Frequent high-profile crimes and viral shoplifting videos from San Francisco have done more than provide ample fodder for American commentators. They’ve begun to seriously harm the city’s international reputation as well.
As the city gets ready to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and Chinese President Xi Jinping in only 10 days, reports bashing San Francisco are very easy to find in the online Chinese-speaking world. It’s not just the comments section, either—in many cases, the stories themselves spare no criticism.
“Ghost town San Francisco to have major blood exchange transfusion as APEC will bring the safest week in history to the city,” reads one headline by U.S. Chinese Radio. “The whole country is working to ensure public safety, but what happens next?”
“San Francisco declines into a ‘death loop’ as this city of freedom and love falls from heaven to hell,” a headline from the Chinese-language Phoenix TV reads.
Maybe the most prominent attack on the city came from the People’s Daily, which is considered the official mouthpiece of Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party. In a June article headlined, “Theft and robbery have become an epidemic in the U.S.,” San Francisco was mentioned multiple times, citing both the closure of Market Street’s Whole Foods and a surge in property crime.
Other than the widely known problems of homelessness and drug crisis, some of the city’s high-profile local crimes also travel through the language barriers to the Chinese world.
Something as mundane as the closure of a Starbucks can spark striking headlines on the Chinese internet.
“Even Starbucks can’t stand it, San Francisco is seriously sick,” a post on the popular news site Toutiao reads. The coffee chain explained that the closure is meant to ensure “a healthy store portfolio.”
However, on Xiaohongshu, a Chinese social media site, people are noticing the city is getting better because of APEC—which also benefited Beijing when that city hosted the summit nearly a decade ago.
A Bay Area resident said in a post that he thanked APEC—which turned the Chinese capital’s smoggy skies blue for a month in 2014, thanks to the massive efforts to quickly clean up the environment. He credited APEC for making San Francisco’s previously “homeless people-occupied” streets walkable.
“This is not an economic trade summit,” the author posted in Chinese. “It’s a magic conference.”