A US senator has warned China to back off in the growing confrontation over a mural painted on a brick wall in Corvallis, Oregon, that advocates independence for Taiwan and Tibet.
“The mural will remain so long as the Americans who painted and host it wish it to remain,” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote in a letter to Chinese Ambassador to the US Zhang Yesui (張業遂) lecturing China on the freedom of speech.
The letter, sent on Thursday, follows a statement about the mural made on the floor of the US House of Representatives earlier this week by Representative Peter DeFazio.
“I’m shocked, and appalled, that apparently Chinese professional diplomats have failed to read the Constitution of the US before travelling here to represent their country,” DeFazio said.
“This represents the basis of our representative democracy, our freedom of speech, and our rights — and it will not be bullied by China or any other overseas interest,” he added.
Taiwan-born businessman David Lin (林銘新) had a 3m by 30m mural painted on the wall of a building he owns in downtown Corvallis. The mural shows Chinese police beating Tibetan protesters and it supports independence for both Taiwan and Tibet.
No sooner had the paint on the murald dried, than the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco wrote to Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning saying that “to avoid our precious friendship from being tainted,” the mural should be removed.
When Manning replied that Lin had a constitutional right to display the mural and that there was nothing that she could, or would, do to remove it, the consulate general sent two of its diplomats to help persuade her in person.
Again, she backed Lin’s right to display the mural and the right of Taiwan-born artist Chao Tsung-song (趙宗宋) to paint it.
A local newspaper published a story about the pressure from Beijing and the situation attracted national attention with large numbers of US citizens — including many Taiwanese Americans — offering their support to Manning and Lin.
This in turn led the Washington-based Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) to ask Congress to intervene.
“It has come to my attention that members of your diplomatic staff are trying to restrict free speech rights in Oregon,” Wyden said in his letter to Zhang.
“I am writing to express my deep displeasure and concern with these actions,” Wyden wrote.
He said limitations on speech and expression are incompatible with fundamental human rights anywhere in the world and that China’s efforts to have the mural removed are “a grave affront.”
“While these rights might not be respected in China, they are values that all Americans hold dear. Any attempt by your government to suppress these rights is unacceptable and must not be repeated,” Wyden wrote, adding: “I trust there will be no further attempt to try and influence any other form of legal, artistic expression in Oregon, or any other US state or territory.”
FAPA president Mark Kao (高龍榮) said: “We are pleased that Senator Wyden has responded to our concerns and applaud him for coming down forcefully on the side of freedom and democracy. The action by the consulate general of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] in San Francisco was a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of the US and a blatant attempt to silence people with different views. This may work in China itself, but should have no place in the US.”
Asked to comment, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) defended the consulate’s involvement.
“Chinese diplomats have the responsibility of expounding on China’s position to the outside world and to other peoples in the world,” he said.
This story has been updated since first published.