Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in San Francisco ahead of a closely watched meeting with President Joe Biden and a whirlwind visit to the city for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
The Chinese leader touched down at San Francisco International Airport shortly before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and was greeted by a crowd of hundreds of supporters and high-level U.S. officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Surrounding the St. Regis, a luxury hotel in Downtown San Francisco where Xi is staying, banners and balloons hailing the Chinese leader's arrival stretched for blocks. As scores of law enforcement officers oversaw a fenced-off area around the hotel, pro-China demonstrators deafened the area with megaphones and patriotic anthems.
A group of anti-communist party protestors had gathered earlier in the afternoon, but were soon after blockaded by San Francisco police and later dispersed from the area. Observers flooded the street as officials unlocked the gates after Xi’s arrival, but were promptly cordoned back behind the fenced perimeter by police in riot gear.
This is Xi’s first trip to San Francisco since 1985, when he was a small-town Communist Party chief.
David Zhu, a member of the American Chinese Commerce Association, said he came from New York to welcome the Chinese leader.
“It's good for the world … right now the world is very bad," he said. The economy, the peace is very dangerous.”
Biden and Xi are due to meet Wednesday at the Filoli estate, a historic home and garden property about 25 miles south of San Francisco.
The four-hour meeting, which will include a working lunch and a walk around the grounds, will be the two leaders’ first face-to-face session since last year. In addition to meeting with Biden, Xi is expected to attend a gathering of business executives on Wednesday evening at the Hyatt Regency.
The Biden-Xi meeting is a high-wire act that comes at a fraught time for the two superpowers.
The U.S.-China relationship has come under heavy strain over the last year, with Beijing bristling over new U.S. export controls on advanced technology; Biden ordering the shooting down of a Chinese spy balloon after it traversed the continental United States; and Chinese anger over a stopover in the U.S. by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen earlier this year, among other issues.
Biden and Xi have reportedly reached a tentative deal to curb the production and distribution of fentanyl in Beijing, a main hub for exports of the powerful drug. San Francisco has seen overdose deaths spike in recent years, alongside the spread of fentanyl in the city’s illegal drug supply.
At the meeting Wednesday, the two leaders will also discuss the importance of strengthening communication between the two countries and managing competition responsibly—along with a range of issues that could prove contentious, such as election interference, according to a senior administration official. Biden is also likely to touch on China’s role in the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars, the official said. The Bay Area meeting will be Biden and Xi’s seventh interaction since Biden took office.
Earlier on Tuesday, a group of Xi supporters—many affiliated with the American Chinese Commerce Association—carried flags and donned red hats outside the St. Regis in anticipation of the Chinese president’s arrival.
Nearby, a small group gathered to protest Xi’s arrival, citing human rights abuses and the demolition of their properties in China.
“The Chinese government is a liar,” yelled one protestor named Wang Cun Yan.
Around noon, tensions flared as the two groups exchanged words before two San Francisco police officers arrived at the scene and tried to de-escalate the situation. Eventually, the police placed a physical barrier between the two groups.
A coalition of Asian American groups is also organizing a protest of the Chinese Communist Party and the government of Vietnam, citing human rights violations and “coercive economic tactics” on the part of China.
The organizing committee, which includes the United Vietnamese American Community of Northern California, advocates for an end to communist regimes and is planning two protests near Moscone Convention Center on Wednesday and Thursday.
Apart from the meeting with Biden, an exclusive group of business executives are hoping to woo the Chinese leader, Bloomberg reported.
Some of the most prominent U.S. businesspeople are scheduled to attend APEC, among them Citigroup’s Jane Fraser, Exxon’s Darren Woods, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX.
Invitations to dine with Xi have been circulated, according to Bloomberg, with those invitations considered the hottest ticket in town for executives hoping to make inroads in the vast Chinese market.
David Sjostedt and Associated Press contributed to this report.
Annie Gaus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org