The list of sponsors reads like a Who's Who of American business -- 150 of capitalism's best-loved corporate names.
There are, for instance: Allied Chemical, Bank of America, Bethlehem Steel, Coca-Cola, Deere & Co., Ford Motor Co. and on down the alphabet of firms connected with American agriculture, banking, computers, petroleum, transportation, textiles and other fields.
What they will be buying, for a total of $250,000, when President Carter hosts China's Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping Monday night at the Kennedy Center, will be a shot at a piece of the import-export action coming up in the years ahead between the United States and China.
It is, Christopher H. Phillips, president of the National Council for U.S.-China Trade, said yesterday with a grin of undisguised pleasure, "a pretty good bargain."
At $2,500 each, it is a bargain indeed, when you consider that four highly prized, otherwise impossible-to-buy tickets for the official entertainment go to each of the 150 corporate contributors. That accounts for 600 of the 2,300 seats in the Opera House. The council allocated another 200 free tickets on a first-come, first-served basis to the rest of its 350 member companies. The remaining 1,500 seats were turned over to the White House to fill by invitation of President Carter.
"It's fair to say," the White House said yesterday of the number of inquiries about those 1,500 gala tickets, "that the tickets are coveted."
Among the Carters' invited guests that night will be everyone invited to the state dinner at the White House earlier, including: former president Richard Nixon; members of Congress and the Cabinet; community leaders, including mayors, from a number of American cities; several governors; business, labor and cultural leaders, and academicians including China scholars John Fairbanks of Harvard and Doak Barnett of Brookings Institute.
At the offices of the National Council for U.S.-China Trade on 17th Street NW, business has been brisk ever since Carter first announced diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China. Then, when news of the gala broke earlier this month, the number of inquiries about membership increased dramatically.
"We had a case of a new member who made it very clear he was paying his dues and expected to be included in the gala," according to Phillips. "I had to say I was very sorry but all that was cut off two weeks ago."
The members the 6-year-old council really was interested in accommodating, said Phillips, were those who came in for "the long pull -- the people who really wanted to stay with China trade, see it develop."
At least 100 of them had been the founders of the council back in 1973 when the privately-funded group had been organized through "close consultation" with the U.S. and Chinese governments.
Phillips, as deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1969-1973, had been at the U.N. when the Chinese first arrived and he became acquainted with their ambassador, Huang Hua, now foreign minister.
As trade prospects increased, "the Chinese indicated they didn't want to deal on a government-to-government basis," and the council took shape.
"We know each other pretty well," Phillips said. "We've been entertaining the Chinese and having delegations back and forth since it started."
It wasn't exactly what he called "a new game" when the council approached the White House last month offering to do something "appropriate" for the Teng visit. A few days later, the White House got back to the council asking if its members might be interested in putting together a gala.
"The president would act as host and we would work very closely with the White House staff and our own members. It was a joint enterprise," said Phillips, "with the understanding that we were putting it on and it was in response to our initiative."
Finding the $250,000 to underwrite the gala and a reception that will follow (although not all gala-goers will be invited) was one of the council's least-difficult tasks. "We raised every bit of it in no time at all," said Phillips.
Council members won't necessarily be dining at the White House Monday night but some of them will be invited in for a brief pre-dinner reception to meet Teng Hsiao-ping and Jimmy Carter.
Later, they will occupy some of the best seats at the Kennedy Center and afterward many of them will go on to a reception where most of the official guests are expected.
Walking the tightrope of diplomacy this week has had more to do with Americans wanting to get a piece of the China action than with the Chinese, according to Phillips. When it's all over, he said, "I'm going to hunker down and go underground."