CHINA / National

Hu starts US visit in Seattle with business
Updated: 2006-04-19 10:10

SEATTLE -- Chinese President Hu Jintao arrived in the Seattle area to meet with business leaders eager for a bigger share of China's markets before heading to Washington for talks with politicians.

Hu planned to meet with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and other business leaders, and tour a Boeing Co. commercial jet plant on Wednesday.

His summit Thursday with President George W. Bush will cover a broad agenda, from China's currency and other trade policies, to its aggressive search for oil and its stance toward nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

Hu began his trip in Everett, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Seattle, where members of the Seattle Kung Fu Club and a handful of ribbon dancers from a Seattle elementary school welcomed him.

Hu also was greeted by government and business leaders, including Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire and Starbucks Corp. Chairman Howard Schultz. Hu told Gregoire he did not choose Seattle simply because it is the closest major U.S. city to China.

"It is also because your state enjoys very good cooperative relations with my country," Hu said through a translator.

China is Washington state's third-largest export market, while the state imported more than $16 billion (euro13.06 billion) worth of products from China in 2005.

"Seattle is so close to Asia," said Ida Zhu, a Chinese-American businesswoman. "They cannot ignore China anymore."

After meeting with Gregoire, Hu was headed to Microsoft Corp. to mingle with executives and take a tour of the software maker's "Home of the Future."

Tuesday night, about 100 guests were expected at Gates' home for a dinner Gregoire was hosting there.

The visit comes as Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, after years of battling widespread software piracy in the potentially lucrative China market, is hopeful that things are changing. Chinese government officials say they are serious about cracking down on sales of illegal copies of Microsoft's Windows operating system, and some computer makers are pledging to ship more computers with legitimate Windows software installed.

Although analysts say it could be some time before the promised changes have a significant effect on Microsoft's sales, the pledges are a feel-good backdrop for Hu's visit with Gates and other business and government executives.

For Microsoft, the move is important because it sees China as a major market in which to increase revenues.