What’s Xi doing in Seattle?

Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan arrive at Paine Field in Everett, Washington, September 22, 2015. (Photo by David Ryder for Reuters.)
Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan arrive at Paine Field in Everett, Washington, September 22, 2015. (Photo by David Ryder for Reuters.)

China President Xi Jinping’s first stop in his first state visit to United States is in Seattle this week. Xi is scheduled to stay through Thursday, visiting with politicians, business leaders and other local leaders before heading to D.C. to meet with President Barack Obama.

The two national leaders are expected to discuss potentially contentious topics such as the technological cold war between the two countries and territorial disputes with other countries in Asia.

The tightly controlled Seattle visit has blocked off a number of Seattle streets, though that has not stopped demonstrations decrying topics such as China’s human rights record and treatment of Tibet.

But what does Seattle have that makes it logical destination for for a three-day visit before meeting with the president of the United States? Here are five reasons that Seattle is a priority for China.

Trade

Washington state’s largest trading partner is China, more than $29 billion of trade in 2014, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office. The office said nearly one-fourth of all Washington exports go to China, which is worth about $15 billion. While in the state, Xi and other Chinese officials plan to participate in several U.S.-China business forums and also meet with Inslee, California Gov. Jerry Brown and other governors on trade and clean energy.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee waits to greet Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan at Paine Field in Everett, Washington, September 22, 2015. (Photo by David Ryder for Reuters.)
Washington Governor Jay Inslee waits to greet Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan at Paine Field in Everett, Washington, September 22, 2015. (Photo by David Ryder for Reuters.)

Technology

While in Seattle, Xi is scheduled to meet with the CEOs of Microsoft, Apple and Alibaba and other technology companies, according to media reports. The New York Times noted that Xi’s visit demonstrates China’s importance to the U.S. technology industry, just as U.S. leaders have been warning Chinese technology companies over digital attacks.

Education connections

Seattle is a big destination for Chinese students aiming to study abroad. More than half of the 7,200 International Students at the University of Washington in 2014 are from China, according to the university. Earlier this year, UW announced a partnership with Tsinghua University, which has been called the “MIT of China,” called the Global Innovation Exchange, which will be based in Bellevue.

The University of Washington and Tsinghua University will team up to open the Global Innovation Exchange in Bellevue. (Artists rendering provided by the University of Washington.)
The University of Washington and Tsinghua University will team up to open the Global Innovation Exchange in Bellevue. (Artists rendering provided by the University of Washington.)

Historical roots

Many people in the Seattle area have Chinese roots. About 3.8 percent of the population in King County is of Chinese descent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In some of the area cities, that percentage is even higher — in Bellevue about 10.5 percent of the population is of Chinese descent. Washington also has had the only Chinese American governor, Gary Locke, who also served as U.S. Ambassador to China from 2011 to 2014.

Tourism

Seattle has become a hotspot for Chinese tourists, on the rise after improved visa processing, increasing wealth and the romantic notion of rain and coffee shops, popularized in the 2013 hit movie “Beijing Meets China” (also known as “Finding Mr. Right.”) That year saw Chinese tourism in Seattle on a marked rise.

In "Beijing Meets Seattle" Actress Tang Wei plays a materialistic woman who travels to Seattle to give birth to the child of her married Beijing lover.
In “Beijing Meets Seattle” Actress Tang Wei plays a materialistic woman who travels to Seattle to give birth to the child of her married Beijing lover.

President Xi’s Washington itinerary

  • Tuesday
    • Arrival at Everett’s Paine Field and is greeted by local officials, including Gov. Inslee and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
    • Meeting with local government officials, including Seattle mayor Ed Murray and Washington State elected officials to share thoughts on the trade and cultural exchange opportunities between Washington and China.
    • President Xi, six Chinese governors and other officials will meet with five US governors to discuss collaboration on clean technology and economic development.
    • President Xi will address a room of U.S. business and government leaders, delivering his only policy speech of the U.S. visit. He is expected to deliver remarks on issues of importance, such as climate change, trade relations and technology.
  • Wednesday
    • The Paulson Institute, in partnership with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, will co-host a U.S.-China Business Roundtable, comprised of U.S. and Chinese CEOs. President Xi will attend the roundtable meeting and deliver a policy speech at the event.
    • Boeing will host President Xi and the delegation at its Everett facility, where President Xi will address a group of employees and tour the facility.
    • Microsoft will welcome President Xi and the China delegation to its main campus in Redmond. The delegation will meet with several Microsoft executives, and participate in technology demonstrations, briefly greet and take a photo with technology leaders attending the U.S.-China Industry Internet Forum, and join a short Global Innovation Exchange event.
    • President Xi will visit Lincoln High School in Tacoma for a special assembly, where he will address students and school leaders. President Xi visited Lincoln High School during a trip to the U.S. as a provincial official in China and will be returning to the school during this trip.  —Information about President Xi’s visit from the Washington State Welcoming Committee
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