President Barack Obama’s lavish state dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping was supposed to be the social release after a long day of business. The head table told a different tale — bulging with the top brass from Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Disney, DreamWorks and more.
The 200-plus guest list for the Friday’s soiree was a business-heavy mashup of Hollywood, diplomacy and corporate chieftains, with ballerina Misty Copeland’s presence offering it a bit of a lilt.
DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, part of the East Room’s high-octane head table, was asked as he arrived whether the evening was all about business or pleasure.
“Fun,” he declared, but he added: “I hope.”
For more than a few guests, the dinner was a chance to build up some serious chits with Mom or other family members who arrived as dates. “Empire” creator Lee Daniels and R&B singer Ne-Yo, who performed later in the night, both brought their mothers.
Clara Daniels, glowing in a coral gown, declared her date “my No. 1 son” — but didn’t specify if that was because he’s the oldest of her two sons or because he came up with the dinner invitation.
“I am the most proud mom,” enthused Harriett Loraine Burts, mom to Ne-Yo. Then Burts looked for a way to escape the cameras, confessing, “I’m not good at this red carpet thing.”
As for how he scored the invitation to perform at such a high-powered event, Ne-Yo theorized it’s because he’s got some “Chinese in my heritage somewhere.”
There was no question about first lady Michelle Obama’s fashion statement.
She wore a black, off-the-shoulder mermaid gown created by Chinese-American designer Vera Wang.
Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, also a fashion-savvy first lady, selected an embellished silk gown in rich aquamarine.
The “wow” factor was lower-key among seasoned state dinner attendees but still there nonetheless.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said she’d been to “many” state dinners, but added, “They’re always fabulous.”
The decor in the big East Room included a 16-foot silk scroll depicting two roses that the White House said was meant to symbolize “a complete meeting of the minds.”
That may have been somewhat aspirational, given the sharp differences between the U.S. and China on a range of issues.
But all of that was largely glossed over in the dinner toasts. Obama said that while some differences were inevitable, he wished that the American and Chinese people may “work together like fingers on the same hand in friendship and in peace.” Xi, for his part, called the state visit an “unforgettable journey” and praised the good will he felt from West Coast to East.
The leaders of the two countries have said that they have made progress on a number of topics including cyber espionage, economic trade and climate change.
Obama announced on Friday that he had reached a “common understanding” with Xi on curbing economic cyber espionage, but threatened to impose U.S. sanctions on Chinese hackers who persist with cyber crimes.
The two leaders also unveiled a deal to build on a landmark emissions agreement struck last year, outlining new steps they will take to deliver on pledges they made then to slash their greenhouse gas emissions.
There were clear limits to Friday’s cyber security deal. A White House statement said the two leaders agreed that neither government would knowingly support cyber theft of corporate secrets or business information. But the agreement stopped short of any promise to refrain from traditional government-to-government cyber spying for intelligence purposes.
U.S. and Chinese officials sought to cast their talks in a favorable light by showcasing at least one area of cooperation – on the global fight against climate change.
As part of their agreement, Xi announced that China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, will launch a national carbon cap-and-trade system in 2017 to help contain the country’s emissions. For Obama, the deal with China strengthens his hand ahead of a global summit on climate change in Paris in December.
But disagreements on other issues still loomed.
In their talks, Obama pressed Xi to follow through on economic reforms and not discriminate against U.S. companies operating in China. At the same time, the Obama administration is still at a loss about how to curb China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, where Beijing has continued to reclaim land for potential military use despite conflicting claims with its neighbors.
Obama said he had “candid” discussions with Xi on disputes in the Asia-Pacific region. Xi defended his government’s “right to uphold our own territorial sovereignty” and denied any plan to use its island-building efforts to create military strongholds.
Story compiled with information from Reuters and The Associated Press.