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What International Summit? APEC Becomes Prime Time for San Francisco’s Partygoers

Written by Han LiPublished Nov. 14, 2023 • 12:30pm
People in different ethnic outfit are standing and welcoming the guests.
Partygoers are welcomed at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit party in San Francisco on Monday. | Source: Han Li/The Standard

Hundreds of people packed a restaurant in San Francisco’s Japantown on Monday night—all clamoring for the open bar and caviar appetizers, and all under the name of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which is taking over the city this week.

Of course, California—which may soon become the fourth-largest economy in the world—cares about trade, investment and the economic development of the Pacific Rim. But for many locals, APEC is more about having fun. Perhaps the most frequently asked question this week is: “What are the events you are going to?” 

It’s often followed by the most frequent reply: “I need an invite to that.”

Fiona Ma, California’s state treasurer and the host of Monday night’s reception with the pro-business nonprofit GlobalSF, will go to “a select number of events” this week.

Multiple speakers, including California top officials, gather for a photo at an event.
State Treasurer Fiona Ma, standing with other California's top officials, speaks to the crowd during an APEC event on Monday. | Source: Han Li/The Standard

“There are so many,” Ma told The Standard. “We really wanted to do events to welcome the business folks and have people network.”

Ma said she was heading to a dinner with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen right after the reception, an event with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the de Young Museum on Tuesday and a high-profile dinner with China’s President Xi Jinping on Wednesday.

Many other fancy parties were also happening around town Monday night, including the APEC business leader gala at the Westin St. Francis hotel and a party at the Ferry Building sponsored by APEC donor and San Francisco-based company Visa. Starting Tuesday, with the arrival of President Joe Biden and other global leaders, hot-ticket events begin in earnest.

Mary Jung, a local Democratic Party power player, said she’s going to Biden’s reception at the Exploratorium on Wednesday and a reception with Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi on Friday.

“I am limiting to one event per night,” Jung said. “I work a day job!”

She also praised the city for cleaning up the streets for APEC and trusted San Franciscans could maintain the situation even after the summit.

People scattered throughout city hall taking pictures and talking with one another at a welcome party for APEC.
People mingle and take pictures inside San Francisco City Hall for an APEC welcoming party on Sunday. | Source: Amaya Edwards for The Standard

Biden will also host a fundraiser with Vice President Kamala Harris and Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday, while a dinner for high-level heads of APEC member economies is scheduled for Thursday night at the Legion of Honor. 

Local residents without these exclusive invites can still party somewhere else. Steven Lee, a longtime nightlife advocate and current San Francisco port commissioner, said APEC should increase business for local bars and restaurants. He hoped more visitors would patronize stores inside the APEC security zone in Central SoMa.

Lee also organized multiple Chinatown events for foreign press to learn about the community’s history and culture. But when asked about his own APEC party schedule this week, he joked that he wasn’t invited to any.

"I have a commission meeting until 6 p.m. on Tuesday," Lee told The Standard, holding a drink at the bar. "I am not a VIP."

Han Li can be reached at

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