Xi's US Visit 2015

President Xi Jinping’s trip to US city of Seattle highlights Washington state’s China ties

The state - home to American firms such as Microsoft, and aircraft maker Boeing - exported more to mainland last year than any other

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 September, 2015, 10:27am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 September, 2015, 1:02pm

When President Xi Jinping arrives in the northwest US city of Seattle on Tuesday, on his way to the capital, Washington, later this week, he will be visiting the American state that exports more to his country than any other.

Washington state last year sent more than US$20 billion in aircraft, wheat, apples and other products to China.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Xi Jinping’s US visit: itinerary, issues and delegation

Microsoft, based in the Washington city of Redmond, and Seattle-based and Boeing – which has deep roots in the state – are all keen to capitalise on Xi’s visit, focusing on the country’s long-term potential at a time when its economy is troubled.

Xi’s four-day trip, beginning on Tuesday, also carries with it an opportunity for him to use the sight of major US companies, from Apple to General Motors, to send a reassuring message home: China is still very much a much sought-after market.

[Xi Jinping] is talking to the high-tech executives to convey to the Chinese audience that, see, the biggest Western firms are still anxious to do business with us
David Bachman, University of Washington

“One of the reasons he’s talking to the high-tech executives is not necessarily for business purposes here, but to convey back to the Chinese audience that, see, Western firms – the biggest Western firms – are still anxious to do business with us,” said David Bachman, a University of Washington professor and former chairman of its China Studies Programme.

“He’s trying to exude a sense of confidence at a time when some of that self-confidence about China’s economic future has been dissipated,” he said.

The visit comes as friction between China and the US has grown.

READ MORE: Obama ready to talk tough with China's President Xi Jinping during US state visit

Among the sources of tension are hacking attacks on the US said to be directed by Beijing and China’s moves to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

[Xi Jinping] is trying to exude a sense of confidence at a time when some of that self-confidence about China’s economic future has been dissipated
David Bachman, University of Washington

Xi has quickly become China’s most powerful leader in decades, cracking down on corruption and activists alike.

He is the fourth consecutive Chinese leader to visit Washington state – Deng Xiaoping came in 1979, Jiang Zemin in 1993 and Hu Jintao in 2006.

Xi plans visits to Boeing’s Everett factory at Paine Field airport, Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, and a high school in Tacoma, sister city to the Chinese port of Fuzhou.

In 1994, as a leader in Fuzhou, Xi signed the sister-city agreement between the ports, as The News Tribune newspaper, in Tacoma, reported.

Boeing is a big driver of Washington state’s top ranking in terms of China exports. Last year it sold a record 155 aircraft to Chinese customers.

This year about one-quarter of the planes Boeing has built have gone to China, and over the next 20 years, China was expected to be Boeing’s biggest commercial airplane market, with a projected need for 6,330 new planes worth an estimated $950 billion, the company said.

Washington state’s ties to China go beyond business, state leaders said.

With backing from Microsoft, the University of Washington and Beijing’s Tsinghua University are opening a new technology graduate school in the city of Bellevue called the Global Innovation Exchange.

It is the first Chinese research institution to establish a US location, with students and faculty from both universities working to tackle complex global problems.

READ MORE: Xi Jinping and Barack Obama unlikely to crack thorniest issues during Washington summit

Former Washington governor Gary Locke, who recently served as US ambassador to China, said the visit went beyond raising the profile of Washington state and the Seattle area among the Chinese people and businesses “looking for expansion or looking to buy American products or services”.

Locke said it would give US companies a chance to press some of their concerns.

“For many foreign companies in China, there are concerns about a level playing field; about a strong, transparent legal system that will enforce intellectual property rights; about just being allowed to operate in China,” said Locke, who is Chinese-American.

READ MORE: Chinese President Xi Jinping to attend top-level business summit during visit to United States

Among the items on Xi’s agenda is a round-table discussion on Wednesday moderated by former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, whose Paulson Institute, in Chicago, promotes sustainable economic growth in the US and China.

On the US side, chief executives Tim Cook of Apple, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and investor Warren Buffett will attend.

Those reportedly attending from China include Jack Ma, founder and chairman of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, and Robin Li of the web-services firm Baidu.

The meeting will provide an important opportunity to discuss the US-China business relationship, China’s economy, and the future of Chinese reforms, Paulson said.

“This US-China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world, and it’s under real tension and stress right now,” he said. “There are differences that have got to be dealt with, but we can’t let those preclude us from working in the areas where we have a common interest.”