Before Chinese President Xi Jinping's arrival in San Francisco for the APEC summit, protesters and pro-democracy activists voiced concerns about China and Xi that are rarely expressed in China or the region.
This week's summit is expected to bring U.S. President Joe Biden and Xi together for their first face-to-face meeting since they spoke on the sidelines of the G20 summit meeting in Bali, Indonesia, in November 2022.
Xi last visited the United States in April 2017, when then-President Donald Trump served him a "most beautiful piece of chocolate cake," saying the two had "great chemistry.”
By the time Trump and Xi met at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, in June 2019, a trade war and sparring over human rights underpinned relations between the world’s two largest economies. This was six months before the coronavirus causing COVID-19 was first found in humans in Wuhan, China — the starting point of a three-year-long pandemic that ruptured life worldwide.
Recent meetings such as the one in October between Biden and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the White House appear to suggest that both nations may want to ease tensions.
Dissidents shouting from the sidelines will mark this week’s meeting between the two leaders in a city where one-fifth of the population has Chinese roots, according to U.S. Census figures. During a press conference on Monday attended by China’s official media, San Francisco Mayor London Breed specifically called out First Amendment rights and peaceful protests as local priorities.
To Representative Mike Gallagher, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Special Committee on China, getting cozy with Xi is wrong.
An invitation circulated online showed that tickets to the dinner and reception hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and the National Committee on U.S.-China Business cost $2,000 each. For $40,000, companies can buy a table that seats eight people, plus a seat at Xi's table.
Gallagher said in a speech at an event with Chinese dissidents last Friday, "How does that dinner conversation go? 'Wow, this filet mignon is a little dry … how's your extrajudicial internment of over a million Uyghur Muslims going? This Sauvignon blanc is really nice. … Congrats on completely crushing civil society in Hong Kong.’"
He said, "I have personally had some of the top CEOs in America beg me not to ask them about the Uyghur genocide in public, and many others were only willing to meet on the condition of total secrecy out of fear of Beijing's reprisal."
Gallaher added, "Xi Jinping has convinced capitalist executives to appease the [Chinese Communist Party] not because it treats them well, but because they fear Beijing's power.”
Gallagher said China's illegal overseas policing has reached the U.S. heartland, such as Iowa, and the financial center, New York City. He urged the U.S. government to build a global strategy and work with its allies to address the issue.
"That's part of why we're here in San Francisco — to put another frame on this whole sad event and show the world that accommodating a dictator like Xi is not just morally wrong or strategically stupid, it's also laughable," Gallagher said on Saturday.
Wei Jingsheng, a Chinese human rights activist, said at the same event last Friday, "Compromising with Xi Jinping will not make him change his domestic and foreign policies, nor will the CCP stop aiding Russia, Iran and other terrorist organizations. The best strategy to force it to stop international adventures is to block the CCP's unfair trade loopholes, continue to restrict the CCP's channels for stealing technology, and vigorously promote China's human rights and democracy movement."
Wang Dan, a student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Democracy Movement in Beijing and a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, told VOA Mandarin, "Under the rule of the CCP and Xi Jinping, China has increasingly regressed to totalitarian dictatorship."
Many pro-democracy groups and human rights activists began gathering in San Francisco last week to launch protests at the APEC summit venue and surrounding areas.
Wu Shaoping, a U.S.-based rights lawyer, told VOA at a protest in front of the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco last week, "I hope the U.S. government will not put aside human rights issues in order to talk with the CCP about economic development, climate change and other issues. These issues are integrated and cannot be decoupled. Once decoupled, China's human rights problems will get worse. This is also contrary to American values."
Jin Xiuhong, head of the Chinese Democracy & Human Rights Alliance, told VOA, "People who speak the truth in China have been persecuted in various ways, so people overseas must make our voices heard. ... Let the people in the country hear, especially let Xi hear, that we want human rights and freedom. We want those who tell the truth in the country to be released, and we demand the release of all political prisoners, religious prisoners and human rights lawyers. We must speak loudly for them and protest against the dictatorship of Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party."
Zhao Xin, general coordinator of the anti-Xi protests in the San Francisco Bay Area and a deliveryman for food delivery services, told VOA Mandarin last Friday, "Xi Jinping is the 'enemy of all Chinese people'. ... We must oppose such an extremely stupid and retrograde dictator. Many people will participate in our protests against Xi's and the CCP's tyranny. We want Xi Jinping to feel the unwelcomeness, anger and protest from all Chinese people here."
Adrianna Zhang and Zhou Chenxing contributed to this report.