Anyone in China reading the news accounts of President Xi Jinping’s visit to San Francisco for APEC might be reassured by the state of the city — but not ignorant of its longstanding problems.
“The streets around Union Square are cleaner than usual,” read an article from the China News Service, the second-largest state news agency of China.
“Homelessness and public safety issues are common in recent years. But during APEC, reporters only saw a few homeless people in downtown streets, replaced by a large number of police officers patrolling the streets,” the article continued.
The China News Service cited the Shine on SF project, where ordinary San Franciscans were asked to write love letters to their city and post them in public spaces like Golden Gate Park, Civic Center, and other parks and plazas. The article, referencing the project, declared: “San Francisco is ready to shine again.”
Chinese media has largely foregone the predictable doom loop narrative to focus instead on the city’s cleanup efforts for the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC), the city’s largest international event since the signing of the United Nations charter in 1945.
Chinese media also covered the increased police presence around Moscone Center — reportedly more than 1,000 additional officers have been brought into San Francisco for APEC — as a sign of the significance of the conference.
“We see the security is upgrading, with APEC approaching,” said a reporter in a vlog-style video published by China Central Television, China’s state broadcaster, showing footage of Public Works employees putting up metal security fences and police officers patrolling the streets. “As we can imagine, they are under a lot of security pressure.”
The coverage also included business owners in Chinatown speaking to Chinese reporters about their hopes of bringing Chinese tourists back to the city, the backbone for many Chinatown businesses.
“Hope Xi can come and walk around in Chinatown, even if just for one minute,” one of the owners said in the video, published by the China News Service on its YouTube channel.
Chinese journalists also documented their travel across the Pacific to San Francisco. The Xinhua News Agency, the official state news agency of China, published an article, “Head of State diplomacy draws hearts closer: across the Pacific, feel the warm currents between Chinese and American people,” the writer noted. It described a full flight to San Francisco with people from all walks of life, both Americans and Chinese, including “entrepreneurs, students, seniors visiting their relatives, and APEC government officials and journalists.”
The reporter wrote about an encounter with a retired American photojournalist, Roger Johnson, who was enthusiastic about his trip to China — “the high-speed trains, delicious Chinese food and, most importantly, ‘every Chinese is so nice.’”
“The image of San Francisco is never without the image of ‘bridge,’” the reporter wrote. “The iconic landmark of Golden Gate Bridge stretches across the Bay with non-stop tourists. And, in the past half-century, more and more ‘bridges’ span across the ocean and connect China and the U.S.”
The Chinese press appears to love the slogan, “APEC is going to be epic,” as it appeared in articles published by many outlets, including China Central Television, China News Service and Southern Weekly.
Chinese media outlets are also covering their own. China Central Television announced on Tuesday that more than 180 journalists from the state media have arrived in San Francisco and are ready to report on the Biden-Xi meeting and “take initiative to spread the voice of China.”
Its stories describe the history of the ties between China and San Francisco — the city with one of the largest Chinese enclaves in the United States, and the first stop when the inaugural civil aviation route between the two countries started 42 years ago, a China Central Television article noted.
“Today, San Francisco became an important place to witness the China-U.S. relationship once again,” the article read.
The TV station also published an 84-second video on Tuesday named “Hello San Francisco,” showing iconic sights of the city like the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Union Square and North Beach, and another one showing the views of the nearby Filoli estate, where the Biden-Xi meeting took place.
But the foreign press is also cognizant of San Francisco’s PR problems, and thinks the city still has a ways to go. In another article from China News Service titled “What will APEC bring to San Francisco?” the reporter threw down a gauntlet: “One of the challenges for the city government during APEC is that journalists from around the world will use magnifying glasses to scrutinize this city,” it said.
“To win the praises from the press, San Francisco has a lot of work to do.”