When Chinese president Xi Jinping dines at the White House next week for the state dinner in his honor, it’s a good bet that burgers won’t be on the menu.
That’s despite the unsolicited entertaining advice offered to the White House by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump, among other Republicans vying for the party’s nomination, has been slamming the Chinese visit and its accompanying state dinner, going so far as to suggest that were he president, he’d skip the pomp and circumstance, feed Jinping a McDonald’s combo platter and call it a night.
Trump’s bluster aside, the dinner does come at an awkward moment between the U.S. and its frenemy to the east— the campaign-trail rhetoric is only amplifying tensions over decidedly un-dinner table-ish topics like cybertheft and human rights.
But it’s a state visit, set long ago between two nations with globally crucial ties, so the show must go on. And burgers? Definitely not. Like every element of a state dinner, the menu will be a carefully crafted diplo-culinary show, which will be watched closely overseas.
“The Chinese pay a lot of attention to state visits,” says Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings. “Every detail” — from the color of the first lady’s gown to the dinner music — “could resonate negatively.”
At the last state dinner in China’s honor, a 2011 soiree, President Obama served former president Hu Jintao an all-American meal of steak and potatoes, though it was sufficiently elegant to avoid any would-you-like-fries-with-that suggestions.
White House watchers expect that next Friday’s guest list to be heavy on corporate types. Diplomats and donors, too: former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Washington-based billionaire philanthropist David Rubenstein are among invitees, sources say. And as with most state dinners, a few celebrities will be around to leaven the business/wonk mix.
This state dinner, though, is unusual on a few fronts. It’s the first repeat of the Obama administration: China is the only country to have had two such events in its honor. It marks the tenth state dinner of the Obama administration — meaning that even if they throw a couple more before next November’s elections, the Obamas likely will take the record for hosting the fewest since the Truman administration.
Another rarity? It’s being held on a Friday night. Which might not seem strange — isn’t Friday night a party night? — but in Washington, official weekend events are rare. The timing is sure to irritate members of Congress, who typically hop a plane as soon as they can to spend weekends in their districts.
And the White House’s always-careful staff, led by social secretary Deesha Dyer, who will be on her first state-dinner solo flight since taking over for her former boss in May, will be on even higher alert than usual. China is notoriously sensitive to slights in protocol.
So it seems McNuggets are out, too.