Chinese Americans say Irvine leaders have 'Cold War mentality'

Chinese Americans say Irvine leaders have 'Cold War mentality'
Dung Nguyen was among hundreds of Vietnamese Americans who protested the city of Irvine's proposed relationship with a city in Vietnam. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Along with its manicured greenbelts and meticulously neat neighborhoods, Irvine suddenly has something else on its hands: an international incident.

Members of its vast Chinese American community are fighting a city decision to bow to the demands of Vietnamese Americans, who arrived by the hundreds this month to demand that Irvine abandon its plans to formalize a relationship with a town in coastal Vietnam.


A parade of speakers spent hours pleading with council members to reject the proposal, saying it would be insulting for the city to forge a "friendship" with a country they'd fled to escape a brutal communist regime.

"Shame on you, Mr. Agran, for not thinking twice," Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen lectured Larry Agran, the veteran councilman who'd pushed for a relationship with Nha Trang.

After a six-hour meeting, the council relented and on a 3-2 vote not only killed the proposed pact, but suspended Irvine's entire Friendship City program.

And with it went Baoji, a booming city in central China that was also in line to become a "friendship city."

Now Chinese Americans in Irvine are demanding a face-to-face meeting with elected officials and want the proposed accord with Baoji revived. Nearly 500 have signed a petition.

"The outdated Cold War mentality you and your two colleagues hold has arrested the dynamism Irvine has been enjoying," Irvine resident Wenshen Jia wrote in a scathing letter to the mayor, Steven Choi.

For Irvine, which is roughly 40% Asian and pitches itself as an international hub, it's been a month of strained foreign relations.

In suspending the Friendship program, which was also poised to cement a relationship with Karachi, Pakistan, city leaders said it will be revived only after it adopts policies that would exclude reaching out to countries that don't respect human right or democratic values.

Mayor Choi, a South Korean immigrant, said he doesn't plan to revisit the idea of forming a relationship with Nha Trang, Baoji or Karachi.

"We treated everyone fairly," he said. "The matter is closed."