Police have gathered in San Francisco as this week’s APEC summit gets underway, and US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are set to meet face-to-face.
The United States is hosting the annual APEC summit of world leaders this week for the first time since 2011. Leaders from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group will gather in San Francisco to discuss how to spur trade and economic growth across the Pacific region.
But the main summit event will be on the sidelines: A face-to-face meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The two leaders haven’t spoken in person since they met last November during the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. A lot has happened since then to ratchet up tensions between the superpowers.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration shot down a Chinese spy balloon. The Chinese government hacked the emails of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The US government restricted the export of advanced computer chips to China and has pushed to provide development aid to other nations to counter China’s influence.
The differences also have been exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s increasing assertiveness in the Taiwan Strait. But representatives from the US and China have been meeting with increasing frequency lately, working to thaw relations. Still, the Biden-Xi meeting isn’t expected to substantially alter the trajectory of US-China relations.
Protesters demonstrate against world leaders
Activists have also gathered in San Fransisco to protest corporate profits, environmental abuses, poor working conditions and the Israel-Hamas war.
But it is unlikely world leaders will even glimpse the protests given the strict security zones accessible only to attendees at the Moscone Center conference hall and other summit sites. But Suzanne Ali, an organizer for the Palestinian Youth Movement, says the US government needs to be held to account for supplying weapons to Israel in its war against Hamas.
“Even if they cannot see us, as we’re mobilizing and marching together, they will know that we’re out there,” she said.
San Francisco has a long tradition of loud and vigorous protests, as do trade talks. In 1999, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Seattle during a World Trade Organization conference. Protesters succeeded in delaying the start of that conference and captured global attention as overwhelmed police fired tear gas and plastic bullets and arrested hundreds of people.
Chile withdrew as APEC host in 2019 due to mass protests. Last year, when Thailand hosted the summit in Bangkok, pro-democracy protesters challenged the legitimacy of the Thai prime minister. Police fired at the crowd with rubber bullets that injured several protesters and a Reuters journalist.