China’s state propaganda newspaper, the Global Times, observed on Monday that Beijing’s heavily censored social media outlets had flooded with comments mocking the government of San Francisco for having “miraculously disappeared overnight” its notoriously massive homeless population.
San Francisco is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which is expected to attract a large number of world leaders and top international diplomats. Chinese dictator Xi Jinping is on a flight to San Francisco at press time and is expected to meet with American President Joe Biden on Wednesday. In anticipation of the summit, San Francisco officials erected barricades around APEC event venues and refurbished parks and public spaces. They have also dismantled longstanding homeless tent communities taking up public space on sidewalks near the summit.
The governor of California and former mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom (D) admitted at a press conference on Monday that “it’s true” that the city cleaned its streets and removed sprawling homeless encampments to ensure a pleasant stay for the “fancy leaders” visiting the city for the APEC.
“I know folks say, ‘Oh, they’re just cleaning up this place because all these fancy leaders are coming into town.’ That’s true because it’s true,” Newsom told reporters.
After San Francisco was magically cleaned up ahead of Xi Jinping’s visit, Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom says:
“I know folks say, ‘Oh, they’re just cleaning up this place because all these fancy leaders are coming into town.’ That’s true because it’s true.” pic.twitter.com/gMaKBtRq5f
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) November 13, 2023
Newsom visited Beijing in October and met with Xi in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, vowing that California, under his administration, would be “China’s long-term, stable, and strong partner.”
The abrupt disappearance of San Francisco’s indigents recalled similar operations in impoverished countries to make the streets more pleasant for a high-profile visit. National visits by Pope Francis have, in particular, prompted such clean-up operations, including the mass arrests of the homeless in Manila, the Philippines, and the disappearance of beggars on the streets of Holguín, Cuba, in 2015.
The before-and-after photos of San Francisco’s streets cleared of homeless encampments have circulated throughout Weibo, China’s largest government-controlled social media outlet, prompting jokes and scorn, according to the Global Times. Weibo is heavily censored and only allows topics to trend that the Chinese Communist Party approves, so any high-profile discussions on the platform are tacitly prompted by the regime. The state newspaper noted that a hashtag titled “8,000 homeless vanished overnight ahead of APEC summit” rapidly became viral on Weibo, being read over two million times.
Weibo, which regularly severely limits political discussions, is also reportedly allowing users to converse regarding the planned meeting between Xi and Biden. The outlet What’s on Weibo, which monitors the site, noted that much of the commentary permitted consisted of mockery of Biden and America generally, and both jokes and alleged concerns about Biden’s advanced age and cognitive ability particularly. Some users have taken to calling Biden “Bai Zhenhua,” meaning “Revive the Country Biden,” a joke that Biden has governed America so poorly that he is “reviving” communist China.
“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,” the Global Times noted, “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,” the outlet continued. “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.”
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The comments allowed on Weibo about the San Francisco makeover were largely derisive of the government of the United States.
“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,” one such comment read.
“In China, we already have clean and safe cities. So what we do is a little bit clean-up,” another regime-approved comment read.
Hu Xijin, a Global Times commentator who lost his job as top editor after the newspaper botched its attempted cover-up of the disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai, also published a video on the site on Monday condemning the United States for having homeless people at all, noting that San Franciso was being “hotly discussed on China’s internet.”
“Chinese people know that there are homeless people on the streets of the U.S., but we really didn’t know that there would be such a big homeless population in U.S. cities, as San Francisco alone removed about 8000 homeless people,” he claimed. “It is quite difficult for the Chinese to understand that the U.S. is so rich but there are so many people in absolute poverty.”
“These homeless people are often taken as one of the evidences of social inequality and human rights problems in the U.S.,” he added.
The Chinese government regularly uses its propaganda arms to accuse the United States of human rights “abuses” and dismiss the Republican-Democrat system of government as inferior to totalitarian communism. The Global Times has been the most vocal English-language Chinese state arm condemning democracy in this way, declaring that elections “cannot truly reflect the essence of democracy” the way that a genocidal totalitarian regime can.