By Assunta Ng
The best of Seattle and Washington state was showcased for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s dinner held at the Westin Hotel on Sept. 22 for over 750 attendees.
So what made the event exceptional?
The list of who’s who guests gathered was remarkable. Omar Lee, a guest said, “not even a million dollars can buy a dinner with such amazing guests!”
Xi’s unusual speech broke traditional patterns of Chinese leaders, wooing the crowd with nods and long-standing ovations. The menu highlighted Washington state’s finest foods and ingredients. And then there was former U.S. Ambassador to China, Gary Locke’s toast at the end, which was not only funny, but saved the day. The amount of comradery among U.S. national and local government, and businesses, was incredible to make the Chinese President feel welcome.
Some of the most powerful business and political leaders flew from all over the country to meet and support Xi. First, I rode the elevator with John Chen, CEO of BlackBerry, and Jerry Yang, founder of Yahoo. Seconds later, Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, appeared.
At the VIP reception room, Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State, sat on a chair with admiring crowds hovering around him. Another white-haired gentleman walked in—it was Tung Chee Hwa, former Hong Kong chief executive (similar to governor seat).
Then I met Luca Berrone of Iowa, “Old Friend of President Xi.” What? Really! That’s his only title printed on his business card.
“I was his tour guide when Xi visited Iowa” in the 1980s, he said. “I was with him for two weeks.” And he showed an old photo of him and Xi in the old days.
Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa, shamelessly showed guests clips of newspapers of Xi. There were other governors too, including Jerry Brown of California.
On China’s side, governors of Zhejiang, Shandong and Shanxi Provinces were present. Several important Chinese ministers attended, including Wang Huning, Li Zhanshu, Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi. It was an impressive delegation of dozens high-level Chinese officials from China as well as those stationed in the U.S. Channel 13 reported Xi had over 100 vehicles in his entourage.
In the past, audiences have often complained many Chinese officials’ speeches were boring and flooded with propaganda and the same old material. But Xi had a different approach. It was personable, specific, and substantive.
Although Xi spoke in Chinese, he was fearless in expressing many relevant hot topics, thus, contrasting to his predecessors that he’s a modern president. (His wife greeted guests in English, “Nice to meet you”)
From Chinese to Americans, Xi had earned their spontaneous-standing ovation and applause after the delivery. In his words, Xi showed what he intended to do for China, its economy, US-China relations (even though it’s challenging), anti-corruption stand, cyberspace attacks, military, and investors’ concerns. He shared about his personal experiences during the Cultural Revolution when he was a young peasant in a village that his dream was for farmers to have meat.
There was no meat for the villagers for months. Now, he wants all the Chinese people to have meat.
At one point, he referred to the television show “House of Cards” and the book “Old Man and the Sea,” as he realized that humor is important and he tried his best to relate to the American public.
A Chinese official who has heard Xi’s speeches several times before said this was the first time he heard Xi’s talking about those issues. “It’s all new to me,” he said. “It’s good.”
I was especially touched by these words. “If China and the U.S. cooperate well, they can become a bedrock of global stability and a booster of world peace,” he said. “Should they enter into conflict or confrontation, it would lead to disaster for both countries and the world at large.”
The powerful head table was seated with movers and shakers to shape the world. The men and women had international reputation, not just national. Almost 60 dignitaries surrounded Xi and his wife Madame Peng Liyuan.
They were Kissinger (who introduced Xi), Bill and Melinda Gates; Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft; Howard Schultz, Starbucks Chairman; Sen. Patty Murray; Ed Murray, Seattle Mayor; Max Baucus, U.S. Ambassador to China, and many others.
The menu was translated into Chinese. Yes we Chinese are particular about food. The salad was fresh ingredients of daikon and date, butternut squash puree, lotus root, and chive vinaigrette. Chinese might not like uncooked veggies.
The presentation was beautiful. The entrée was delicious with ranch Washington beef and NW steelhead roulade, wasabi rhizome mashers, baby beets, and brussel sprouts. The dessert was lovely: Theo chocolate Marquiese Dome on a brown butter pistachio cake. The other one was a blood orange, finger lime caviar.
And the wine, it was Washington-made—Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2014 Chardonnay.
The food was not the main reason why people showed up.
(Headphones were available for English translation for the non-Chinese-speaking guests.)
At the end, Locke got up to make a toast. With champagne filled in all the glasses for each guest, Locke said nothing about champagne. Instead, he told guests to toast each other with Starbucks coffee. Yes, he knew that Xi drinks tea.
It’s not only a plug for Starbucks, (a big sponsor for the event), it’s more like a make-up for a bad mistake early at Paine Airfield. When dignitaries were there to welcome Xi and his delegation, John Kelly, Global Responsibility & Public Policy, took a sip of coffee. No, it wasn’t Starbucks. Instantly, he launched a complaint.
Brilliant Locke, just knew how to smooth the edges. And Starbucks folks smiled.
A million things could go wrong for the two-day events. But Washingtonians are professionals, they know how to sweep away any rough surface with humor and can-do attitude. Bravo!
So many were disappointed that they were not invited to attend. I am grateful and honored to be one of the chosen guests. Mulvanny G2 paid $20,000 for one table. There are other companies who have paid more to support Xi’s visit.
Most of these companies have established plants and done well in China. It’s an opportunity for them to give them. (end)