Flying in from New York and Philadelphia, supporters of Chinese President Xi Jinping waved red Chinese flags and greeted the president’s motorcade on Tuesday, part of a hundreds-strong rally outside the St. Regis Hotel in downtown San Francisco, where Xi is reportedly staying.
“I just want to see him, even if it’s probably just seeing his car going by with a tiny Chinese flag on it,” said Lily Tan, a Chinese national who lives in San Francisco to attend language school.
Supporters flew in, usually in groups, to welcome Xi on his first U.S. visit in six years.
Lin and Wang, two women flying in from Philadelphia, said they are proud of the huge turnout of the supporters.
“When leaders from other countries come, there’s nothing like this,” said Wang. “It showed the strength of our country. When our country is strong, Chinese people overseas won’t be bullied either.”
Lin, who said she will stay until Xi leaves the U.S. on the 17th, said, “We really should be proud.”
But the Tuesday rally was just one side of the coin in San Francisco: On Wednesday morning, hundreds of demonstrators marched from the Chinese consulate to the security gates near APEC downtown, lambasting what they called human rights abuses by the Chinese government.
“Shame!” bellowed Jigme Ugen from the Tibetan National Congress outside the consulate, eliciting boos from an internationally diverse crowd.
Ugen said he had watched China’s President Xi Jinping’s motorcade speed off toward APEC in disgust yesterday. Like more than 100 others who marched to the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference on Wednesday morning and protested in front of China’s San Francisco consulate, Ugen condemned the United States for entering trade deals with a dictator he likened to a murderer.
“When a dictator, a murderer comes to this country, they lay down the red carpet. This person should be in handcuffs, not eating with the President [Joe Biden],” said Ugen from the Tibetan National Congress, a political party in exile founded in 2013.
Speakers — from China, Tibet, Hong Kong, and more — advocated against a host of issues: China’s forced education schools and lack of media in Tibet, its political prisoners, its influence in Taiwan, violence against Uyghurs, and its crackdown against Hong Kong.
Alex Chow, who was imprisoned in 2017 for organizing the Umbrella Protest as a student in 2014 and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, described the experience as torturous, especially of seeing his mom behind the glass. One of his co-organizers still is not free, he said, and another is in exile.
He referenced Xi’s APEC attendance as a “disappointment. “By collaborating with the Chinese regime, you’re collaborating with a murder.”
Even during the pro-China rally on Tuesday, there was dissent: Around 3:40, two counter-protesters — holding banners criticizing Chinese government repression — were surrounded by a crowd led by a handful of men wearing Chinese Communist Party pins.
The protesters, one male and one female, were drowned out by megaphones playing the Chinese patriotic anthem “Ode to the Motherland,” with the pro-Xi demonstrators deftly covering the protesters’ white banners with huge Chinese flags.
Junwei Jia, the female protester, held a banner speaking to her father’s death in prison, reading, “Junwei Jia from Hei Longjiang calls for the end of political prosecution, give back my father, give back my home.” The pro-government demonstrators followed, using the flags to obscure the protesters from cameras.
Several others attempted to pull the banner away from Jia, which caused both her and another woman to fall to the ground.
At around 3:54 p.m., two police officers escorted Jia to get medical attention. She held up the banner and chanted: “Xi Jinping, give my father back.”