Lew’s Lunch Tab Highlights China Visit

After a Tuesday meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping, new U.S. treasury secretary Jacob Lew discussed economic reforms with premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday as he wrapped up a two day visit to China. From Reuters:

“It was clear from the discussions that China has made a serious commitment to their reform agenda. The challenge will be to drive forward toward material progress,” Lew told reporters shortly before heading back to Washington.

On economic reforms, Lew said the dominant theme “was what can be done to generate more domestic demand and more growth.”

Keqiang told Lew that Sino-U.S. relations should establish “a new form of thinking” and that both sides should use a “strategic, global and long-term vision to view each other,” according to a Chinese government website.

The Wall Street Journal reported that while the meetings did not produce any breakthroughs on issues such as the exchange rate and cyber security, Mr. Lew’s decision to make China his first international trip as Treasury Secretary underscored the importance the U.S. places on Sino-U.S. relations:

It’s far from clear Mr. Lew made much headway. China’s premier argued that China was also the subject of cyberattacks, a U.S. official said. Mr. Lew countered that the cyberattacks on China and the U.S. weren’t equivalent, because state-sponsored entities were involved in the attacks on U.S. firms and the goal was to gain a commercial edge.

The Treasury secretary, addressing a long-standing controversy between the two countries, urged Chinese officials to allow their currency, the yuan, to rise and fall according to market forces.

“China’s exchange rate should be market-determined,” Mr. Lew said in the briefing. “That’s in our interest and China’s interest.”

Mr. Lew also made clear he thought the yuan should rise further, the U.S. official said—a view with which Chinese officials and some Chinese economists disagree.

If anything, according to The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report, Lew’s Tuesday lunch tab at a Beijing dumpling house may have stolen the show:

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.

Lew’s meal choice echoes the famous frugality of U.S. ambassador Gary Locke.