This week’s visit of China President Xi Jinping to Seattle is an honor, but one that’s tempered by broader concerns.
China’s decision to begin President Xi Jinping’s U.S. visit in Seattle is an honor.
This momentous occasion recognizes the extraordinary relationship Washington state has long had with the world’s largest nation.
By starting his first state trip with visits to Microsoft and Boeing, Xi Jinping underscores the importance of these companies to the world economy and of relationships between the leading superpowers.
The companies offer more than just products to buy and export. They build powerful tools that carry people, companies and countries into the future. They create ecosystems of suppliers and service providers that foster clusters of industry.
Perhaps most important, they attract and train people who invent and build some of the world’s most complex and valuable products.
China, like every other nation, seeks to learn from these companies and emulate the success Washington and the United States have had in nourishing them.
A manifestation of this is the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), the graduate technology institute that the University of Washington, Microsoft and China’s Tsinghua University are establishing in Bellevue.
GIX helps cement a Washington-China relationship that should continue for generations.
Yet there are concerns about other paths China is taking to elevate its industry at the expense of U.S. companies, including its protectionism and apparent industrial espionage.
Quantifying this is difficult, but in 2012, then-National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander said U.S. companies were losing $250 billion a year through intellectual property theft.
International cybercrime has only increased since then, pushing the U.S. toward taking a harder line with China, including possible sanctions.
More recently, China has reportedly pressed tech companies doing business there to let the government access their systems, exposing user-data and intellectual property.
So while President Xi’s Seattle visit is widely seen as friendly warmup before he faces firmer discussions in Washington, D.C., it should be viewed with a mix of enthusiasm and caution.
The region’s strong business ties to China mean the area could be especially hard-hit if the international relationship deteriorates further leading to a major trade dispute.
More than business is at issue. China’s recent saber-rattling and assertion of territorial rights are also serious concerns, as are ongoing human-rights violations.
Given all these growing tensions, Seattle hosts of the China delegation will be challenged to both entertain and enlighten their distinguished visitors.
Having deep relationships with China, they’re in a position to bring up concerns and press for change, according to former Gov. Chris Gregoire.
“If you build strong ties, that allows you to have the opportunity to have a frank discussion,” she told this editorial board last week.
This opportunity must be taken by business leaders at the banquet tables in Seattle and Medina this week. At stake are far more than incremental gains the Chinese market promises in the near-term.
Otherwise, they run the risk of being seen as accepting of China’s current model, giving President Xi leverage against the other Washington.