China Debates Lew’s Lunch Tab – but do they know he keeps kosher?
The WSJ reports, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew’s lunch in Beijing on Tuesday, notable for the appropriately named guests in attendance, is garnering attention in China for another reason: the remarkably modest bill. The question is do they know he keeps kosher?
Mr. Lew, who had come to China to meet with newly elected Chinese President Xi Jinping, took time out of a packed schedule Tuesday afternoon to dine at the Bao Yuan Dumpling House – a restaurant near the U.S. Embassy in Beijing that’s popular among expatriates and locals alike for its extensive selection of colorfully wrapped — and reasonably priced – jiaozi (boiled dumplings).
Total outlay for Mr. Lew and two of his Treasury colleagues: 109 yuan, or around $17.50.
While the Treasury secretary no doubt has eaten his fair share of richly priced meals, his cheap lunch in Beijing earned no shortage of applause – along with a few raised eyebrows – on China’s top Twitter-like microblogging platform, Sina Weibo.
“One meal, 109 yuan. What emotion are you trying to evoke in our celestial officials?” wrote one sarcastic Sina Weibo user, attaching a photo that purported to show the bill from the meal. “Mr. Treasury secretary, aren’t you afraid of our gutter oil? You’re very brave! Our officials never eat in such places.”
News of Mr. Lew’s modest meal comes amidst a Communist Party crackdown on outward evidence of the opulent lives led by Chinese officials – part of a larger anticorruption drive aimed at bolstering the party’s scandal-scarred reputation. Mr. Xi has led the charge, coining a new catchphrase for bureaucratic austerity when he and his entourage ate a modest meal of four dishes and a soup while visiting a rural county outside Beijing in December.
U.S. officials have recently played a strong role in spotlighting the prodigious appetites of their Chinese counterparts.
In Beijing for his own visit with Mr. Xi in August 2011, Vice President Joe Bidenscored a soft power victory when he chose to eat lunch at Yao Ji Fried Liver, a decidedly down-market slop house buried in the heart of a neighborhood referred to by some as Beijing’s Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, neither Mr. Biden nor Mr. Lew can hold a candle to U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, whose various acts of humility – from buying coffee with a coupon toflying coach and lugging his own carry-on – have sown both confusion and admiration among Chinese citizens accustomed to government officials reluctant to even hold their own umbrellas.
Detecting a deliberate effort to embarrass Beijing, some local observers appear to have grown tired of American officials’ Spartan ways in China. Mr. Locke, for example, has increasingly come under fire from online commentators who insist that he’s showing off by refusing to show off.
But for advocates of greater transparency and less profligacy among Chinese officials, like well-known newspaper columnist Lian Peng, the cheap lunches and coffee coupons still provide a handy opportunity to press for more and faster change.
“Some people say American officials are showing off – that it’s a conspiracy. Of course, even more people praise Western officials for being honest and upright,” Mr. Lian wrote on Weibo on Wednesday. “In reality, how much they spend has nothing to do with us – that’s something for U.S. taxpayers to worry about. Rather than using what’s good abroad to curse what’s bad at home, it’s better just to ask directly: When will officials’ assets be fully disclosed?”