Chinese netizens engage in heated discussions over San Francisco's cleanup ahead of APEC
Published: Nov 13, 2023 11:28 PM
A few homeless people remain on Howard Street in San Francisco not far from Moscone Center on November 12, 2023. Photo: VCG

A few homeless people remain on Howard Street in San Francisco not far from Moscone Center on November 12, 2023. Photo: VCG

The so-called San Francisco's "problem of the century" of the homeless miraculously disappeared overnight as the city prepares for the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. Chinese netizens joked online that the "about-face change" of San Francisco's clean street and the disappearance of homeless people demonstrate the city has the ability to address the malaise, but only seems willing to do so when an international summit is approaching, rather than for the sake of its own people.

According to media reports on Friday, drug addicts, dealers and the homeless who have plagued San Francisco's downtown have miraculously disappeared as the APEC summit is held in the city starting from Saturday to Friday, while leaders from the 21-member APEC group are gathering to talk about how to better spur trade and economic growth across the Pacific region. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the APEC Summit and is also the largest summit held in San Francisco since 1945.

To welcome the nearly 30,000 visitors attending the APEC summit, San Francisco has undergone significant transformations. Sculptures have been repainted, and the streets have been spotlessly cleaned. Along the main roads of San Francisco, workers have started to re-lay uneven sidewalks and install plywood on empty manhole covers. They also renovated a long-abandoned square nearby, adding a skateboard park and an outdoor cafe, complete with ping pong tables, chessboards, and various potted plants.

However, the biggest challenge of hosting an international summit in downtown San Francisco is the resettlement of homeless people. According to the New York Post, the homeless have been pushed to other parts of the city in preparation for the APEC summit.

These homeless people have been repeatedly asked by the police to move, and some even claimed that government officials were coming to throw away their belongings last week, forcing them to leave. Many of them were unaware of the upcoming summit, media reported.

According to media reports, since June of this year, San Francisco has begun to clean up the city, as it is not only a gathering place for homeless people but also a site for drug dealing and a thriving black market. Senior government officials listed seven key intersections in an internal email on September 25, where homeless people tend to gather, and where drug addicts can be seen collapsing on the streets daily due to drug use.

Internet users have engaged in enthusiastic discussions about the rejuvenated San Francisco. Hashtag ''8,000 homeless vanished overnight ahead of APEC summit'' has attracted more than 2 million reads on Chinese social media Sina Weibo as of press time.

Some people believe that this shows the city has the ability to maintain public safety, as the current state of San Francisco has been referred to by netizens as the cleanest and freshest San Francisco in the past decade. They noted the absence of homeless people and drug addicts, and instead, police officers can be seen almost everywhere in the downtown area.

"My friend went to the city this weekend just to experience the clean and safe San Francisco. I think it is totally understandable that a city wants to show its best to worldwide guests. But the about-face change also showed that it is not difficult to address homeless problems, to ban guns, or even solve drug issues. The US government is willing to do all those things, but just for the right people," said a user on Sina Weibo under the name of linmumu.

When San Francisco finally had rare fresh air, people began to question why the city's cleanliness and renewal had to wait until a summit. According to media reports, the real concern for San Francisco residents is why the government can solve century-old problems that have plagued the city for the president but cannot solve these problems for ordinary people.

Some Chinese netizens also joked that the US media tend to hype China's efforts to improve a city's environment before a big event. "In China, we already have clean and safe cities. So what we do is a little bit clean-up. But the US has pulled out all of its strength; not only did it remove the homeless, but it also covered graffiti and cleaned the rubbish-covered road. I thought they did not care," said a Sina Weibo netizen.

Similar feelings also resonate among netizens in other countries. "It's scary to know the government has the capability to clean up crime and drugs in 24 hours, and chooses not to," a netizen wrote on social platform X (formerly known as Twitter).

The New York Times has described San Francisco's effort as "teenagers frantically cleaning up after a house party with their parents on the way home."

Global Times