VOA, 12 September 2012
China’s government has asked a city in the western U.S. state of Oregon to order a Taiwanese-American businessman to remove a mural promoting independence for Taiwan and Tibet.
The mural, in the city of Corvallis, portrays Taiwan as a beacon of freedom and depicts Chinese police beating Tibetan demonstrators and Tibetan monks setting themselves on fire in protest of Chinese rule.
Businessman David Lin, who came to the U.S. from Taiwan in the 1970s, says he had the 3-meter-by-30 meter mural painted last month on his downtown building to show support for Tibet.
“I do feel pretty badly about the way that China treats the Tibetans, and we cannot ignore that,” says Lin. “I think the whole world needs to pay attention to this. This is a super human rights violation in Tibet.”
In a letter last month, the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco asked Corvallis city leaders to “adopt effective measures to stop the activities advocating ‘Tibet Independence’ and ‘Taiwan Independence’ in Corvallis.”
But the city’s mayor Julie Manning rejected the request, saying “artistic expression” is protected under the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of free speech.
“The mural reflects protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” says Manning.”No laws were being broken, this was a privately owned building, and I wasn’t really sure what local government had to do or say about this particular concern.”
Manning said she was surprised that Lin’s mural – in a town of about 54,000 people – would attract the attention of the Chinese government.
But Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei defended the consulate’s involvement in the affair during a press briefing Tuesday in Beijing.
“The Chinese diplomats have the responsibility of expounding on China’s position to the outside world and to other peoples in the world,” he said.
He said China’s position on Taiwan and Tibet issues has been “consistent and clear.”
“China’s position on Taiwan and Tibet related issues has been consistent and clear. We oppose anybody’s activity regarding Taiwan and Tibet independence in any form. We also hope the international community will not provide a platform for such activities,” said Hong.
Communist China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has claimed sovereignty over the self-ruled island since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s.
The August 8 letter from the Chinese consulate said, “There is only one China in the world, and both Tibet and Taiwan are parts of China.” The letter called that “a fact recognized by the U.S. and most other countries in the world.”
Back in Corvallis, Lin says he is uncomfortable with the pressure that he feels China is putting on him and the local government. But he says no amount of prodding will convince him to take down the painting.
“The artist who did the painting – he’s afraid. And me, too. We are not brave people at all. But I think I will stand on my feet. I will not tear this mural down, under any circumstances,” says Lin.
The incident highlights how China’s leaders have become increasingly concerned about Tibet, where tensions have soared to the highest level in years after a wave of protests and self-immolations by activists.
More than 50 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009, as they grow increasingly frustrated about what they see as the Chinese government’s limitations on their religion and culture – a charge Beijing denies.