Portland, Tibet, and “Meddling in Internal Affairs”

The city of Portland, Oregon, is known as an aspiring utopia and somewhat left-wing city enamored of coffee, bicycles, religious tolerance and sustainable living.  It is, at least as cities go, a bit remarkable.  It is also one of the more friendly places in North America for people who believe that Chinese policy in Tibet is without moral justification.

On March 8, The Oregonian, Portland’s major newsdaily, reported the following:

Officials with the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco slipped through a peaceful ring of Tibetan supporters at Portland City Hall today to meet with city Commissioner Randy Leonard and Mayor Sam Adams.

At issue was a proclamation by Adams last week making this Wednesday, March 10, “Tibet Awareness Day” in Portland…. Leonard said the Chinese delegation asked that the city rescind the proclamation, order a new proclamation in support of China, and deny Tibetans a planned celebration at City Hall on Wednesday. Leonard said no to all three requests; he said he expected the mayor to do the same. (Read more from Leonard here.)

More than 50 supporters of Tibetan independence gathered outside City Hall Monday, according to Namgyal Gyalnub, who is with the Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association, which organized the rally. She estimates about 450 to 500 people of Tibetan ancestry live in Portland and in Southwest Washington. “We are here to say thank you” to the council, Gyalnub said. And she wanted to send the message to visiting delegates that in the United States, there is freedom of speech and religion.

Fearing a confrontation with Tibetan demonstrators at City Hall, the consulate asked to meet Leonard at the University Club.  Well, reflecting casual Northwest sensibilities, “I said I’m not allowed at the University Club because I wear jeans,” Leonard noted.

Thus they were forced to stalk the city streets in search of the mayor’s office:

Members of the Chinese Consulate – San Francisco in Portland, Oregon, USA, on their way to accost the mayor — photo courtesy Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association

Video of the confrontation between the Consulate members and the gauntlet of pro-Tibet protestors is here on the local Fox affiliate.  The most comprehensive set of links on the story is on the Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association website (link by clicking the photograph above).  City council member Randy Leonard’s website is today displaying photos of the Tibetan flag raising at City Hall.

Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama is ramping up his rhetoric in India.

The big story, however, is that the Global Times in Beijing has picked up on the incident and has thrown it like a dry log on the narrative pyre whereby China is all things reasonable and the United States is all things aggressive.

Here is the heart of the Huanqiu Shibao/Global Times article entitled 美国一城市为“藏独”设纪念日 遭中美民众谴责, or, roughly, “One American City’s Plan to Commemorate ‘Tibetan Independence’ Provokes Condemnation from the Chinese and American People” [ed.: and by “the American people,” the headline presumably refers to this person, the author of the above dissenting comment on the Oregonian website!] — rough translation by Adam Cathcart

据美国“俄勒冈直播”网站8日报道,俄勒冈州波特兰市日前不顾中国方面的强烈反对,将3月10日设立为所谓的“西藏自觉日”(Tibet Awareness Day)。波特兰市市政委员兰迪•莱昂纳多还极力声援“藏独”在市政厅举行庆祝活动。According to a March 8 report on the American website , “Oregon Live,” the city of Portland, Oregon has recently decided to establish a so-called “Tibet Awareness Day” on March 10 despite strong opposition from the Chinese side. Not only that, but Portland City Council member  Randy Leonard will strongly support “Tibetan independence” in  the City Hall celebration.

中国学者李伟9日接受《环球时报》记者采访时表示,美国少数政客歪曲他国事务,拿敏感话题进行表演,实际是为自己谋取政治利益。Chinese scholar Li Wei agreed to an interview with “Global Times” on March 9th, emphasizing that a small number of U.S. politicians distort other country’s affairs, taking sensitive topics as opportunities for performances which in reality only serve their own political gain.

报道称,波特兰市市长山姆•亚当斯上周宣布将3月10日设为“西藏自觉日”,并称这样做是呼应“越来越响亮的要求西藏从中国独立的国际呼声”。市政委员莱昂纳多力挺亚当斯,并对外宣称这一切都是自己的功劳,“在同中国打交道时,就是不能放弃言论和宗教自由的原则”。 The [Oregonian] report stated [ed. Obviously the Li Wei quote was spliced in rather quickly above, as “the report” has already been superseded by “the interview”] that Portland Mayor Sam  Adams announced last week that March 10 would be “Tibet Awareness Day” and said doing so would echo the “increasingly loud international voice demanding independence of Tibet from China.”  Council Member Leonard backed Adams, but in dealing with outsiders claimed the credit for himself, stating “in dealing with China, [we] cannot abandon the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

这些干涉中国内政的做法遭到中方反对。 This interference in China’s internal affairs is resolutely opposed by the Chinese side.

中国驻旧金山总领馆派出7人代表团前去交涉,要求波特兰市政委员会撤销错误决定,取消将在10日举行的庆祝活动并发表支持中国政府的声明。然而,中方的要求遭到拒绝。亚当斯的发言人表示,他们的决定仅是为了唤起人们对西藏的关注。  至于某些藏族人要在市政厅举行集会,他说:“这是栋公共建筑”。  The Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco sent a seven-member delegation to discuss the matter with the opposing side, requesting that the Portland City Council revoke its erroneous decision and abolish the celebratory activities of the 10th, and instead publish a statement supporting the Chinese government. However, China’s demand was rejected. Adams’ spokesman said their decision was meant only to arouse people’s attention to Tibet. As for the idea of Tibetan people (藏族人) holding a rally in City Hall, he said: “This is a public building.”

莱昂纳多更是出言不逊。他声称他本人不同意中方的要求,所以市长也不可能改主意。他还宣布取消原定今年6月对姐妹城市苏州的访问,并表示宁可不和中国做生意也不能“牺牲言论自由”,因为“那样意味着出卖我们城市的原则”。[Council Member] Leonard’s words were even more disrespectful. He claimed that he himself would not agree to China’s demands, so the mayor also would not change his mind. He also announced the cancellation of this year’s scheduled June visit to the sister city of Suzhou, expressing a preference not to do business with China as [it would mean that we would] “sacrifice freedom of speech” and “sell out our city’s principles.”

据波特兰市新闻周报“Williamlette Weekly”报道,消防员出身的莱昂纳多在市政委员会大权独揽,与同性恋市长亚当斯的关系非常好,在亚当斯“性侵害幼童”案件曝光后曾为其大力奔走。在莱昂纳多的极力鼓动下,亚当斯代表波特兰市市政委员会宣布用“西藏自觉日”来纪念“为了宗教和政治自由而丧生的120万西藏人”。而就在中国代表团抵达之前,莱昂纳多还在市政厅前和“藏独”示威者握手并合影。 According to reports by the Portland news magazine “Willamlette Weekly,” Leonard comes to lead the municipal with a family background in firefighting, and had a very good relationship with the gay mayor Adams until the “sexual assault of young children incident” was exposed and he rapidly distanced himself. Under the vigorous agitation of Leonard, Adams declared “Tibet Awareness Day” on behalf of the Portland Municipal Committee in order to commemorate “religious and political freedom of the 1.2 million Tibetans who have lost it.” Moreover, before the Chinese delegation arrived, Leonard stood in front of the city hall and shook hands with the demonstrators for “Tibetan independence,” posing for a joint photo.
中国现代国际关系研究院安全与战略研究所所长李伟9日对《环球时报》记者表示:“美国人总觉得自己是世界警察,肆无忌惮地干涉别国内政。凭借自己的一超地位,美国折腾出不少事情,而国际上很多矛盾的引起和激化背后都有美国因素在起作用。” Li Wei, the director of Security and Strategic Studies at the Chinese Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told a “Global Times” reporter on March 9: “The Americans always feel that they are the world’s policeman, shamelessly interfering the internal affairs of other countries. Relying upon their superior position, the United States continues to toss out a not insignificant number of intrigues, but, on the international stage, one can see the excitement and intensification of contractions at work behind the American actions. ”
波特兰市政委员会的做法遭到当地华裔商界以及部分美国民众的谴责。The Portland City Council has encountered condemnation from the local ethnic Chinese business community and from a section of the of the American people.

The Global Times article concludes with the sentence:  有美国网民在“俄勒冈直播”的报道后留言说:“散发着臭气的莱昂纳多和他的同伴,别把拱猪槽的鼻子伸到根本不懂的国际关系上去,还是专心处理波特兰自己的 事情吧,” which is an incomplete translation of this completely random and somewhat insane internet comment:

Stinky Randy and his sidekick the child molester should stick to the business of Portland and keep their porcine public trough grubbing snouts out of international relations they do not understand.

Why this merits inclusion in a for inclusion in a real newspaper article from an outlet that is presumably interesting in getting a modicum of respect on the global stage is beyond me.

Further Reading:

China Digital Times, “China and Tibet Spar at a Film Festival” has commentary and additional links on the New York Times story about the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles sending a delegation in Jan. 2009 to trip up the screening of a film about Tibet in the California desert

Video and on-site story by Richard Read (the Oregonian) on how China’s “rural boom” is being sped in Anhui by production contracts with Oregon companies Patagonia and Nike.

– Story on Portland architects assisting with “green construction” in China

– Congressman David Wu (D-Oregon), and his March 9, 2010 proposal for a “Global Internet Freedom Caucus” which will be holding hearings on the Google-China issue.

Sinologistical Violoncellist, analysis of  “Paris Mayor Insists on Disturbing China: 87% of Huanqiu Shibao Internet Voters are ‘Resolutely Opposed’ to Paris Offering the Dalai Lama ‘Honorary Citizenship’,” Huanqiu Shibao, June 8, 2009, front page [“巴黎市长执意冒犯中国: 87%的环球网投票者‘坚决反对’巴黎授达赖 ‘荣誉市民’”,环球时报,6月8日,首页].

Image: Skateboarder Bucky Bean in Portland, Oregon, 2009 – via Earth Patrol skateboarding blog. 


  1. Great post. Thanks for catching this story and doing the translating. Can’t believe a bigger U.S. news outlet hasn’t picked this up yet (have they?)

  2. Clumsy Chinese government. By protesting against such insignificant moves they are only “legitimizing” their cause.

    Clumsy Huanqiu Shibao (that’s why I never took ithe web vesion seriously) for resorting to the old gimmicks of quoting some anonymous foreigner to justify/solidify their stance. By the way Adam, do we know the person who wrote “stinky Randy” is a Chinese 50-cent party quoter?

    1. Juche, good to see you again; the person who wrote “stinky Randy” is decidedly not a 50-cent party, if you check the link you will find he is some dude who frequently writes inflammatory things on the Oregonian website whose political perspective I am hoping to remain totally ignorant of! But this was an interesting case in which the random Huanqiu quote could a.) actually be tracked down and b.) is indicative of just how flexible Huanqiu treats its evidence, as this one dude’s comment allowed the paper to justify their headline about the commemoration day causing anger among the Chinese AND American people.

  3. I saw an article about this on Tencent or something today and was hoping you’d write something about it. Boy am I lucky/happy you did! Portland seems to be where it’s at for China action in the US lately: first Li Ning opens a store there and now this.

  4. The reason the news outlets don’t pick it up is because this sort of thing is so normal. Chinese consular officials go insane over any support for Tibet (or Taiwan or East Turkestan). In addition to the uber nationalist expansionist phase China is currently in that drives this, another factor is bureaucratic — those consular officials are not playing to US audiences, but to their bosses at home for whom nationalist militancy is a trait that will be rewarded with promotions.

    Michael Turton
    The View from Taiwan

    1. Michael, thanks for the comment. It has been interesting to watch how similar the Chinese official response here has been to the various rhetoric levied against the Parisian mayor Delanoe this past summer.

    2. Nah, Michael, your twisted world view got you wrong on this one, definitely. While no one could argue that the Chinese government is not overly paranoid (it is kind of amazing that the lengths they would go to to stymie any type of open pro-ROC (by the way, that’s the name of the country that you are in), pro-TGIE, pro-RK moves.), I don’t think they were trying to prove to the Chinese public how promotion-deserving they are. China’s biggest online portal Sohu.com (so they say) didn’t even pick up the story, I think.

      As to “uber nationalist expansionist phase”, I am sure China will pass it just as the US did, unscathed. However “nationalist militancy”-wise, we shall see if the US will survive it.

  5. Good stuff, Adam.

    One of these increasingly numerous tantrums by China will end less than peacefully sooner or later – someone will make a phone call and local students will mobilised into a frenzied, nationalistic mass of hatred.

    1. Thanks, Stuart. One of the interesting things, though, about this episode is that Chinese students in Portland have NOT converged in support of the government line. This is a contrast to the substantive protests by University of Washington (and a few Pacific Lutheran University) Chinese students in Seattle in April 2008 when the Dalai Lama was in town.

  6. It seems like this incident has/will blow over fairly quickly. Portland city gov establishes relatively meaningless “Tibetan Day” to satisfy constituent demand and the Chinese consulate goes through the motions to protest. In a few days/weeks everybody forgets about it.

    But what happens in 5, 10, 20 years when China is more powerful and has more defined constituencies (like the business community) in Portland/the US that will echo their demands. What chance will their be for anything but the official Chinese government line to be given recognition in the US?

    I think it would be more constructive to create a situation where the two sides can have a dialog with each other rather than symbolic, confrontational gestures.

    1. Thanks Mr White, I’d echo your sentiments. As for for “the official Chinese government line to be given recognition in the US,” I think that’s what’s at issue here. China sometimes seems to exhibit an interpretation that American recognition of the PRC in 1979 should have shut off criticism of the PRC altogether; a better example would be the CCP’s statements of disgruntlement about US interpretations of the Taiwan Relations Act and Shanghai Communique. In other words, we don’t agree on the tacit elements of the relationship, which is why we need to go back (both sides, that is) to the Nixon-Mao and Zhou-Kissinger discussions/transcripts of 1972 and (in the latter case) 1973. We can certainly agree to disagree and remain amenable and functional partners in a world where our challenges are now not Soviet hegemony but global warming, etc.

  7. This is clearly an attempt to “elevate” Adams into a bigger stage, distract attention from his utter lack of integrity (cf earlier stories of fornication with a teenage boy and lying about it) and garner attention and political support from well funded lobbies. If he cares so dearly about “human rights,” why isn’t he “proclaiming” the “rights” of those in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who would like to secede as “Superior?” Why isn’t he “proclaiming” the rights of those in Quebec who support separation from Canada? Oops, no fashionable lobbies or celebrity advocates on those two fronts. If we care about “human rights” in this city, let’s focus on getting people back into their homes and onto their jobs. One way to do this might be to foster goodwill and trust over the long haul with a key economic partner, not destroy it for short term personal and political gain. Adams “proclamations” do not speak for the future of Portland, they pander to his personal ambitions.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jim. I would agree that in some ways it is easier and less risky for politicians to rail at China than it is to deal with local problems, like, say, homelessness in Portland. And the Tibet lobby has been remarkably successful in garnering celebrity support to the point where support for Tibetan independence (which is, very carefully, never defined) has become axiomatic for many. (Which is also to say that China has been basically unsuccessful, and already lost huge ground on the propaganda front which is not easily made up in two years or five, or with a few songs and dancing minorities at the Olympic Games.)

      Some part of me wishes that the Chinese government would get intensely interested in Native American politics, or the politics and hardships of “the Res” in the United States and start to make more moves to educate the Chinese public about what is going on in North America, not with the intent of pulling some publicity stunt, but with the idea of having some kind of parity of understanding as regards “minority policy” and/or “cultural imperialism” and/or “Han/WASP chauvinism” with which both countries have to deal in terms of legacy and present-day policy.

    2. @ Jim – I’m pretty sure Adams had no hand in the Chinese consulate response. They love to do that stuff on their own.

      The idea that because you advocate for one cause, you have to advocate for all tangentially similar causes is ludicrous. Also, the idea that government can only do one thing at a time (like jobs) is also ridiculous.

      Furthermore, this five-minute blip event just isn’t the reason a Chinese company would decide whether or not to do business in Portland. It doesn’t work that way.

      But kudos to you for bringing up the Breedlove thing again. Lord knows we need to know more about our elected officials’ legal, consensual, private sex lives. I just didn’t get enough from Ken Starr.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s