By Max A. Cherney and Michael Martina
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Protesters took to the streets of San Francisco early on Wednesday morning ahead of a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, obstructing some entrances to the APEC conference.
Global leaders and CEOs of major U.S. corporations will all be at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in San Francisco, offering tempting targets to protest.
Opponents of Xi hope hundreds of people will demonstrate against Chinese policies, while others are using the meeting as a forum for global issues such as the Israel-Hamas war.
Roughly 150 people gathered at an intersection outside the security zone at the city’s convention center around 8 a.m. local time (1400 GMT). The group aimed to block conference attendees from passing through the intersection, and formed a human chain that diverted some commuters and delegates.
Police donned protective helmets and formed a line about 50 feet (15 meters) from a speaker and microphone for speeches that criticized APEC and the Biden administration, and urged climate change action and voiced support for Palestinians.
Pema Doma, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, said protest organizers were expecting hundreds of people from all over the U.S. to demonstrate against Xi’s policies.
“We can say beyond a reasonable doubt that this will be the largest anti-Xi protest during the bilateral talks hosted here in the United States in the history of Xi Jinping’s time as a dictator of China,” she said.
Protesters supporting spiritual group Falun Gong, which is banned in China, lined motorcade entry points into the convention center area.
Nearby, dozens of supporters and opponents of Chinese policies faced off, Chinese flags on one side and a banner calling the Chinese Communist Party a “virus” on the other, separated by police lines.
Supporters of China also turned out near where Biden and Xi will meet, waving Chinese and U.S. flags as well as posters with both flags together.
Thousands of police lined streets near the San Francisco convention center, and protests in the days before Biden and Xi’s meeting have been relatively peaceful, with some crowds stretching for blocks, including a march uniting several interest groups on Sunday.
San Francisco has cleaned up downtown streets for the meeting, and it has prepared for potential confrontation with demonstrators: eight-foot high metal mesh barriers have been erected to keep people on sidewalks from interfering with vehicle traffic near the convention center.
The potential for disruptions around the summit site in downtown San Francisco, portions of which will be shut to vehicles and foot traffic, led the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to designate the meeting a national special security event, putting the U.S. Secret Service in charge of coordination of policing agencies.
(Additional reporting by Ann Saphir; Writing By Peter Henderson; Editing by Josie Kao)