Few Americans can claim to have connections to China as strong as former Washington state governor Gary Locke: his father was born in Guangdong province, his mother in Hong Kong, his wife's parents are from Shanghai, and he visits frequently as his law firm's international trade representative.
Most impressively, though, he appears to have Hu Jintao's ear.
Mr Locke defied foreign diplomatic odds in September last year, when he spent time with the president on the sidelines of the Communist Party's congress in Beijing. It was the pair's second meeting: they also held talks in San Francisco in 2002, when Mr Hu was vice-president.
'The US State Department said there was absolutely no way that President Hu would meet with anybody, yet I was able to meet with him for more than an hour,' said the partner with the Seattle-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine and Washington's governor from 1997 until he stepped aside for family reasons in January.
Mr Hu had good reason to take time to speak with Mr Locke. As the first Chinese-American governor in US history, he was a source of pride for Chinese worldwide. He led efforts among US governors to grant China most-favoured-nation trading status and to have it join the World Trade Organisation.
Washington state, the home of companies such as Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks, was economically important to the mainland. Then there were those persistent rumours that the American would run for even higher political office - most tantalisingly, the US presidency in 2008.
Mr Locke, 55, acknowledged in Beijing last Thursday that he had been considered by the Democratic Party as a running mate for presidential hopeful Al Gore in 2000, for which he had felt 'very flattered and honoured'. He is so highly thought of by Democrats that he was asked to give their response to US President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address in 2003.
He rejected suggestions that he had presidential ambitions, saying his wife, Mona, a television journalist and anchor, and their three young children, came first - although did not rule out taking any offers that presented themselves.
'No, I have no plans to run for president of the US,' he said, as he prepared to help his successor as Washington state governor, Christine Gregoire, lead a trade delegation to China. 'I'm still very active in the Democratic Party and in public policy issues. But, right now, I'm on a different path and focusing on the family.'
Asked whether he would consider returning to public life, he said: 'You never say never, but it really depends on what that opportunity is and what Mona's doing in her career and what the kids are doing.'
In public office or not, though, Mr Locke still has persuasive powers, as proved by Mr Hu's decision to begin his first US visit as president in Washington state's biggest city, Seattle. The announcement was made after a bidding war among US cities and although this month's trip was postponed due to Hurricane Katrina, Mr Locke was hopeful his home town would be back on the agenda when the visit went ahead, possibly early next year. A new date is expected to be set when Mr Hu and Mr Bush meet in Beijing in November.
Efforts to get Mr Hu to Seattle before flying on to meet Mr Bush at the White House began last month when Mr Locke heard Chinese officials were looking for a first stop on US soil for the Chinese leader. A delegation led by State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan subsequently visited to assess the city's suitability.
Apart from having had the nation's first Chinese-American governor, the city had other strong links to China. Former leader Deng Xiaoping had made Seattle his first port of call after relations with the US were restored in 1972, and Mr Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin , followed suit in 1993.
But some links stretch back to the 19th century - in 1876, 15 per cent of Seattle's population was Chinese. The first US steamship bound for China embarked from the city, while the first Chinese ship to arrive after the normalisation of ties docked there. Boeing's first engineer was also Chinese and more than 800 of the company's planes now operate in China.
'I had heard through the grapevine that Mr Tang was scouting a variety of US cities, Chicago, Houston and some in California among them, as a potential first stop for President Hu on his way to Washington, DC,' Mr Locke said.
Within 10 days, Mr Tang and a high-ranking delegation were being feted, and the clincher, according to the ex-governor, was dinner in a club on the 76th floor of the city's tallest building, the Columbia Tower.
'I took Mr Tang to different rooms in the building so he could get a 360-degree view of the city and its surroundings,' Mr Locke said.
'We could see the Cascade Mountains to the east, Olympic Mountains to the west, Mount Rainier to the south and as the sun was setting, an incredible view was created.'
Mr Tang advised Mr Hu to choose Seattle and with days to go before the September 5 and 6 visit, an itinerary was worked out, including tours of the Boeing factory, Microsoft campus and a lunch at the Westin Hotel, at which a major speech on China-US relations was to be given.
But before Mr Hu arrived, Hurricane Katrina struck, dashing the plans.
Mr Locke said he was looking forward to again meeting Mr Hu, whom he described as 'a very focused gentleman, but also engaging and personable - very relaxed'.
'He's very focused on improving the quality of life in China,' he said. 'China faces enormous challenges, from feeding its people to providing jobs to cleaning up rivers, streams and air, to producing electricity for rural areas.'
With his strong links to China, Mr Locke is amply qualified to make such assessments. Although born and raised in Seattle, his father was from Taishan in Guangdong and his mother from Hong Kong. His grandfather went to Washington state in the late 1800s to begin the family's US connections.
'He worked as a houseboy for a family in the state capital in exchange for English lessons,' Mr Locke said. 'He sent the money home and went back, had a family, came back to the US and worked to support the family. He made trips back to China and had more children and eventually brought the whole family, including my father, who was a teenager at the time.
'My father served in the US army during the second world war and was in the Normandy invasion. After the war, he went back to China, met my mum in Hong Kong and they got married and came back to Seattle, and that's where I and my brothers and sisters were born.'
Mr Locke solidified his links to China by marrying a woman who, although born in California, has parents from Shanghai who divide their time between the city and the US.
Mr Locke remembered first coming to Hong Kong as a boy in 1961.
'The border with China had just been closed and there were thousands and thousands of refugees on the hillsides and on doorsteps,' he said. 'There was water rationing. I remember being at the Star Ferry on the Hong Kong side, getting ready to visit my paternal grandmother who lived on the Kowloon side, and looking at all the raw sewage that was being pumped into the harbour. My grandmother lived under very tough conditions.'
He described Shanghai, with its tall, futuristic buildings, as 'something out of a Batman movie'.
'My first trip to Shanghai was in the late 1970s. I remember coming in from the airport at 11pm in a Russian-made bus with very dim headlights and tens of thousands of bicycles all around.
'You could see a lot of cranes all over the skyline and just a few tall buildings. Now, it's still cranes, but all the buildings are tall.'
Ever the diplomat, Mr Locke refused to be drawn on whether he would prefer to live in Hong Kong or Shanghai.
'That's really hard - that's a tough one,' he said after drawing a deep breath. 'I'd better not answer. I've got two sets of relatives and choosing one or the other could get me in trouble.
'Both cities are just so exciting.'