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Protesters turn out for Chinese president's visit

June 08, 2013|By Rick Rojas
  • A man wearing a head resembling Chinese leader Xi Jinping demonstrates with a flag-waving advocate for the Tibetan cause in Rancho Mirage.
A man wearing a head resembling Chinese leader Xi Jinping demonstrates… (Frederic J. Brown, AFP/Getty…)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- On the grassy patch across from the desert resort here where the Chinese president stayed during his visit, demonstrators representing various causes endured scorching heat Saturday in the hope of sending a message to the Chinese delegation.

Falun Gong followers calling for an end to persecution claimed an area shaded by trees. A Vietnamese group carried signs declaring that China had taken islands that belonged to Vietnam. And a contingent seeking liberation for Tibet waved flags and chanted.

But some were also busy trying to fend off a Chinese-flag waving group who'd come to offer a warm welcome to President Xi Jinping, who'd come to a desert retreat nearby for a two-day summit with President Obama.

"That's our place!" one women called out. "You don't have the right to put it there!"

"Let it be," said Tao Tenzing Dhamcha, 41. He'd come from Redondo Beach the day before to demonstrate in support of his Tibetan homeland and call for the Chinese to end what he viewed as a profit-motivated occupation.

"All we can do living here in California is protest," he said. "We want the Chinese leaders to know our plight. ... Our determination has strengthened. We feel we can be the voice for the 6 million voiceless."

He said that Chinese leaders sought legitimacy on the world stage, but it wouldn't come without rectifying a history of human rights abuses. "They can only get respect," he said, "if they respect the rights of other people."

Protesters had fled the scrubby space under the blistering sun near the Sunnylands retreat in Rancho Mirage, where the two leaders were meeting and where many groups had demonstrated the day before. Instead, on Saturday, they set up in the lush and manicured resort area of Indian Wells, across the street from the place where President Xi was staying.

They were still unable to escape the temperatures that hovered above 100 degrees for much of the afternoon, only exacerbating the tension.

"China is the killer!" Tibetan activists chanted. "Shame on red China!"

Some of them got close to those carrying the People's Republic of China flag, yelling at them: "He's a loser! A big loser!" one protester bellowed, referring to President Xi. "He's done nothing for your people!"

"They enjoy our freedom, they enjoy our democracy," Ann Lau, a protester with the Visual Arts Guild group, said of the Chinese government supporters. "And yet they are supporting a dictator."

One man, a pro-Tibet demonstrator, sneered at a woman holding a Chinese flag. He saw her snicker. He thought she was laughing at him.

She said she wasn't. "I don't want to talk to you," she said.

"I don't want to talk to you either," he replied.

Members of the pro-Chinese assembly took out a portable speaker and blared the "Star-Spangled Banner" so loudly it drowned out the others calls.

Howard Lee, 59, came to the United States from Shanghai more than 30 years ago, but was quick to defend his "motherland," as he called China. The U.S., he said, was his "second motherland. Dressed in a red shirt, he pushed back against those trashing the Chinese government. They didn't have a clue, he said.

"They're not from Tibet, they have nothing to do with Tibet," said Lee, an advertising salesman from Los Angeles.  "They're only against China. They're not clear what they want to do."

Lee said that he had come to offer a "warm welcome" to President Xi, and express hope that the two countries would forge a stronger relationship. "We hope the motherland and the second motherland become a brotherhood," he said.

China, according to Lee, had improved. "I think the Chinese government is getting better and better than before," he said. But added: "Taiwan belongs to China -- that's the history! Tibet belongs to China -- that's the history!" He believed most people would prefer to keep it that way.

Frank Tin, a 25-year-old Chinese student studying at UCLA, echoed Lee's sentiment. Those opposing the Chinese government, he said, were misguided. "I know what is going on on both sides," he said, calling his view more objective.

The summit offered an opportunity for both countries, he said.

"I think we need more talk, more communication to have a better understanding of each other," Tin said.

He made the trek from Los Angeles, he said, so he could "be a witness of this great moment."

Soon, a line of motorcycles began streaming out of the resort, then came the rest of the motorcade. The demonstrators pressed up against each other to be close to the street. Opponents chanted; supporters cheered and waved.

Seconds later, the motorcade disappeared in the distance, beyond the palm trees. The signs came down, the demonstrators stood down.

The moment was over.

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rick.rojas@latimes.com

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