Because of an editor's error, a story about plans to raise the flag of the People's Republic of China in San Leandro incorrectly spelled the name of a person giving public comment to the San Leandro City Council. The person's name is Tsering Dolkar.
SAN LEANDRO -- Over the objections of residents and human rights groups, the city will raise the flag of the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1, a day that honors the formation of the sovereign state in 1949 by communist leader Mao Zedong.
The City Council voted 4-3 Monday to approve the request by Councilman Benny Lee, a Chinese-American who said he intended the move as a sign of support for the city's growing Chinese population and a sign the city is open for Chinese business and investment. The approval -- endorsed by Lee and fellow council members Ursula Reed, Diana Souza and Jim Prola -- garnered applause, as well as boos and shouts of displeasure from a packed council chamber.
"Raising the flag gives us the opportunity to show the openness to the people of China, the business people of China, to show that we welcome that investment and we welcome the prosperity," Lee said. Raising the flag also is a way "to acknowledge and accept the people of Asian ancestry, Chinese ancestry" in San Leandro, he said.
Monday's vote became a sort of Tibet versus China showdown, with Tibetans, Tibet sympathizers and others saying the flag represents oppression and signals the city condones the actions of the Chinese government. About a dozen people rallied outside City Hall before the meeting, many draped in the Tibetan flag and carrying signs that read, "China does not practice human rights," "USA is not a property of China," and "China does not deserve this honor."
A MoveOn.org petition, launched last week by local resident Margarita Lacabe, urged the council to reject the request. It had more than 235 signatures from people worldwide by Monday night and the number grew to more than 340 Tuesday. Lacabe also blasted the proposal on her local news blog, San Leandro Talk.
The flag request rankled the Tibetan National Congress and the nonprofit Tibettruth, prompting both groups to write letters of objection to the council and post them on their websites.
Tashi Kungo, president of Tibetan Association of Northern California, told the council the flag is "stained with the blood of Tibetans, Uyghurs and Chinese" and flying it would be "endorsing this brutal regime."
Arlene Lum, president of the Asian Community Cultural Association of San Leandro, disagreed, saying, "The gesture does not represent how we feel about the politics in China. It merely shows how much we welcome the Chinese population in San Leandro, for more Chinese to invest in San Leandro, to spend their money and live here."
Giovanni Vassallo, president of the Bay Area Friends of Tibet, contended that the flag symbolizes much more.
"That Chinese flag was formed with occupation and colonization and resources extraction in mind when it included Tibet as one of the five stars without any consultation with the Tibetans," Vassallo told the council. "The People's Republic of China has consistently refused to let the Tibetans exercise their religious or political aspirations."
Tsering Dolkar, 29, also urged the council to reject the request. Dolkar was born in India after her parents fled Tibet and now works with the San Francisco Regional Tibetan Youth Congress.
"When I see this country who has given me so much, honor a country which has taken everything from me and other Tibetans living in exile and inside Tibet, I just can't take it," Dolkar said.
Council members reflected the audience's divisions in their split vote.
Prola, before casting his yes vote, said, "My vote tonight is going to be honoring the Chinese people and not the Chinese government."
Councilwoman Pauline Cutter said that while she supports the city's diversity and Chinese citizens, the flag raising "is too hurtful to too many people," and voted against it.
Also opposing the request was Councilman Michael Gregory, who cited the divisiveness of the issue, and Mayor Stephen Cassidy, who said symbols are important. "A national flag is a representation of people. It's also a representation of government," he said.
San Leandro is not the first city in the region to raise the flag of the People's Republic of China. San Francisco and Alameda have flown the flag outside City Hall on or around Oct. 1 in recent years, and Milpitas raised the flag in the late 1990s, according to media reports.
Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo, San Ramon and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.