SALEM, Ore. — The Chinese government is pressuring the mayor of an Oregon college town to order a Taiwanese-American businessman to remove a mural advocating independence for Tibet and Taiwan.
Two consular officials flew in from San Francisco earlier this month in an unsuccessful bid to convince Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning to find a way to have the mural removed.
The episode shines light on the Chinese government’s efforts to exert influence over an issue sensitive to Beijing leaders.
In a letter last month, the Chinese consulate in San Francisco said the mural “has caused strong resentment from the local Chinese community and Chinese students studying in the U.S.” The letter asks Manning to “adopt effective measures” to remove the mural, which depicts police beating Tibetan demonstrators and Tibetans setting themselves on fire, along with scenes of Taiwanese defiance.
Manning told the Chinese officials that the mural is protected speech under the First Amendment and she has no authority to order its removal. She said she agreed to pass along the government’s concerns to the building’s owner, local businessman David Lin, an immigrant from Taiwan who commissioned the mural and had it painted last month.
Lin said Tuesday that the mural isn’t going anywhere. He moved to the United States more than four decades ago and to Corvallis in 1980, he said. He built a technology business in the town that is home to Oregon State University.
“Life has been pretty good for me,” Lin said Tuesday. “I’m 65 years old, I’m becoming golden age right now, and I’m just enjoying United States, all the good things in United States, all the good society in United States. In last couple years, I begin to think about this, the suffering in Tibet is unbelievable. I have to do something.”
Lin said he hasn’t spoken directly with officials from the Chinese government. Officials at the embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
The letter from the Chinese officials to Corvallis notes strong political ties between Oregon and China, including scheduled upcoming visits by the governor and legislators, but warns against jeopardizing those relationships.
“To avoid our precious friendship from being tainted by so-called ‘Tibet Independence’ and ‘Taiwan Independence,’ we sincerely hope you can understand our concerns and adopt effective measures to stop the activities,” it said.