Chinese Leader Dines With Bill Gates

Chinese President Hu Jintao, right, toasts with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, left, at the head table Tuesday, April 18, 2006 at the home of Gates in the Seattle suburb of Medina, Wash. at a dinner hosted by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. AP

After a swanky dinner with the world's richest man, Chinese President Hu Jintao turns his attention to America's largest exporter, whose sales to China could help ease tensions over a growing trade gap.

Hu, who dined Tuesday night at the home of Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, was invited to tour Boeing Co.'s Everett plant on Wednesday, just days after Chinese officials confirmed a commitment to order 80 Boeing 737 jets in a deal valued at $5.2 billion at list prices. The order has yet to be finalized, and airlines typically negotiate discounts.

Boeing sees China as one of its most important future markets, estimating that the country will require 2,600 new airplanes over the next 20 years.

The big Boeing deal is one of several purchases the Chinese made recently as officials try to ease tensions over the massive trade gap between the two nations. It's one of several issues President Bush is expected to raise when Hu heads to Washington, D.C., later in his four-day U.S. tour.

Hu's Thursday summit with Mr. Bush is expected to cover a broad agenda, from China's much-criticized currency and other trade policies, to its aggressive search for oil and its positions on the developing nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

Touring Microsoft's suburban Redmond campus earlier Tuesday, Hu said he admired what Gates had achieved. He also sought to reassure Gates that China is serious about protecting intellectual property rights, a key concern for the company as it battles widespread piracy of its Windows operating system there.

"Because you, Mr. Bill Gates, are a friend of China, I'm a friend of Microsoft," Hu said through a translator. "Also, I am dealing with the operating system produced by Microsoft every day," he added, to laughter.

Gates responded: "Thank you, it's a fantastic relationship," and then quipped: "And if you ever need advice on how to use Windows, I'll be glad to help."

In a whirlwind visit, Hu — accompanied by Gates, company CEO Steve Ballmer and an entourage of Chinese dignitaries — saw some business technology demonstrations and toured Microsoft's Home of the Future, which features experimental technology.

Hu began his American visit Tuesday in Everett, about 30 miles north of Seattle, where he was greeted by a local kung fu club and a handful of ribbon dancers from a Seattle elementary school. He also met government and business leaders, including Gov. Chris Gregoire and Starbucks Corp. Chairman Howard Schultz.

Hu told Gregoire he didn't choose Seattle simply because it's the closest major U.S. city to China. "It is also because your state enjoys very good cooperative relations with my country," Hu said.

China is Washington state's third-largest export market, while Washington imported more than $16 billion worth of products from China in 2005.

Demonstrators both in support and opposition to Hu lined the streets near his downtown Seattle hotel. Supporters waved Chinese and American flags.

Members of the spiritual movement Falun Gong, condemned by the Chinese government as a cult, staked out all four corners around the hotel Tuesday to protest treatment of the movement's followers in China.

At the entrance to Microsoft's campus, protesters waved signs in Chinese and English that read "Stop web censorship" and "Release all political prisoners."

Following the meeting at Microsoft, about 100 guests were invited to Gates' home for a dinner that Gregoire hosted. The guest list included executives from Costco Wholesale Corp., Weyerhaeuser Co., Boeing and Amazon.com Inc.
  • Amy Clark

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