Chinese netizens praise US officials' modest lunch bill in China

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese netizens praised the United States' Treasury chief on Thursday for eating a cheap dumpling lunch after meeting new President Xi Jinping, comparing his modest bill to the lavish spending habits of domestic officials.

Mr Jacob Lew met Mr Xi in the grandeur of Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Tuesday, and later had lunch with two colleagues at the Bao Yuan Dumpling House near the US Embassy, where the bill came to 109 yuan (S$22.10).

"Chinese officials - take a look at what the Americans do and blush," said one online post on the Tencent Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter. "They pay their own bills, while our officials use tens of thousands of yuan of our money."

Online posts said the Treasury secretary and his fellow diners ordered vegetarian dumplings, a number of cold dishes and tea.

"Some people will say this is putting on a show, but from our officials we do not even get that," said another.

The restaurant, which is popular with expats and locals due to its reasonable prices, specialises in creatively presented dumplings. Some posters referred to "gutter oil", one of China's perennial food safety scandals, in which cheap recycled cooking oil is made illegally from leftovers and material scooped out of restaurant drains.

"Mr Treasury Secretary, you are not afraid of our gutter oil? You are so brave! Our officials never go to such small restaurants," said a poster on China's largest online forum, Sina Weibo.

Officials in China are often the focus of public anger over corruption and exuberant lifestyles, and new Premier Li Keqiang said on Sunday that "practising frugality in government affairs" would help "win" the trust of the people.

State-run media have lavished praise on Mr Xi for confining himself to "four dishes and one soup" while on visits.

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