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SF Mayor to Visit China in Hopes of Bringing Back More Tourists — and Pandas

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San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks at City Hall in San Francisco on March 20, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

San Francisco Mayor London Breed is planning to visit five cities in China next week to promote tourism and encourage greater economic investment in the city. Local business and community leaders will join the trip, announced at a press conference on Wednesday morning.

“Our goal is to enter into major agreements and make San Francisco significant to China and to let them know that we are open to the business relationships that could be developed as a result,” Breed said. “We are building on the momentum from APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Forum].”

In November, Breed briefly met with Chinese President Xi Jinping while he was in the country for APEC, where he extended the invitation for her to visit China.

Among the various economic motives of the trip, a subject at “the top of everyone’s list, including my own, is pandas,” Breed said. The San Francisco Zoo has already begun preparing for the potential visitors. However, the deal is not set, and Breed did not give an estimated timeline for when the charismatic herbivores might arrive. The impact of the pandas’ presence would be significant, Breed said.

“The highlight of our zoo would be the pandas,” Breed said. “When President Xi was here, he talked about the importance of panda diplomacy. So it’s going to be a significant economic impact, but also, it’ll be an incredible bridge builder between China and the U.S.”

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The trip also marks 45 years that San Francisco and Shanghai have been Sister Cities, nearly the same time the U.S. and China have maintained formal diplomatic ties. Breed said she plans to meet with Shanghai Mayor Gong Zheng on the trip and members of the Shanghai Sister City Committee are expected to join.

Breed also plans to meet with universities to discuss student exchange programs and “ways for those institutions to establish in San Francisco,” she said.

At the press conference, Breed highlighted the economic opportunity that increased tourism from China represents and said she plans to meet with three airlines during the trip.

“We are back with international flights to pre-pandemic levels,” she said. “But we know that more can be done, and we see this as an extraordinary opportunity for San Francisco’s future.”

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