17 Facts about State Visits by Foreign Rulers to the White House Most People Don't Know

Chinese President Jiang Zemin during a state visit to the United States in 1997, his first visit to the U.S. China.org.

16. In an effort to preserve the auspicious value of a formal state visit, invitations are carefully distributed to prevent diplomatic incidents and maximize their effect

In order to preserve the significance of a state visit to the United States, great effort is taken to maintain their exclusivity and status. There is often only one or two state invites issued per year, with an informal rule also stipulating that no nation shall be hosted more than once every four years to prevent the appearance of favoritism; consequently, many close allies enjoy repeated official visits but only one state visit per administration. Every American President from Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) hosted at least one state dinner at the White House each year, a tradition that ran until 2017 when Donald Trump abandoned this convention and invited nobody.

Due to the resultant importance attached to state visits, their invitation has proved a controversial honor and statement over the years. In 1995, the Clinton Administration considered inviting the President of the People’s Republic of China. Facing a backlash from Congress, the invitation was downgraded to the less formal official visit or an official working visit. China, outraged, declined this revised offer, insisting that President Jiang Zemin should be afforded the same respect as other heads of state. Eventually, in 1997 Zemin enjoyed a state visit to the United States, visiting Hawaii, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles, as well as attending a state dinner in his honor at the White House.