Hu's coming to dinner

China | Bill Gates and China's president dine & deal

Issue: "Faculty follies," April 29, 2006

SEATTLE - Moments after touching down on his first official U.S. visit on April 18, Chinese president Hu Jintao exited the private airstrip of Boeing's Paine Field to face a wall of colorful protest banners. Similar displays haunted the Communist Party leader throughout his two-day stay in the Pacific Northwest as Tibetan and Taiwanese groups demanded independence and Falun Gong meditation practitioners decried obscene persecution-alleging Chinese concentration camps where organs are harvested from live prisoners for sale on the black market.

But the arrival of Mr. Hu's substantial motorcade at the façade of his downtown hotel elicited a welcoming chorus of love and support from a sea of Chinese Americans lining the police-barricaded street. Washington state governor Christine Gregoire lowered her tinted window to wave and smile at a crowd holding scores of Chinese and American flags.

Rally organizer Jay Na, 44, stood near a gap in the metal barricades, checking specially issued photo-ID passes to make sure no protesters or passersby mingled among Mr. Hu's supporters. Welcoming committees throughout the city were similarly orchestrated, designed to drown out angry shouts and demonstrations. "The majority of the people are here to welcome President Hu Jintao," Mr. Na half hollered over a racket of drum beats and megaphone chants. "China is fast developing into a world power, and we are very proud."

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At its current rate of growth, China is expected to surpass the United States as the world's largest economy in roughly 30 years. That Mr. Hu scheduled two of his four stateside days in Seattle, complete with a tour of Boeing and dinner at the home of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, indicates his top priority: promoting international business development despite China's sketchy record on human rights.

That agenda moved forward when Microsoft announced a $1.2 billion deal with China's largest computer maker to pre-install the Windows operating system on every machine, a move meant to crack down on software piracy. The week prior to Mr. Hu's visit, Boeing announced a $5 billion Chinese contract to build 80 737s.

Despite such transactions, the U.S. trade deficit with China remains at critical levels, with U.S. exports in 2005 totaling less than $50 billion and imports topping out close to $250 billion. Mr. Hu's visit was largely aimed at alleviating apprehension over such figures, presenting China as a land of business opportunity rather than a threat to competing nations.

U.S. officials remain concerned, however, that China cares only to become an economic superpower without taking seriously the accompanying international responsibilities-such as placing diplomatic pressure on Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Church persecution in China also remains a concern. A recent report, complete with photos and interviews, describes rampant arrests and physical abuse of Chinese Christians for holding unauthorized religious meetings. Zhao Yan, 23, recounts being slapped, kicked, and burned with a cigarette following her arrest last August for participating in a Bible study. China Aid Association president Bob Fu, the report's primary author, called such documented cases merely the tip of the iceberg, a narrow window into atrocities that occur on a regular basis.

But Christian protesters were nowhere to be found on the streets of Seattle, deferring to more diplomatic channels of influence-namely through Mr. Hu's meeting with President George W. Bush. Joe K. Grieboski, president of the Institute of Religion and Public Policy, considers such an upstream approach more effective than picketing: "I mean no disrespect to President Hu when I say that I really don't think he cares what Falun Gong protesters and activists think when he's driving to dinner at Bill Gates' $100 million house."

Mr. Grieboski, who supports developing business in China as a means to furthering Western ideals within the once isolationist country, views the next several months as important in determining whether Mr. Hu's U.S. visit will inspire any real change on human-rights issues. Tsewang Rigzin, a 35-year-old bank manager and Tibetan independence activist who lives in Washington state, maintained optimism that his sidewalk chants would trigger an impact: "I want to die in a free Tibet, and I will make sure that happens. People have the power to make changes."


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