APEC Comes to San Francisco: USF Community Engages with SF’s Historic Summit

The Asian Art Museum displays welcome banners for APEC at the entrance of the building. Photo by: Niki Sedaghat/SF Foghorn.

San Francisco is hosting the final meetings of the annual Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit from Nov. 11-Nov.17 at the Moscone Center. An estimated 20,000 visitors have arrived in the city, including world leaders such as President Joe Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, among others. USF is sponsoring numerous APEC related events and volunteer programs for students in the international studies, Asian studies, economics, and politics departments. 

What is APEC?

APEC is an annual gathering of leaders from the attending 21 member economies in Asia, the Pacific Rim, North America, and South America. Delegates, dignitaries, and representatives engage in various dialogues focused on issues such as sustainability and economic development. APEC claims to “advance economic policies in the Asia-Pacific region to promote free, fair, and open trade and investment and advance sustainable and inclusive economic growth,” according to their website

The portion of the summit that will take place here is known as the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week (ALEW), operating under this year’s theme of “creating a resilient and sustainable future for all,” according to the APECSF23 site. ALEW is the final stretch of gatherings that will conclude APEC’s 2023 season. The summit taking place in San Francisco will complete the list of U.S. cities hosting APEC this year, like Palm Springs, Honolulu, Detroit, and Seattle. 

Alongside CEOs, entrepreneurs, and other economic stakeholders, senior global leaders are scheduled to discuss “global opportunities and challenges that are shaping economic, environmental, and societal trends,” according to the CEO summit’s official website. The member economies set to attend account for 60% of the world’s economy. APEC meetings throughout the year have focused on regional economic issues, including sustainability, digitalization, women’s economic empowerment, trade facilitation, energy and food security, and health. 

​​This is the U.S.’s first time hosting APEC since 2011, and the third time hosting the summit since its formation in 1989. It will also mark the city’s “largest international gathering since dignitaries gathered in 1945 to sign the charter creating the United Nations,” according to AP. 

As part of preparation, the San Francisco Special Events Committee raised $20.1 million in fundraising for hosting APEC. 

Mayor London Breed’s office estimates that the summit will generate more than $53 million in revenue for the local economy. “This will be significantly financially impactful for the people here in San Francisco,” Breed said at a press conference on Oct. 24. 

USF’s Participation

USF’s Center for Business Studies and Innovation in Asia-Pacific (CBSI-AP) hosted the APEC Business Advisory Council’s “Charting A Sustainable Future” talk on Nov. 13 at USF’s downtown campus and are co-hosting the inaugural “Jimmy Carter Conversation on US-China Relations” on Nov. 18 in Lone Mountain with the Carter Center. CBSI-AP is also connecting students through their Global Student Ambassadors Program (GSAP) to volunteer at APEC proceedings at the Moscone Center. 

Through his volunteering, first-year entrepreneurship and innovation major Het Patel greets delegates of the member economies, members of the press, and other attendees as he registers them for the summit upon their arrival to the Moscone Center. “It’s not just signing people up, it’s also networking,” he said. “They don’t just tell me their names, they talk to me and ask me questions like ‘Why are you here?’, and when I tell them that I am a freshman, they tell me how good it is that I am already involved and getting connected,” said Patel. Students who volunteer through the GSAP program are exposed to experiences and resources that only exist outside of their classes. “You never know, you might meet your future employer,” he said. 

Inside the proceedings, senior international business major Mark Anthony Catahan works alongside the press cabinet of APEC, which includes major media companies like FOX, CNN, AP, and the China Global Television Network. “It’s been an enriching experience to meet these delegates and press,” he said. 

“I took the opportunity for two things. One: to learn about APEC and what the member economies talk about. And two: as an SF native I want to show delegates how beautiful the city is, because I love the city and I want to show them what this city has and why we are so excited for this year’s summit,” Catahan said. 

USF’s Chinese Student & Scholar Association (CSSA) is likewise taking a group of approximately 30 students to volunteer at the APEC proceedings. CSSA’s group of volunteers are Chinese-identifying students of all majors. 

Asian studies senior, Kunhan Ma, is volunteering through CSSA for three days of the summit, where she will be welcoming leaders and dignitaries into the Moscone Center. “I think this experience can be impactful for my education,” Ma said. “It’s also a good opportunity to see the President and other Presidents.” 

Impact on surrounding areas:

Security measures have been rolled out to prepare the area for its high-profile guests, with the Secret Service installing more than 10-foot tall “unscalable walls” around the Moscone Center and Yerba Buena Gardens. The main security zone stretches between Market, Fifth, and Harrison streets, which are closed off. Additionally, areas around conference events and activities will be closed to vehicle, transit, and bicycle through-traffic. People will be allowed to enter security zones to access their homes and businesses with proper ID shown at security checkpoints and marked entrances. 

Encampments of unhoused people which are typically seen in the South of Market (SoMa) and Tenderloin neighborhoods have been cleared out by SF Public Works, with unhoused people being displaced as part of the city’s many preparations ahead of the summit. Public Works spokesperson Rachel Gordon told the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday that the targeted intersections “have been on the city’s list of known encampments and are described as areas of concern because they were growing, in some cases blocking sidewalks and spilling into the curb lane.” Irrespective of APEC, the city has been trying to resolve encampments at those locations “over time.” 

Reactions from SF Residents:

At the time of printing on Tuesday, a number of protest actions have and will continue to occur around the city. The NO to APEC Coalition, a grassroots collective of more than 150 activist organizations, plans a week of demonstrations — the majority of which can be found posted around the Hilltop, from the UC to Kalmanovitz Hall. 

In an Instagram statement, these activists claim that APEC encourages member nations to “further their drive for profits, and their control over our political, economic, and cultural life, as well as the rapidly deteriorating climate. Their long-time strategy to concentrate power and wealth, funds police states around the Asia-Pacific and Latin America region, locks in an unsustainable fossil fuel economy and silences our voices of resistance.”

Beginning their week of action on Nov. 11, NO to APEC held a “Peoples’ Counter Summit” at San Francisco State University, with more than 1,000 attendees. 

Thousands attended NO to APEC’s Nov. 12 protest at the Ferry Building Plaza, including many USF community members. 

Miya Stephanoff, Spring 2023 environmental studies graduate, went to the protest because they find APEC to be “an amalgamation of everything evil in our world. Capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, militarization…I could go on and on,” they said. “I had to be there in protest and scream that business cannot continue as usual. There were many cultural speakers before the march happened and they spoke to how intersectional APEC’s impact is.” 

Notable aspects of the protest for Stephanoff were the large police presence and a “language justice team” which interpreted the event into Spanish and Tagalog. “Protests need to be as accessible and inclusive as possible because that is a fundamental part of social justice,” they said. “There were over 100 organizations present and they were all calling not only to end the APEC conference but also for a cease-fire in Gaza and to free Palestine.”

Thousands are expected to attend Wednesday Nov. 15’s “mass mobilization event” where activists plan to “put their bodies on the line” to “creatively block” Wednesday’s CEO summit — in which all dignitaries are set to attend.

In the op-ed piece, “Why I’m Protesting APEC” on page 10 of this issue, read more about a USF student’s involvement in the NO to APEC coalition.

Peru will host the next APEC summit in 2024. 


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