As the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG) further observes in detail, these agencies operate as parts of the Communist Party’s “global united front strategy” in activities including its worldwide persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice, outlawed in China since 1999.

In her capacity as an overseas executive director with COEA, Rose Pak greeted Qiu Yuanping on a visit by Qiu to San Francisco in February 2014, then appeared again in a featured spot with Qiu the following month at an assembly of the CPPCC National Committee in Beijing. Present also at Pak’s meeting with Qiu was OCAO deputy director Tan Tianxing (谭天星), likewise a ranking Communist Party member. The content of the assembly was focused squarely on China’s national interests, in particular “safeguarding and promoting reunification of the motherland.”

Pak’s attendance at the CPPCC National Committee assembly was prominently noted by the Beijing People’s Government Overseas Chinese Affairs Office; and by the Communist Party Central Committee’s United Front Work Department, which works closely with agencies such as OCAO, COEA, CCPPNR, and their associated overseas groups in asserting Beijing’s global influence.

Pak previously appeared in Beijing for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2009, and for the “Fifth World Conference of Overseas Chinese Friendship Associations” in 2010. Despite the “friendly” name of the 2010 conference, this was an event led entirely by Chinese Communist Party officials; and likewise dedicated entirely to asserting China’s national interests abroad, in particular “to safeguarding China’s national unity and territorial integrity and to realizing the complete reunification of China.”

Pak also appears in 2010 with numerous Communist Party officials on the governing board of the “Guangdong Provincial People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries,” a front organization run by the Guangdong Provincial Foreign Affairs Office.

Pak’s pro-China activities in San Francisco include participation with other U.S. “overseas compatriots” in anti-Japanese “save the Diaoyu Islands” protests in 2012. Here, Pak joined other pro-China San Francisco personalities in “condemning Japan’s despicable occupation of the Diaoyu Islands, telling the United States not to interfere,” and calling on all “overseas Chinese” to stand up and “defend the homeland.”

The Diaoyu Islands – known in Japanese as the Senkaku Islands – are a handful of uninhabited rocks under Japanese possession for more than 120 years, and hardly a major concern for people living in the United States. For Beijing, however, they are a handy tool for stirring up Chinese nationalism and diverting people’s attention from the much greater problem of mainland China’s threat to democracy in Taiwan.

In her capacity as an overseas executive director with COEA, Rose Pak also appeared in December 2014 at a welcoming event in San Francisco for arriving Chinese consul-general Luo Linquan (罗林泉). Appearing with Pak as a COEA “consultant” was Mr. Chi Honghu (池洪湖), founding chairman of the San Francisco Bay Area Committee to Promote the Reunification of China (舊金山灣區中國統一促進會, CPRC-SF), an overseas chapter of CCPPNR in Beijing. Chi also appeared with Pak welcoming OCAO director Qiu Yuanping to San Francisco in 2014.

Like Pak, Chi has a noted history of anti-Falun Gong activities in San Francisco, including joint opposition with Pak as “community leaders” to allowing Falun Gong participation in the annual Chinese New Year parade. In addition to his leading role in CPRC-SF, Chi also plays a leading role in an organization known as the “Chinese American Association of Commerce” (美國華商總會, CAAC), which appears to be simply the same organization under a different name. Qiu Yuanping met with both on her visit to San Francisco in 2014, and the two organizations have appeared jointly with officials from the Chinese consulate-general in San Francisco.

In 2001, CAAC joined Chinese consular officials in opposing a Northern California Falun Gong group’s registration with the State of California as a non-profit religious organization. Jingjun Chin (秦境均), the “old man in red” arrested for assaulting Falun Gong practitioners in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 2012, was previously interviewed and photographed by a Chinese blogger at CAAC’s office in 2008. CAAC’s possible relationship with Jingjun Chin, and with anti-Falun activities including violent attacks on Falun Gong practitioners, appears to warrant further investigation.

Rose Pak and Chi Honghu also share a close relationship with former Chinese consul-general Peng Keyu (彭克玉), noted for his recorded admission that he had personally instigated violent attacks on Falun Gong practitioners in New York in 2008. In mainland Chinese media Pak and Chi appeared together at a 2004 welcoming event for Peng when he arrived to take up his post as consul-general in San Francisco, at a 2006 Chinese National Day flag-raising ceremony including a photo of Chi and Peng raising the red flag of China over San Francisco, and at a 2007 farewell event for Peng on his departure to take up his post as consul-general in New York.

At all these appearances, Peng praised Pak, Chi, and other “overseas compatriots” for their patriotism, their adherence to the “one-China” policy, and their opposition to Taiwan independence. Prior to Peng’s tenure in San Francisco, Pak and Chi appeared together in 2002 at a Chinese National Day flag-raising ceremony with the previous consul-general, likewise promoting “love for the motherland, Chinese national unity, and opposition to Taiwan independence.”

The overriding theme in all of these activities is the national interests and unity of the People’s Republic of China, not those of the United States of America, the State of California, or the City of San Francisco. On June 1 this year current Chinese consul-general Luo Linquan appeared at a 15th anniversary event for CPRC-SF to praise Chi his and group again for their work “uniting Chinese people, promoting the reunification of China, and opposing Taiwan independence.”

One might almost think that they regard San Francisco not as an American city, but as an overseas colony of the People’s Republic of China: A quaint little Beijing-by-the-Bay, with clean air, cable cars, and walk-away crab cocktails for the pleasure of corrupt Chinese Communist Party officials.

Mark C. Eades is a writer and researcher on China and Asia-Pacific affairs with the Foreign Policy Association (FPA). Based in Shanghai from 2009 to 2015, he is currently working in Bangkok, A previous version of this article appeared at FPS’s Foreign Policy Blogs, June 9, 2016.