It’s considered a matter of courtesy to fly another country’s flag when one of its representatives is visiting. That doesn’t mean people have to like it. Last year, when Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai flew to Olympia, Washington, to meet with that state’s governor, Jay Inslee, the Chinese flag was hoisted outside the State Capitol – only to be pulled down by a group of private citizens who found its presence there disgraceful. A few days ago, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Czech Republic, Chinese flags lined the route from the airport into Prague. As in Olympia, citizens pulled a couple of the flags down and replaced them with Tibetan flags.
Also this month – specifically, on October 1 – a Chinese flag was raised outside the City Hall in Vancouver, Canada. But it was not because some Chinese dignitary was in town. No, it was done in recognition of China’s National Day. The flag-raising ceremony was organized by a group calling itself the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations. And the flag wasn’t the whole of it: two of the speakers at the event, a Vancouver Councilman and third-generation Chinese-Canadian named Kerry Jang and a Member of Parliament named Joe Peschisolido, wore red scarves, which were part of the uniform worn by the cruel Red Guards during Mao Zedong’s so-called Cultural Revolution.
This spectacle didn’t sit well with many locals. Peschisolido himself later claimed that he was unaware of the significance of the red scarves, and said that his remarks outside City Hall had included affirmations of “the importance of human rights, the importance for democracy, the importance of freedom of the press and freedom of one’s faith.”
But Jang was unrepentant. Describing himself as “agnostic” about Chinese Communism, he attributed initial criticism of the event to “ignorance and racism.” But its most vocal critics turned out to be his fellow Chinese-Canadians. Meena Wong, a local politician who had been a child in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution, said she was “dumbfounded” at the sight of “my city councillor in my city hall raising the flag wearing the symbol of loyalty to communism.” On October 6, a Chinese-American group called the Alliance of the Guard of Canadian Values – which, as we saw yesterday, had recently opposed a Maoist concert in nearby Richmond – held a public protest against the Vancouver flag ceremony and demanded Jang’s resignation.
During the last decade, charged the group’s head, Louis Huang, the Beijing government had vastly expanded its influence in Canada – “not only in our government organizations, but also in the hundreds of Chinese associations in Canada.” This development, Huang warned, represented a threat to “the foundation of our freedom and democracy, the loyalty to our country and our national security.”
As a result of the protest, Vancouver authorities said they were re-examining their policies regarding displays of foreign flags. And Jang, while repeating his claim that many critics of the ceremony “just hate all Chinese,” also sought to slough off responsibility for wearing a red scarf, maintained that someone else had tied it around his neck and that he was scared to remove it lest he cause an “international incident.” Now there’s the kind of character, principle, and resolve you want in an elected leader.