A Chinese diplomat and the consul chef have left the Chinese Consulate here in a move that further cools an already chilly reception for a delegation of Chinese officials that arrived Tuesday.
The two consular staff members have not contacted U.S. immigration officials, but plan to seek residency in this country, according to several sources who have been active in protests against the Chinese crackdown on pro-democracy dissidents.
"They were both near the end of their terms. Prior to their being recalled, they decided to walk," said Michael Yaki, an aide to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).
Yaki said he spoke Tuesday with pro-democracy activists in San Francisco who confirmed that the two Chinese staff members remain in hiding in the Bay Area and are intent on keeping "a low profile."
The two were identified as Pang Yongjin, the vice consul for administration, and Shen Xuliang, the chef at the consulate. The consulate's spokesman did not return repeated calls from The Times.
David N. Ilchert, director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service office in San Francisco, said the two have not been heard from. Edward J. Appel, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI office in San Francisco, would not comment on whether the bureau had any contact with the Chinese staff members. He said that the FBI would assist anyone seeking asylum.
Their departures came as a group of mayors from six Chinese cities arrived in the Bay Area on the final leg of a U.S. visit. The delegation is the highest-ranking group of Chinese officials to visit the United States since the violence in Beijing last year.
The trip has been sponsored by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, a private organization. The three-week tour started in New York and included stops in Washington, Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis and Los Angeles.
During a stop in San Jose on Tuesday, Shanghai Mayor Zhu Rongji had begun to speak at a banquet at the Fairmont Hotel, when a small group of people unfurled banners protesting the massacre in Tian An Men Square on June 4, 1989.
"The look on his face was priceless," said Linda Pfeifer, a member of the group, Support Democracy in China, and a protest organizer.
Although the departure of the consul staff members could be viewed as a further embarrassment for the Chinese delegation, it was not clear they intended to "make a point" with the timing of their disappearance, Yaki said. Rather, he said, by leaving before the delegation arrived, they could evade the intensified security surrounding the visit.
Seven staff members in the Chinese consulate here have left since the anti-democracy crackdown. The consulate has about 50 diplomats and staff members.
Lowell Dittmer, a political science professor at UC Berkeley, said the vice consul in charge of administration is the highest-ranking official to have left the consulate.
"It bespeaks the great pessimism they must feel about the future that they don't see much of a light at the end of the tunnel," Dittmer said.
"We are aware of where they are, but they did not leave at our instigation," said Dr. Rolland Lowe, a Chinatown surgeon and chairman of the Foundation for Chinese Democracy. "Once they leave of their own free will, there are people within our organization who as a human gesture try to help them out."
Lowe was among three local Chinese-American leaders who met with San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos on Monday and urged him to deliver a tough message to the visiting Chinese on human rights violations in China.
"We do not want to give China the message that one year after Tian An Men Square, we have forgotten and we're back to business as usual," Lowe said.
In visiting San Francisco, the delegation has come to a city that suspended sister-city ties with Shanghai after the crackdown. Agnos was listed as the host of a reception for the group Tuesday night but did not plan on attending, a spokesman said.
Agnos planned to meet the mayor of Shanghai today, however, to "express his strong concerns about ongoing human rights violations in China," spokesman Scott Shafer said.
"The mayor will extend a courteous and respective welcome. But he has no intention of sweeping human rights concerns under the rug," Shafer said. "His conversations with the mayors will be frank and candid."