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Politics & Policy

What is the ‘San Francisco Vision’? It’s China’s new favorite catchphrase

Two people sit facing each other, smiling, with framed photos on the wall behind them and a bouquet between them.
Liu Jianchao, head of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party, meets with San Francisco Mayor London Breed at SFO Museum on Saturday. | Source: Courtesy Chinese Consulate of San Francisco

As the U.S. and China celebrate the 45th anniversary of formal diplomatic ties, San Francisco has become a popular symbol in China’s political rhetoric as the two superpowers aim to stabilize their fragile relationship.

And Mayor London Breed, who is competing with other American cities in requesting to host pandas from China, is apparently stepping up to make friends from China as opportunities arise. 

Last year, President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping met at the Filoli Garden—a historic estate about 25 miles south of San Francisco—during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, signaling a new chapter in U.S.-China relations after years of tension.

Soon after APEC, San Francisco—which Xi previously visited 39 years ago—loomed even larger in China’s diplomatic narrative, marking a sharp contrast to Chinese-language media’s obsession with bashing the city before the summit.

“[The meeting] launches the future-facing ‘San Francisco Vision,’” Wang Yi, the foreign minister of China, said after the meeting.

The phrase symbolizes better a bilateral connection between the U.S. and China. During that meeting, Biden and Xi’s conversation focused on the “right way” for the countries to get along, Wang said.

Even before APEC, San Francisco had appeared in China’s diplomatic messaging. Top diplomats, including current Chinese Ambassador to the United States Xie Feng, touted “Return to Bali, move towards San Francisco”, because Biden and Xi’s last meeting was in Bali in 2022 and San Francisco is the new destination for better U.S.-China relations.

Last week, Liu Jianchao, the chief of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party, visited Washington, D.C., ahead of Taiwan’s election. He also stopped by San Francisco to meet with Breed.

According to the Chinese consulate’s press release, Liu mentioned again the “San Francisco Vision” to Breed and hoped for more active municipal-level interaction.

Breed said to Liu that San Francisco has deep historical ties with China, and Chinese people have made important contributions to the development of San Francisco.

“San Francisco is willing to leverage its special advantages in U.S.-China relations,” Breed said, according to the release. She also attended Xi’s welcome dinner in Downtown San Francisco during APEC and sent him off at the airport.

Even though there’s no mention of the panda in the release, Breed told KGO-TV on Tuesday that “it seems really possible” that the city will get a panda. The Mayor’s Office didn’t provide updates on the panda request Wednesday.

Han Li can be reached at