News Column

Backers, Protesters Eager to Glimpse Chinese Leader

June 7, 2013

Cindy Chang

Xi Jinping, president of China (file photo)
Xi Jinping, president of China (file photo)

When Xi Jinping visited Los Angeles last year as vice president of China, Sue Zhang dined with him.

Now, Xi is China's president, and Zhang is scrambling to catch a glimpse of him during his stay in the Palm Springs area for a two-day summit with President Obama.

The informal talks, which begin Friday afternoon, are a chance for the two leaders to get to know each other and discuss issues such as cybersecurity and North Korea. Xi has not scheduled any meetings with local Chinese Americans.

Still, Zhang and more than 100 others are braving the triple-digit heat, staking out airports and hotels on the off-chance that Xi passes by. They want to welcome Xi and show their affection for him. Protesters, including Falun Gong and Tibetan independence activists, are also marshaling by the hundreds.

"It's very hot here, but that's not just due to natural causes," said Carson Zhang, president of the U.S.-China Guangdong Chamber of Commerce (and no relation to Sue Zhang). "It's also because as American citizens, we're really happy and honored to have the chance to host this summit between Xi and Obama."

With little information about Xi's itinerary, local Chinese leaders were constantly revising their plans. Was he flying in from Mexico on Thursday or Friday? Was he staying at the Sunnylands estate, where the summit would be held, or at a nearby hotel?

Carson Zhang's strong ties with the Chinese Consulate were of little help. They might wait in the wrong spot and miss him altogether. A handshake? Beyond expectations.

Sue Zhang, whose father was a Communist general and a friend of Xi's father, is telling everyone to have a good time and not focus too much on Xi sightings.

At the February 2012 dinner, Zhang recalled, Xi brought up the seaside holidays their families once took together. He flattered her by describing how "beautiful and fashionable" she was as a young woman.

As it turned out, Xi flew into LA/Ontario International Airport on Thursday evening and, as his motorcade turned into the Indian Wells Resort, Zhang's group shouted "Welcome, welcome, a warm welcome" in Mandarin while the Falun Gong group called out its own slogans.

While Zhang is thrilled that Xi is in Southern California again, she is disappointed, even angry, that Michelle Obama will not be attending. Xi's wife, the singer Peng Liyuan, will be without a counterpart.

"She lost a very good chance to meet the First Lady of China. This is not good for her. It's not very friendly towards China," said Zhang, head of the Roundtable of Chinese American Organizations.

On Friday, a section of Bob Hope Drive near the Sunnylands entrance will be cordoned off for anyone who wants to greet, or jeer, the two world leaders. Gov. Jerry Brown, who greeted Xi at the airport Thursday, will meet with him Saturday.

The heat may overwhelm people waiting outside for hours, Rancho Mirage officials cautioned. Friday's high is expected to be 110 degrees. And there is no guarantee the motorcades will use that route.

"For people who are not used to it, the desert sun is hot," said Robert Barrett, a city spokesman.

Several hundred Falun Gong members will be there to protest the Chinese government, which has banned the spiritual movement.

"He's not the one who started it, but he's the president, and it's his duty to stop it," said John Li, president of the Caltech Falun Gong Club.


(c)2013 the Los Angeles Times

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Source: Copyright Los Angeles Times 2013

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