Congressional group demands probe into Beijing’s role in violence against protesters on US soil

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WASHINGTON: A congressional commission is asking the Justice Department to investigate the role of Beijing after protesters claimed they were beaten and harassed by Chinese government agents in November in San Francisco during an official visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The protesters, who were defending the rights of Hong Kong, Tibet and ethnic Uyghurs, said their attackers’ attire, coordination and strong reaction to anti-Communist Party rhetoric indicated official Chinese involvement. They provided no definitive evidence, but U.S. officials have previously accused Chinese operatives of targeting people in the United States.

Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said Tuesday it was demanding a thorough investigation to “find out why all of these wonderful people who were peacefully protesting were hit with poles, have scars that now you know will not go away.”

The Chinese Embassy denied any involvement and instead accused the protesters of violence. The embassy said people had voluntarily traveled to San Francisco to welcome Xi and show their support for the stabilization of U.S.-China relations as Xi and President Joe Biden met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation annual summit, but they were met with violence by “rioters.” The embassy also demanded an investigation.
The congressional commission said it will ask the Justice Department to determine if the violence against the anti-Beijing protesters was part of an operation by the ruling Chinese Communist Party and whether the civil rights of the protesters were violated.
What’s known as transnational repression, by which foreign governments seek to hush their overseas critics through threats and assaults, has raised concerns in Washington. The worry is that actions by foreign governments such as China can jeopardize civil rights in the United States.

Kaiyu Zhang, a 51-year-old Chinese dissident who fled to the U.S. in March, was among those beaten in South San Francisco by a group of Chinese men on Nov. 17. He said his attackers either wore red headbands or had red scarves attached to their jackets and they grew aggressive when Zhang insulted the Communist Party.

He called it an “organized crime” backed by the party and said it left him afraid of further retaliation from Beijing. “I feel not safe anymore, even in the U.S., which was unthinkable before the assault,” Zhang said.

Pema Doma, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, said the repression had intensified, with far more pro-Beijing protesters in San Francisco than on previous, similar occasions.

She said they also acted more aggressively than in the past. Doma cited one case when what seemed like an organized group violently jerked away a banner from Tibetan students, at the risk of causing the students to fall off the fifth floor of a building.

Anna Kwok, executive director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council, said she was targeted by pro-Beijing accounts when she announced her arrival in San Francisco on X, the site previously known as Twitter. She received threats to her life as well as verbal abuse.

Kwok, who fled Hong Kong in the wake of the 2019 mass unrest, said she no longer felt safe continuing her advocacy work in the U.S. after witnessing violence against fellow protesters in San Francisco.

The Chinese Embassy said those who went to San Francisco to welcome Xi were victims of “multiple incidents of provocations and violent attacks” that caused injuries to dozens of people, including women and the elderly.

“Some of the victims were knocked out, others were beaten to headaches and nose bleeding, still others got hurt at sternums and ribs,” the English-language statement said.

The embassy said it “strongly condemns these violent acts” and asked the U.S. to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The FBI this year brought charges against dozens of Beijing operatives, including Chinese police officers, accused of targeting people living in the U.S. through threats, harassment and intimidation. The bureau accused Beijing of projecting “its authoritarian view around the world — and within our own borders.”

In one case, two New York residents were accused of running an illegal police station for the Chinese government. One of them, identified as Harry Lu Jianwang of the Bronx, was tasked with assisting Beijing’s repressive activities on U.S. soil, including participating in counter-protests during Xi’s 2015 visit to the United States, the FBI said.

China denied the charges and accused Washington of “maliciously concocting the so-called cross-border repression.”

Smith said police in the San Francisco area had failed to protect the protesters or investigate complaints. “They stood down and they were ordered. I have no doubt about it in my mind,” he said.

The San Francisco Police Department said it had made arrests when police officers witnessed attacks or were alerted to attacks and that it would continue to investigate complaints.

“Any assertion that SFPD or our partner agencies were ordered to ‘stand down’ in any way is completely false,” the department said in a statement.

South San Francisco Police Department also denied any knowledge of officers being ordered to stand down.

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