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In Chinatown and the Bay Area, residents react to Pelosi’s trip

More specifically, how did Chinese Americans and Taiwanese Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area respond?

August 05, 2022 / 07:24 PM IST
Nancy Pelosi, second in line to the presidency, is the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. (Image: AP)

Nancy Pelosi, second in line to the presidency, is the highest-profile elected US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. (Image: AP)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan this week drew concern from U.S. allies in Asia, support from Republican senators and sharp criticism from China.

But what did people at home think? More specifically, how did Chinese Americans and Taiwanese Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area respond?

We spoke with residents, whose thoughts came with the layers of nuance befitting a trip fraught with geopolitical implications.

In San Francisco’s Chinatown, America’s oldest and largest, residents reacted with a mixture of anger and apprehension. Some said they feared that the trip by Pelosi, their representative in Congress, could inflame anti-Chinese sentiment and incite attacks on Asian Americans.

“At this moment, we don’t want to create any more negative feelings against the Chinese,” said Melvin Lee, a property developer and a community leader. “That’s the main concern.”

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The Chinese community in San Francisco was outwardly supportive of Taiwan from the 1950s to the early 1990s. But today it is much more connected to mainland China, partly because of immigration trends and the rise of China’s power and influence in the world, according to David Lee, a political science lecturer in San Francisco who specializes in voting trends of the Chinese community.

Taiwanese Americans in the Bay Area had a much different reaction. Several said they were excited by what they considered the culmination of Pelosi’s decades of support for Taiwan.

“The fact that Speaker Pelosi actually visited Taiwan and had public events is thrilling,” said Marie Chuang, a council member in Hillsborough, a suburb just south of San Francisco. “Nancy Pelosi has always been very pro-democracy, pro-human rights, so it’s no surprise that she wanted to make a presence there. She recognized the importance of the image.”

Angela Yu, 42, a Bay Area resident who started a podcast exploring her Taiwanese American identity, said it was heartening and “really meaningful” to see Pelosi “stand up and profess support for Taiwan,” despite discouragement from President Joe Biden.

Annie Wang, Yu’s cousin and co-host of the podcast, said she was still processing that the visit actually took place. She was pleasantly surprised that a U.S. official had expressed unambiguous support for Taiwan. She said she hoped that the United States would back up the speech with action.

Taiwanese Americans said they understood fears that Pelosi’s trip would be seen as a provocation. But some were taking their cues from friends and family actually living in Taiwan under the threat of Chinese military action.

“It’s like looking to the captain of the ship: If the captain isn’t panicking, neither am I,” Wang, 42, said.

On Tuesday, Chinese flags in San Francisco fluttered above rooftops, often alongside American flags. Only a few buildings flew Taiwan’s flag. Stephen Chan, owner of a jewelry store in Chinatown, called Pelosi’s trip “pointless” and compared it to President Donald Trump’s description of the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.” In both cases, Chan said, “Americans were pouring oil over the fire.”

Chieh-Ting Yeh, a Mountain View resident and a co-founder of the Global Taiwan Institute, said that “the question that seems to be on everybody’s mind is: Is this provocative?”

He said that among Taiwanese Americans, “for the most part, everybody’s very happy” that Pelosi followed through after her travel plans became public. Yeh said it would have looked worse if she had been seen as cowed by the Chinese government’s threats.

Chuang said she did not think Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan would become a source of tension between Taiwanese and Chinese Americans.

“There are a lot of people that escaped communism and came to Taiwan, then ended up in the Bay Area or the United States,” she said, “because, ultimately, we know that freedom and democracy is the goal.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

By Jill Cowan and Thomas Fuller
New York Times
first published: Aug 5, 2022 07:23 pm
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