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China's president brings informal touches to hectic itinerary in visit to Seattle area
In a day full of meetings that were formal and staged, there were a few casual exchanges between China's President Hu Jintao and his local hosts.
The president jokingly told Gov. Christine Gregoire that he'll work on finding hotel rooms for all 6 million Washington residents during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told Hu, an engineer by training, that "if you ever need advice on how to use Windows, I'll be glad to help."
But mostly the Chinese president's first stop on his first state visit to the United States was cautious and carefully orchestrated.
Hu kicked off his four-day U.S. visit Tuesday with a warm welcome in Seattle, seeking to defuse tensions over China's rising economic and political might by focusing on positive relations here.
After his arrival at Paine Field in Everett, Hu and a delegation of top officials met with Gregoire and Washington state leaders.
President Hu's schedule today
Tour of Boeing's Everett plant with Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Alan Mulally. At 10:30 a.m., Hu addresses Boeing employees.
Luncheon speech, billed as "a major policy address," at the Future of Flight museum in Everett.
12:45 p.m. departure from Paine Field.
Source: Washington State Planning & Welcoming Committee
Hu also greeted members of the Chinese community and toured Microsoft's campus before dining at Gates' home.
"Seattle is the first stop on my trip to the United States," Hu said, speaking through a translator at the start of his 20-minute meeting with Gregoire.
"This is not just because Seattle is closest to China. More importantly, it's also because your state enjoys very good cooperative relations with my country."
Mindful of the U.S. trade deficit, Hu remarked that Washington state exports to China "shot up 64 percent" last year, adding that he was confident they would continue to grow in the future.
Gregoire called the meeting "a very, very positive exchange." She suggested to Hu that China open a trade office in Washington state. She also discussed collaboration with China on global health issues and education, asking Hu to consider hosting the Pacific Summit on health care in the future.
She proposed strengthening educational ties by creating a Washington educational institute in China and a "Confucius center" for studying Chinese language and culture in Washington state.
Asked if she brought up the question of human rights with Hu, Gregoire replied, "Rather than pressing a specific agenda, I simply believe we serve with the warm welcome he received today as a role model of what democracy can mean for that country."
Gregoire said she came out of meetings with a positive impression of China's 63-year-old leader, whose trip follows visits to Seattle by powerful predecessors Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin.
"Here's a warm individual on a personal level, one whom I believe is steadfast in sending the message to Americans that he believes in a friendship, a peaceful relationship and that some of the fears we've heard about are not well-founded," she said. "He is making sure his country is taking care of its people when it comes to health care and education, and it's a real challenge for him."
Security was extremely tight inside The Fairmont Olympic Hotel, where Hu and his 120-member delegation are staying. Only hotel guests and those scheduled to meet Hu could enter, and police sealed off surrounding streets from traffic.
Nearby sidewalks were lined with supporters and protesters, including members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, Taiwan independence supporters and Tibetan-rights activists. Supporters in colorful Chinese silk dress carried Chinese flags and beat drums.
After his meeting with the governor, Hu addressed a closed-door meeting of 250 members of Seattle's Chinese community at The Olympic.
Participants said afterward that the crowd clapped when Hu and his wife arrived.
The president shook some hands, posed for some pictures and then spoke for about 15 minutes on China, U.S.-China relations and the important role of the overseas Chinese community.
The community leaders did not get a chance to share their thoughts with Hu. But several said they were impressed.
"He was very, very articulate, and very gracious," said Conrad Lee, a Bellevue City Council member who was born in China and raised in Hong Kong.
Those present said Hu stressed that China still has problems, including improving the standard of living in the rural areas. He said one goal is to build a "xiaokang," or middle-class, society in the next 20 years.
Hu told the group he hopes his meeting with President Bush later this week will improve the dialogue between the two countries, audience members said.
He also thanked the overseas Chinese for their contributions to bridging relations between the two countries in academics, culture and business.
On the streets
Crowds of supporters and protesters greeted Hu in a raucous but peaceful demonstration.
Similar scenes were played out at Hu's various stops, in Everett, outside Microsoft's Redmond campus and even along the way to his dinner engagement at Gates' lakeside compound.
The chants of both supporters and protesters could be heard seven blocks away from The Olympic. Police said no major scuffles occurred.
When the president's motorcade arrived in downtown Seattle, Xunzhuo Gong of San Jose encouraged pro-Hu demonstrators to bang their drums to drown out the "Free Tibet" and anti-communism chants.
"The protesters don't see the big picture," said Gong, who helped organized the supporters. "This [visit] will help both countries' economies and help U.S. and China relations. You got two super economic powers working together."
Nearby, Tenzin Phulchung, 31, a Tibetan who arrived in Portland about a month ago, called on China to free his homeland. "Our very survival now as a distinct people with a distinct culture very much depends on our hope and the support of the international community," he said.
Falun Gong, a spiritual practice banned in China in 1999, had the largest contingent of protesters in Seattle, with more than 200. Some flew in from Texas, Montana, Utah, Arizona and Idaho. There were also busloads of protesters from California.
During his afternoon visit to Microsoft, Hu saw and asked about experimental gadgets Microsoft is developing for homes, offices and schools. He also reassured Gates that China would seek to protect intellectual-property rights.
Hu said he wanted to extend cooperation and Microsoft investment in China. "Because you, Mr. Bill Gates, are a friend of China, I'm a friend of Microsoft," Hu said, adding to laughter that he deals with the Windows operating system every day.
"It's a fantastic relationship" with China, Gates replied.
Hu's visit brought perhaps 100 protesters to Microsoft's campus.
The protesters' visibility, however, was limited. Microsoft placed potted pine trees in a way that screened the protesters from view. Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos said the trees were moved there to cover up a "blank, sort of desolate area."
About 100 Chinese Microsoft workers gathered to greet Hu's motorcade. They had Chinese flags, hastily run off on color copiers at Microsoft.
At the dinner Tuesday night, Hu remarked that Gates' house was a combination of traditional and modern styles, and a mix of technology and art, said architect Ming Zhang of Bellevue-based MulvannyG2, who attended the event. Hu also noted that April 18 was the date the first cargo ship from China arrived in the U.S. 27 years ago, through Seattle's port.
Zhang described the atmosphere as "very friendly and informal, just like old friends."
Hu used a Chinese phrase to sum up his first day, saying "a good beginning is already half the way to success."
Seattle Times staff reporters Sanjay Bhatt, Lisa Chiu, Sherry Grindeland, Kristi Heim, Alwyn Scott, Rachel Tuinstra and Tan Vinh contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company