US Treasury secretary Jacob Lew, second from left, orders dumplings at a restaurant in Beijing on March 19. (Photo/CNS)
China's media have accused US officials of feigning frugality after a couple of cheap meals during state visits to Beijing garnered praise from the country's internet users.
In a scathing article published by Huanqiu, the Chinese-language website of the nationalistic tabloid Global Times, US Treasury secretary Jacob Lew was criticized for spending just 109 yuan (US$17.50) at a local dumpling restaurant following a meeting with China's new president Xi Jinping in Beijing on March 19.
The table of four did not ask for a private room and ordered the cheapest tea, according to staff at the restaurant, who added that officials from the US embassy in Beijing previously held a party there for 120 people for less than 5,000 yuan (US$800).
Lew was not the only target of the article, as US vice president Joe Biden was also slammed for eating a bowl of cheap noodles during his visit to Beijing in August 2011. The entire meal for the party of five reportedly cost just 79 yuan (US$12.70), not including the generous tip Biden left behind.
The person who introduced Biden to the restaurant was the US ambassador, Gary Locke, who had previously been mocked by state-run Chinese media for presenting a humble image after photos of him buying his own coffee at Starbucks surfaced on the internet.
Biden's exercise in frugality was contrasted with news of his recent trip to Europe, where his team reportedly spent a whopping US$1.04 million, including a US$585,000 bill at the Hotel Intercontinental in Paris for one night.
"Why are American officials suddenly thrifty when they come to China, but extravagant as soon as they leave?" Huanqiu asked, suggesting that Lew and Biden were simply putting on a show to embarrass Chinese officials, who are regularly criticized by netizens for splurging on lavish banquets paid for with public funds.
The article pointed out that Biden was keen to take photos with people and staff in the restaurant, and that a photo was even posted on the US embassy's microblog page.
What the article did not mention, however, is that the noodle restaurant is located conveniently close to the US embassy in Beijing and is a regular dining spot for the US ambassador and his staff.