President Xi Jinping arrived this morning in China’s equivalent of Air Force One — also a Boeing 747, by the way — for a two-day whirlwind of political and business meetings, accompanied by a massive delegation of Chinese officials and top corporate executives.

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Update – 7:55 p.m.

President Xi Jinping talks cybersecurity, China’s economy

In a banquet speech Tuesday evening at the Westin Seattle Hotel, Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to allay U.S. concerns and give his views on several contentious issues in U.S.-China relations, including on cybersecurity and the state of China’s economy.

Xi received a warm welcome to standing applause from the hundreds gathered at the Westin.

From left, Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee toast to President Xi’s arrival during a welcome banquet at the Westin Seattle hotel.  (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
From left, Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee toast to President Xi’s arrival during a welcome banquet at the Westin Seattle hotel. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

“I am no stranger to the state of Washington and the city of Seattle,” said Xi, who had visited the state as a provincial level official years ago.

“The film ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ has made the city almost a household name in China,” he said.

He continued the folksy strain, talking about being sent to work in a village while a teenager during the Cultural Revolution.

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“Life was very hard,” said the Chinese president, who said that background spurred his desire to improve the standard of living for people in that village.

He then tied that anecdote to a common refrain of his – the “Chinese Dream” – in which China is strong and revitalized and its people prosperous, saying economic development remained the top priority of Chinese leaders.

Xi has been running a vigorous anti-corruption campaign – something that’s created factions within the Party, but which he said tonight was to enforce “strong party discipline.”

“It has nothing to do with a power struggle,” he said. “In this case, there’s no ‘House of Cards.’”

To do this, he said, the economic reforms he has been pushing have to continue.

He sought to allay U.S. fears about the Chinese economy – especially its stock market plunge earlier this year and the government’s devaluation of the Chinese currency.

“China’s economy will stay on a steady course with fairly fast growth,” he said.

In addition, “China enjoys enormous space for its services sector to grow,” he said, referring to China’s transition from relying on cheap manufacturing to power its economic growth to one more powered by the services sector and middle-class buying power.

“Recent abnormal ups and downs in China’s stock market has caused wide concerns,” he acknowledged, and the government there took steps to “prevent massive panic from happening.”

“We’re against currency war,” Xi said. “We will not lower the rmb (renminbi, the Chinese currency) rate to boost exports.”

Chinese hackers have been accused by the U.S. government of breaking into corporate and government systems, stealing information to benefit Chinese companies or for intelligence gathering.

Xi said: “The Chinese government will not, in whatever form, engage in commercial theft nor encourage or support such efforts by anyone.”

Cybertheft and hacking, he said, were criminal acts and should be punished as such.

He also said his country was ready to set up “a high level joint dialogue mechanism with the United States to fight cybercrimes.”

Another area of contention between the U.S. and China regards China’s proposed laws that would put more restrictions on foreign non-governmental organizations operating in China.

Xi said of foreign NGOs that “so long as their activities are beneficial to the Chinese people, we will not restrict their activities.”

China’s increased assertiveness in the South China Sea has also raised worries from the U.S., which wants global shipping lanes there to remain free, and from other countries with territorial claims in the area.

Xi sought to allay some of the concerns about China’s military ambitions, saying: “No matter how developed it becomes, China will never seek hegemony or expansion.”

He said it was important for the U.S. and China to read each other’s strategic goals correctly and to cooperate and manage any differences.

For should the U.S. and China “enter into conflict and confrontation, it would lead to disaster for both countries and the world at large,” he said.

 

Update – 6:18 p.m.

Protesters dissipate downtown

Roughly 80-100 people gathered in downtown Seattle late Tuesday afternoon to protest China’s involvement in Tibet, among other issues. They marched from Westlake Center toward the Westin Hotel, where the Chinese president is staying. Dozens of police officers prevented them from reaching the hotel, however. “Go home Xi” they chanted during the march. It was winding down by 6 p.m., with roughly three dozen people still in attendance.

Chinese president Xi Jinping arrived to streets lined with supporters, while demonstrators gathered in downtown Seattle to protest China’s involvement in Tibet among other issues. (Ellen M. Banner, Lindsey Wasson, Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

 

Updated 4:21 p.m.

Bill Gates touts nuclear-power pact with Chinese

Bill Gates — tech billionaire, philanthropist and sometimes still an investor — stole the spotlight at a gathering of Chinese and U.S. businesspeople and officials Tuesday after a company he backs and the China National Nuclear Corporation formally agreed to jointly pursue next-generation nuclear power.

Delegates stood up to take pictures with their smartphones as Gates, who’s a major investor and chairman of Bellevue-based TerraPower, told the audience, “Really this is something I think exemplifies the US and China working together well.”

The deal, announced at one of many events surrounding the Seattle visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, draws on the strengths of both countries, Gates said.

TerraPower is trying to develop a small-scale nuclear reactor that produces energy from spent uranium much more efficiently and safely than traditional reactors. The company says there’s enough spent radioactive fuel in the world to provide a huge amount of power for decades.

But the technology still faces serious technical challenges, which TerraPower has sought to overcome by proposing joint collaborations with nuclear nations such as China, India and France.

Gates, who has been in talks with CNNC for years, called the memorandum of understanding they signed “a milestone,” although it’s unclear how specifically it will advance TerraPower’s schedule. But it builds on the deal reached in late 2013, when the U.S. and Chinese governments had signed a technical cooperation agreement to allow technical collaboration to happen on TerraPower’s technology.

One thing is sure: China, which has made fighting carbon emissions a national priority, is the world’s biggest market for nuclear energy as well as a major producer of greenhouse gases.

 

Updated 2:09 p.m.

Xi greeted by supporters, protesters in Seattle

Chinese President Xi JinPing arrived at Everett’s Paine Field Tuesday morning for a two-day whirlwind of political and business meetings, accompanied by a massive delegation of Chinese officials and top corporate executives.

In downtown Seattle, hundreds of people lined the streets around the Westin Seattle Hotel on Tuesday to demonstrate their feelings as his police motorcade sped by.

Adherents of Falun Gong spiritual practice, who say their fellow believers are subject to persecution by the Chinese government, held protest banners aloft while supporters of Xi’s regime waved Chinese flags.

Falun Gong practitioner Wang Yunbo, 37, said he flew from San Francisco to demonstrate during the president’s Seattle visit because “we want to express our opinions about human rights and freedom.”

Wang, speaking Mandarin Chinese, said he left China for the U.S. on a tourist visa a year ago Tuesday and has applied for asylum here, claiming he was imprisoned for eight years on account of his beliefs.

Nearby, Jimmy Leung and other members of a Washington state-based Chinese immigrant association gave Xi a smiling welcome. Leung, a businessman who immigrated to the U.S. 22 years ago, called the leader China’s best president ever and praised him for working on economic ties with the Seattle area.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s motorcade travels down Stewart Street in downtown Seattle. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s motorcade travels down Stewart Street in downtown Seattle. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

David Leong, 50, was born and raised in Seattle, where his family has lived for more than 100 years, he said. The martial arts instructor has Chinese heritage but said that wasn’t why he turned out Tuesday.

“Seattle is becoming an international city and I’m proud of that,” he said. “When a world leader visits Seattle, it’s important to show support, whether the leader is Chinese or Taiwanese or from Africa.”

Some well-wishers headed for home on chartered buses shortly after the motorcade dispersed.

Police kept onlookers across the street from the Westin, where inside the hotel’s lobby members of Xi’s delegation milled around snapping photos and chatting. Chinese newspapers were laid out alongside copies of USA Today and guests passed through a security checkpoint to reach their rooms.

Outside the Westlake Center shopping mall, under Seattle’s monorail, Han Yihong of Bellevue and Justin Yao of San Francisco engaged in a polite debate.

Han, 57, was born in Beijing and credits Xi with making her homeland stronger. She said he may be trying to reduce pressure on Falun Gong adherents in China.

Yao, a 35-year-old Falun Gong practitioner, said Xi must do more to protect believers like himself.

“We disagree but we’re discussing this peacefully,” Han said.

Who’s at the banquet

For Xi, tonight’s key event is a banquet with U.S. business and political luminaries from here and elsewhere.

The head table alone will include Bill and Melinda Gates, Gov. Jay Inselee, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and the chief executives of Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks. Not to mention the CEOs of IBM and DuPont, three other U.S. governors, and the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker.

Xi is expected to make the major speech of his Seattle trip at the banquet.

Chinese officials at the table, in addition to Xi, include Peng Liyuan, Xi’s wife; members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China; the governors of Zhejiang, Shandong and Shanxi provinces; and the mayors of Beijing and Chongqing, according to the banquet program.

In addition to Xi’s speech, remarks are expected from Kissinger, Inslee, Pritzker and Mark Fields, president and CEO of Ford Motor Company and chairman of the U.S.-China Business Council, one of the organizers of the event.

On the menu? Salad; entrée choices of pan-seared Double R Ranch Washington beef and Northwest steelhead roulade, or chanterelle mushroom and roasted vegetables; and dessert of Theo Chocolate Marquise Dome on a brown butter pistachio cake, or nest of Valrhona chocolate and olive oil cake. Wine is Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon or 2014 Chardonnay.

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Airport greeting

Upon Xi’s arrival at Paine Field, he was greeted by applause from a large group of politicians and business leaders. Xi and his wife smiled and waved as they stepped off an Air China jetliner about 9:30 am, then descended a staircase to a sun-drenched red carpet lined with more than three dozen dignitaries.

Two children, the 8-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter of a Boeing employee, welcomed the Chinese president and First Lady with flowers, before Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former governor and U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, and dozens of other VIPS greeted the couple in a short reception on the tarmac amid heavy security.

Xi then climbed into an SUV, and his motorcade departed for Seattle.

Those on hand included U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus. In a brief discussion with journalists, the former U.S. Senator from Montana called China’s pursuit of disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea “concerning,” adding the issue  is “not to be resolved during this visit.”

“It will be on the agenda for the next couple three years,” Baucus said. “It’s extremely important, in my judgment, that the issue be resolved according to international norms and international dispute settlements… rather than use of brute force or trying to push other countries around.”

Baucus added that cybersecurity remains a priority issue in the two nations’ diplomatic relations – so much so that America has taken a hard stand.

“The threat of (economic) sanctions … has brought the Chinese to the table” on the cybersecurity issue, Baucus said. “They were not coming to the table until there was a threat.”

The Chinese president, who will tour Microsoft, Boeing and Tacoma’s  Lincoln High School before leaving for Washington, D.C., on Thursday, is expected to give a policy speech on U.S.-China relations during a reception Tuesday night.

Even before his arrival to Seattle’s Westin Hotel, protesters were gathering downtown Tuesday morning to decry the Chinese government’s human rights abuses and voice other concerns. Supporters of the government were also out in force with banners. With some streets closed around the Westin for the duration, traffic downtown will be more difficult than usual.

Following Xi’s landing Tuesday, Locke, standing before China’s presidential Boeing 747-400 jet, noted that his visit marked an important economic milestone for the Northwest.

More than 90,000 jobs here rely on trade to China, and several ongoing projects now under development in Washington are receiving heavy financial investment from China, Locke said.

Watch: President Xi’s arrival

The visit also will help to further establish diplomatic relations between the two nations, Locke said, including seeking common ground on such pressing issues as cybersecurity and climate change.

“There are many areas of common interest between China and the U.S.,” Locke said. “…And there’s no substitute for face to face dialogue between President Obama and President Xi.”

 

How large is the contingent from China?

Any visit details from China’s officials are difficult to obtain, but Starbucks, whose CEO was on the planning committee, reports that 1,000 people are making the trip. Not all, presumably, are on that 747.

Hong Kong’s The Standard described the delegation as “a historic line-up of China’s business heavyweights .”  They include Alibaba chief Jack Ma and lesser-known but also powerful executives such as the head of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world’s largest bank.

In an interview ahead of his visit to Seattle and the nation’s capital, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the Wall Street Journal that the economic slowdown that has rattled markets worldwide won’t deter the structural reforms he has promised.

“Any ship, however large, may occasionally get unstable sailing on the high sea,” he said.

As for this summer’s widespread government interventions to halt the slide in China’s stock market, Xi declared they were comparable to actions taken by governments in “some mature foreign markets,” the WSJ reported.

He downplayed the disputes that have caused a growing rift between the U.S. and China, and said his country wants to cooperate on resolving them.

“I don’t believe any country is capable of rearranging the architecture of global governance toward itself,” he told the Journal in written responses to questions, adding, “Facts have shown that the interests of China and the U.S. are increasingly intertwined.”

But he dismissed concerns that U.S. businesses are being treated unfairly in China, and said controls on Internet access and new restrictions on foreign non-profits will continue.

Xi may address some of these themes tonight at a banquet at the Westin Hotel, where he’ll speak directly to an audience of U.S. political and business leaders.