When a political body votes unanimously for something, it likely falls under one of the following categories:
1). The decision is completely uncontroversial;
2). The decision is a result of political deals behind the scenes;
3). The decision is based on fear of consequences otherwise.
On June 4, all 11 members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted for the non-binding resolution to name the new Chinatown subway station after the late Rose Pak, who was considered by many to be a “power broker” in San Francisco politics for the last couple of decades.
That same day, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) voted 3:3 on the resolution. Because of this tie, the final vote has been postponed to await the 7th member, who is to be appointed by the mayor. However, there have been reports that the Board of Supervisors may revoke the SFMTA’s naming authority if they don’t vote for the resolution.
This vote does not fall under category #1. One hundred or more protesters were there to speak out against the naming proposal on that day. In fact, similar protests occurred when the proposal was first voted on by the Board of Supervisors two years ago.
If it falls under category #2, then it is highly unethical to hurt the feelings of large numbers of the community when there are alternatives that would not be so divisive.
If it falls under category #3, then it behooves citizens of the greater San Francisco Bay Area to awaken to the political compromise.
The purpose of this article is to analyze the politics surrounding the late Rose Pak to shed light on this matter.
Who Was Pak?
Pak was the General Consultant to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce from the 1980s until she passed away in 2016. However, the title betrayed her true role in San Francisco politics as the “king maker” of mayors.
Her strong and enduring ally was ex-mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown, who is also the current president of the Rose Pak Community Fund (RPCF) and a strong proponent of naming the subway station after Pak.
How did Pak garner that kind of power? The thread is rather clear after scouring the available news and reports through the years: hard work, money, votes, and Chinese ties.
Pak made herself very useful to politicians by helping them with Chinatown intelligence briefings, money from Chinatown businesses, votes from Chinatown residents (especially from the managed Affordable Housing units), and trips to China for business contractors and politicians.
That last item reveals some alarming findings. It is certainly the most worrisome on how San Francisco politics is affected.
Politico Magazine published a report in July 2018 titled “How Silicon Valley Became a Den of Spies.”
The report states: “According to four former intelligence officials, there were widespread concerns that Pak had been co-opted by Chinese intelligence, and was wielding influence over San Francisco politics in ways purposefully beneficial to the Chinese government. Another worry, U.S. officials said, was Pak’s role in organizing numerous junkets to China, sometimes led by Pak in person and attended (often multiple times) by many prominent Bay Area politicians. … Political junkets are used by Chinese intelligence for surveillance (‘every single hotel room is bugged,’ one former official told me). … Concerns about Pak’s links to the Chinese Communist Party occasionally percolated into local political debate, but the intelligence community’s identification of Pak as a likely agent of influence for Beijing is being reported here for the first time.”
The Foreign Policy Association published a report on June 9, 2016, titled “Beijing-by-the-Bay: China’s Hidden Influence in San Francisco,” which states: “Pak has very specific and demonstrable ties to the Chinese government. … 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’s leadership is composed entirely of Chinese Communist Party officials representing various foreign affairs and ‘overseas propaganda’ agencies of the Chinese government,” the report states.
San Francisco Examiner staff penned an article titled “Aaron Peskin takes a shot at Rose Pak” on Aug. 19, 2011.
The article quotes Peskin, a San Francisco supervisor, as saying: “There are … individuals, but behind those individuals are actually entities that are more powerful than those individuals. … It is really about political influence and how political influence works—and that even includes working with and representing the interest of an outside government in San Francisco. … I am happy to name those names. They include the People’s Republic of China.”
In an article on Nov. 11, 2011, The New York Times quoted Peskin’s own words on how he was courted by Pak: “‘It was very seductive,’ Mr. Peskin said of being courted by Ms. Pak, recalling how she gave presents, remembered the names of family members and invited him and his wife, along with other officials and business leaders, on one of her many delegations to meet senior leaders in China. ‘What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was being lobbied.’”
Ed Lee’s becoming the mayor of San Francisco was the crowning accomplishment of Pak, done with the help of her ally Willie Brown. It was back room dealing at its finest.
City’s Political Transformation
In the early days, the view of Chinatown used to be a sea of Taiwanese flags. It is no longer so today. The communist government of China has placed considerable effort into wowing the traditionally anti-communist Chinese nationals in San Francisco as well as its politicians.
In 1980, Diane Feinstein was the mayor of San Francisco. She forged the sister-city relationship between San Francisco and Shanghai, a first between the two nations.
This relationship opened up channels for economic and political connections. Jiang Zemin, who was the mayor of Shanghai starting in 1985, ascended to become the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 1989 on the back of the bloody Tiananmen Square Massacre. San Francisco became a very special and important place for China to win over.