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PM Lee, Obama toast 50 years of Singapore-US ties at state dinner
PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong rounded off his first official visit to the United States with a state dinner at the White House, a lavish black-tie affair hosted by US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.
About 200 people attended the dinner, just the 12th such function in Mr Obama's eight years in office and the first for a South-east Asian nation. It was held as part of the festivities to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and the US.
The guest list included the who's who of the political, entertainment, business and diplomatic fields such as best-selling author Amy Tan, Golden Globe winner Keri Russell, former US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and AOL chief executive Timothy Armstrong.
Among the Singaporeans present were Cabinet ministers Vivian Balakrishnan, S Iswaran, Chan Chun Sing and Ong Ye Kung. Others on the invite list were Singapore Airlines chairman Stephen Lee, Singapore ambassador to the US Ashok Mirpuri, and Monk Hill Ventures founding partner Ong Peng Tsin.
In his toast speech, Mr Obama noted how Singaporeans "seriously" take their food, quipping that even the hawker stalls are able to earn Michelin stars.
"(This) created some pressure this evening. We were tempted to offer each of you a Singapore Sling or some chilli crab. However, for some of you who know its unmistakable scent that never goes away, you will understand why we will not serve any fruit known as durian," said Mr Obama to roars of laughter.
Mr Lee also had the audience in stitches after he announced that Singapore had named an orchid hybrid, called the Dendrobium Barack and Michelle Obama, after the President and First Lady.
"This is a hybrid of breeds native to Singapore and Hawaii, where the president was born, as most of us believe," he said, alluding to the conspiracy theory that Mr Obama was not born in the US.
The food that was served at the dinner boasted a mix of Asian and Western flavours. The guests feasted on Maryland blue crab salad, American wagyu beef tenderloin, heirloom tomatoes and lime basil from the White House Kitchen Garden, and peach sangria cake for dessert.