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Reactions to Hu's visit highlight a stark divide among Chinese Americans

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Students to Free Tibet held a protest across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park on Tuesday, as Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived for his state visit with President Barack Obama.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2011; 7:34 AM

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan was almost giddy with excitement about Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit. Quan, the first Chinese American mayor of a major city, flew into Washington on a red-eye flight for the state dinner, packing a black Chinese silk dress.

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She was looking forward to chatting about new business opportunities and about the possibility of getting a panda for her city's zoo.

Just miles from the White House in Falls Church on Wednesday, other Americans with connections to China were looking at Hu's visit in a different light. Armed with posterboard, markers and hammers, a group of Tibetan Americans was preparing to lead a protest highlighting China's human rights abuses that they hoped would draw thousands to the perimeter of the White House.

During his four-day visit, Hu is being met by a Chinese American community that includes supporters of the Communist government and those sharply critical of its repressive rule.

Some lobbied hard to get invitations to the swanky state dinner Wednesday night ¿ to be attended by actor Jackie Chan, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, interim San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee and toy company owner Charles Woo ¿ or paid $175 a head to attend a luncheon in Hu's honor Thursday. They expressed pride that the leader of their ancestral home is being welcomed by President Obama with such ceremony.

"They feel China is finally, finally getting some kind of recognition," said Nancy Tom, director of the Center for Asian Arts and Media in Chicago, who is attending a gala being hosted by that city's mayor for Hu on Thursday.

Quan, 61, emphasized the positive aspects of China's relationship with the United States: "I've been in China since the early days, and China has made a lot of progress both politically and economically, and the trend is very hopeful."

But others who left China seeking more freedom are ambivalent about the symbolism of such a visit.

In Washington on Wednesday, some of Hu's most vocal global critics trailed his delegation from event to event and held protests. Hundreds gathered in Lafayette Square just north of the White House, waving placards with Hu's picture that said "Failed Leader." Others demonstrated outside the State Department, waiting for Hu to arrive for an official lunch with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Biden.

"Down, down, Hu Jintao!" they cried. "Liar, liar, Hu Jintao!"

Among those leading the crowds were were Tiananmen Square activists Wang Juntao and Yang Jianli, who were released from Chinese prison thanks to U.S. pressure, and Tenzin Dorjee, the Tibetan American executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, whose group was the only human rights organization that managed to disrupt the carefully scripted 2008 Beijing Olympics with a series of public protests.

Also participating was Rebiya Kadeer, a grandmother from Northern Virginia who has become an international spokeswoman for the plight of the Muslim Uighurs living in China's west and who has been blamed by the Chinese government for instigating the bloody riots that left hundreds of people dead in 2009. She denies the charges.

The protesters also include 17 Taiwanese American groups, Christian activists and members of the religious group Falun Gong as well as leaders from Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders.

Although Hu has sought to promote his vision of China as a "harmonious society" where different ethnic minorities live happily, not everyone that China counts as Chinese within its borders identifies with or supports his government or his policies. Taiwanese, Tibetans, Uighurs and other groups have fought back against rule by the Han Chinese majority.

The protests surrounding Hu's visit highlight similar divisions in the Chinese American population in the United States. Nearly 3 million U.S. residents identify themselves as being of Chinese descent, according to a 2006 survey by the Census Bureau. But that doesn't include 90,000 who identify as Taiwanese or the roughly 20,000 Tibetans and 1,000 Uighurs living in the United States, according to estimates by ethnic and cultural organizations.

"There is a strong alliance now of people oppressed by China which is putting pressure on the United States to change its foreign policy," said Bob Yang, a university biochemistry professor who is president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, a Taiwanese American group.

Dorjee, 31, whose parents fled Tibet during the uprising of 1959 and who grew up in India and is now a U.S. citizen, said that he hopes the rallies will put pressure on Obama to convince Hu that "if China does not resolve its human rights, the Chinese nation will never really be able to enter the 21st-century community of nations as a proud and respectable player."


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