Disaster-free night at feast fit for 4,000
Diplomatic disasters were averted and gastronomic success prevailed as 4,000 guests dined at the handover banquet last night.
They were ushered to 300 candlelit tables in the 7,782-square-metre hall at the Convention and Exhibition Centre Extension shortly after 9 pm.
Tung Chee-hwa sat between United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and German Foreign Minister Dr Klaus Kinkel.
Also on the top table, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen was placed between the Prince of Wales and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Governor Chris Patten's neighbours were Cherie Blair and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Mr Qian, Prince Charles, Mr Blair and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook entered the hall at 9.30 pm after most of the guests were seated.
They dined on Scottish smoked salmon with lobster, stuffed chicken breast with mushrooms and a fruit pudding.
During the main course Mr Cook proposed toasts firstly to Queen Elizabeth and then to President Jiang Zemin, before toasting other heads of state at the banquet and 'the future of Hong Kong'.
Mr Qian responded by toasting Mr Jiang, then the queen, and then other heads of state and the 'prosperity and stability of Hong Kong'.
The $6.5 million banquet was decorated mainly in creamy yellow, with the six columns on either side of the stage swathed in purple and hung with flowers.
Organisers did their best to avoid awkward moments.
Colombian President and chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, Ernesto Samper, was seated far from Ms Albright whose nation has barred him from entry over allegations he accepted money from drug cartels, which Colombia denies.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and his Portuguese counterpart, Jaime Gama, were well apart, although they do sometimes talk over East Timor.
Commander British Forces General Bryan Dutton sat next to a former adversary over the Falkland Islands, Argentinian Foreign Minister Guido di Tella.